Growing up in fertile soil

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Parker School students work at their booth at the Saturday morning market on school grounds. (PHOTO COURTESY OF PARKER SCHOOL FOR NHN)
Parker School students pose with some of their product at their booth at the Waimea Farmers Market at Parker School on Saturday mornings. (PHOTO COURTESY OF PARKER SCHOOL FOR NHN)
Parker School Garden grows a wide variety of vegetable, herb and medicinal plants, including jicama, yacon and coumba beans. (PHOTO BY CATHERINE TARLETON| SPECIAL TO NHN)
Fresh produce grown in Parker School garden is available for sale every other week at Waimea Town Market at Parker School.  Students are responsible to help with setup, sales and closing. (PHOTO BY CATHERINE TARLETON| SPECIAL TO NHN)
Parker School seventh grade students Colin Klimt, Kaikea Mead and Tage Boyette pose for a photo with garden coordinator Jared David-Chapman at the school.  (PHOTO BY CATHERINE TARLETON| SPECIAL TO NHN)

Parker School’s 8,000-square-foot garden,“Kihapai Ho’oulu,” will be two years old next month. Led by garden coordinator Jared David-Chapman, the student gardeners have been growing a wide variety of vegetables and herbs, fruits and Hawaiian medicinal and cultural plants—some of which are offered for sale at Waimea Town Market at Parker School, on alternating Saturdays. Any funds generated go back to school programs.

“Kihapai Ho’oulu means nurturing community, and nurturing kids as well,” said David-Chapman, who also works with the Waimea Elementary School Garden. “Knowing about nutrition is critical for the community and critical for the kids—getting them interested early in eating healthy food.”

There are 168 school gardens in Hawaii, according to the most recent survey by Hawaii Farm to School and School Garden Hui. The gardens encompass 30 acres of land, and help 830 teachers and 21,577 students across the islands learn about integrated science, math, social studies, literature and arts, as well as social skills and teamwork.

According to the survey, “Mounting educational research findings confirm the benefits that school gardens and farm to school programs have on our children and school communities: from developing healthier lifestyles and life-long eating habits, to improving academic performance, providing real-life learning about sustainability and ecoliteracy, and creating stronger community connections.”

Various sections of the Kihapai Ho’oulu garden are named after Hawaiian lunar months.

“It adds a dimension of space and time,” said David-Chapman. “We use it to discuss Hawaiian culture – talking about the stars, talking about the ocean, the land.”

He also works closely with science teacher Mindy Higgins to apply lessons planted in the rich Waimea soil to Department of Education curriculum.

“The teachers appreciate having gardens,” he said.

Kihapai Ho’oulu takes a highly diversified approach to gardening.

“We have row crops, vegetables, herbs, native horticulture crops, taro, sweet potatoes, olena, sugar cane. At the market we sell kale, yacon, green onions, mustard greens, oranges, limes … ,” David-Chapman said.

The garden sections are organized so that taller plants provide natural windbreaks for smaller ones; plants with longer roots are planted next to those with shallower ones. Recycled materials, such as old telephone cables, are used to grow beans and other vines.

David-Chapman said that the students were looking forward to working with the sugar cane press they have ordered from Thailand. The hand-cranked machine will allow them to extract the juice, boil it down and let it crystallize into sugar.

College-educated, with a degree in resource management, David-Chapman said his most valuable education came from home, where his grandfather fed the family from their small garden near Mana Road—traditional agricultural land for many generations.

“I grew up in fertile soil,” he said.

Through the Kohala Center, David-Chapman is a member of Ku Aina Pa, a cohort of 35 educators island-wide, who meet and share their experience and techniques in building a strong garden program and network between schools and their gardens.

To learn more about Hawaii school gardens, visit www.kohalacenter.org/HISGN/research.html for a compendium of research papers and reports.

The Kihapai Ho’oulu produce stand is open at Waimea Town Market on the first and third Saturday of each month from 8 a.m. to 12 p.m. Volunteer workdays take place on Wednesdays and are open to all. For more information, contact Jared David-Chapman at maolifood@yahoo.com.