Story by Colleen Carroll
Quietly, in groups of two, three and four, students at St. Catherine’s finish lunch then gather at the school garden. These students enjoy gardening so much that they have created their own impromptu gardening club. Tuesdays and Thursdays at lunchtime under the guidance of science and math teacher, Ms. Henriques, they weed, dig, till and plant; eat, laugh and play.
The garden started two years ago with the vision of Ms. Henriques and the support of the school administration and Malama Kaua’i School Garden Network. Today, the garden area encompasses 3,000 square feet with over 600 of them divided into 10 raised beds. In Spring 2012, community volunteers rejuvenated the garden and today St. Catherine’s reaps the benefits.
The garden has grown from a few small beds geared to middle school science and math classes to a garden that hosts nearly 125 students in grades kindergarten through eighth grades, who work in the garden weekly. Students use the garden as an outdoor laboratory for everything from science and literature to Hawaiian culture and geography. Gardening enhances classroom studies and teaches teamwork as the older students come out with a younger class to mentor them in the organic garden.
Produce is grown with a dual purpose: The intention of eating it at school and also sharing it with the school’s food bank which serves over 150 families every Wednesday. Students learn about cooking and eating a new diet filled with healthy produce they have tended from seed to harvest. They also learn about community and the benefits of sharing food with those in need. The goal is to increase the students’ knowledge of healthy food choices, broaden their palates, while also increasing interaction between the different age groups to create a more loving and caring school community.
In December, for the holiday season, students harvested over 200 pounds of Chinese cabbage and Asian greens and gave them to the food bank. In January they harvested sweet potatoes, mustard greens, kale, collards, arugula and lettuces.
School Gardens offer other benefits particularly with respect to health and wellness. School gardens and farm-to-school programs are at the forefront of educational and nutritional intervention in schools. They increase the frequency and amounts of healthy food served in schools; the opportunity for physical activity; and the potential for higher academic achievement and improved health of children.
Colleen Carroll, Ed.D., director of Nature Talks, has worked with school gardens, environmental education and urban forestry in Hawaiʻi for 20 years. NatureTalks offers planning workshops, publications and inspirational presentations and provides support and coordination for the school gardens and farm to school programs on Kaua i. Visit NatureTalks online to learn more about our services and to see a preview of Colleen Carroll’s new book Inspirational Gardeners.