As I remarked a couple of days ago ("Living it up on the Hotel Golden Princess"), while I was a bit taken aback to see a fund-raising dinner for school gardens and sustainability set aboard a cruise ship, I strongly support school gardens and sustainability. Last weekend, while attending the Hamakua Alive! festival at Paauilo, I got to tour just such a garden .
The garden at Paauilo School is actually more like a mini-farm; it includes not just fruits and vegetables, but chickens, geese, milk goats and hair sheep -- all interacting in much the way they would at a traditional family farm. And the kids at the school play much the same roles in this process that I used to play when growing up on a family farm in Missouri -- starting with weeding. But whereas I had to weed the garden because I was told t0, the adults supervising the school garden have found ways to make the weeding fun. As soon as a kindergartner fills up a bucket with pulled weeds, said an adult volunteer named Susan, "You can go out and feed the chickens (the weeds)."
In addition to looking winsome for the kids, the goats are a secret weapon for turning one of the garden's toughest adversaries -- Guinea grass, a particularly pernicious weed, which grows over head high around the garden's boundaries -- into goat milk. Goats are browsers: instead of nibbling grass at ground level, they prefer head-high shrubbery -- but the tall Guinea grass seems to work just fine as goat provender; I saw them munching away at it as we walked past the pen. But where the goats can't be, the kids take over. When some of the older boys dug out the Guinea grass in the goose pen, they got to hold a "Guinea grass parade" through the school, bearing the bundles of grass in triumph like hunters home from the hunt.
The little kids do other simple tasks, such as gathering fallen mac nuts for shelling. In addition to tackling the Guinea grass, the older students help out in other ways, such as washing eggs, harvesting fruit, and selling some of the garden's produce at a stand in front of the school.
"The kids just love it," says Susan. "The kids are terrific. They surprise you with what they can do and with what they understand. And they're awfully proud of what they can accomplish."
The garden is currently planted with asparagus, salad greens, sweet peas, chick peas, magic beans, kale, sweet potatoes, mint, onions, pineapples, papaya trees, macadamia trees, fennel and yacon. And it produces some other valuable products: compost, earthworms and worm castings (in other words, worm dung), which cut down on the need for fertilizer.
That part of the operation is expanding. Garden director Donna Mitts proudly took me down to the school's latest venture into sustainability: a structure called "Wormville," where earthworms will soon be processing the entire output of scraps from the school cafeteria into valuable soil amendments.
Mitts says she could use six more regular adult volunteers to help supervise the kids. If you're interested, contact her at the school. Those who'd like to volunteer or lend other support can contact her at 776-7710, ext 235 (office).
For more details and lots of pictures, see Janice Crowl's "Hawaii Gardening" blog.