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Starting early with food sustainability education

<p>Teachers in the Ku Aina Pa program through the school garden network help prepare lunch during a summer program. (FILE PHOTO)</p>

Teachers in the Ku Aina Pa program through the school garden network help prepare lunch during a summer program. (FILE PHOTO)

<p>Students work in the garden during a Parker School summer camp. (FILE PHOTO)</p>

Students work in the garden during a Parker School summer camp. (FILE PHOTO)

<p>Parents, students and teachers work together to prepare the school garden beds at Waimea Elementary School. (FILE PHOTO)</p>

Parents, students and teachers work together to prepare the school garden beds at Waimea Elementary School. (FILE PHOTO)

Governor Neil Abercrombie declared October 2013 as School Garden Month and Farm-To-School month. For the past six years, the Hawaii Island School Garden Network has assisted island schools in building and implementing school gardens and agricultural programs. Today, the Hawaii Island boasts more than 60 school gardens that proudly contribute to the increase of local produce consumption among students and their families. Seventeen of those gardens are located in North Hawaii.

“Most, if not all, of the programs have grown and expanded,” said HISGN Program Director Nancy Redfeather. “Many of the programs now have at least a half time garden coordinator.

Hawaii Island shows a promising and growing commitment to promote sustainable communities and food self-reliance. The development of school gardens not only contributes substantially to a strong local food economy, but also increases opportunities for youth to learn about health and nutrition.

According to Christine Hirasa, deputy director of communications for Governor Abercrombie, “School gardens provide the basis for student-centered, hands-on learning experiences that focus on the importance of healthy living, food security and sustainability.”

HISGN works with school administrators and teachers to create these hands-on learning opportunities for students. Through their gardening curriculum, students not only deepen their understanding of natural sciences, but also incorporate other disciplines such as social studies, language arts, and math into worthwhile educational experiences.

“Within the school environment, a garden offers a unique platform to help students achieve learning goals in ways that are recommended by the National Science Standards and most state and local educational bodies,” said Hirasa. “School gardens also provide the perfect learning environment in the areas of science, technology, engineering and math.”

School gardens are an exemplary way to use the schoolyard as a classroom. They not only connect students with the natural world and the source of their food, gardens also teach personal and social responsibility. With the younger generation becoming increasingly isolated from the land and deprived of the joys and responsibilities it teaches, school gardens offer a way to reconnect and care for our natural resources.

Experience and research show numerous benefits from encouraging children to work outdoors and grow their own food. Students learn social skills such as teamwork and cooperation, gain self-confidence, improve achievement scores, and become more fit and healthy. Schools also see a decrease in vandalism as students gain respect for, and feel ownership in, their surroundings.

“Children who are exposed to growing and eating their food are certainly impacted by the experience,” Redfeather said. “We know that in childhood we learn our lifelong habits.”

By fully integrating school gardens into traditional academic curriculum, students learn by real-life examples. For instance, they learn about photosynthesis by observing plant leaves in the garden, not just by studying chemical formulas in their textbooks. By learning these lessons first-hand, children are more likely to retain that information because it’s connected to a real-life experience.

“That is so important — to integrate hands-on learning with core curriculum and help the teachers see that experiential learning can strengthen the skills we want the children to learn,” Redfeather said.

In addition to helping schools establish gardens, HISGN’s work also includes identification of funding opportunities and local agricultural resources, volunteer development, curriculum development, and professional development for garden leaders. HISGN also provides networking opportunities that brings their work into the community.

“We’ve taken positive steps to promote urban gardening, and expand the agriculture industry through programs that support farmers,” said Hirasa. “Entrepreneurial agriculture, geared to the 21st century and working in partnership with our farmers, will lend to the increased stability of this state. The vision is for Hawaii to become the center for agricultural activity for Asia and the Pacific to give us the food security we need to survive and thrive.”

For more information on how you can be involved in one of the local school gardens, contact Redfeather at 887-6411, or by email at info@kohalacenter.org.