The Hawaii Institute of Pacific Agriculture (HIP Ag) is honored to have been chosen as a beneficiary of the 2018 Big Island Chocolate Festival hosted by Kona Cacao Association (KCA). HIP Ag was awarded $6,000 in contribution to its youth education programming focused on teaching about the importance of agriculture including the basics of nutrition, where food comes from, and how to grow it. Specifically with this funding HIP Ag is developing a module as part of their place-based farm field trip programming which explores “life of a cacao tree” where students tour HIP Ag's farm and tropical agro-forest orchard, which includes 20 cacao trees. Here students will learn about the anatomy, life cycle, propagation techniques, and the desirable environment for a cacao tree in addition to gaining insight regarding the processes involved in creating cacao products such as chocolate, cacao nibs, and the deliciously rare cacao juice.
The award has already enabled HIP Ag to host 190 second and third-grade students from Kohala and Waikoloa Elementary School out to its farm where students planted and tried raw cacao fruit and beans for the very first time. At the beginning of each lesson, students investigated the orangish-red, oblong fruit and as they passed it around I challenged them to guess what kind of fruit it was. The perplexed students offered ideas, “squash?”, “papaya?”, “gourd?” “melon?”. I then proposed, “If I told you all that chocolate actually grows on trees, would you believe me?” Students may have laughed at first though after cracking a few pods open, investigating the fruit and beans, and listening about the general process of chocolate making, they were finally convinced. While sampling the cacao for the first time, students found the exterior white and fleshy fruit of the bean to be sweet and delicious however the bean itself was bitter and not as pleasing to the students’ palates. The student groups were excited to plant their bean while they additionally learned about proper nursery care and planting techniques. Through these experiential field trips and in-school presentations, HIP Ag is preparing local youth by using a community-minded approach to meet the critical need to train the next generation of health advocates, chefs, farmers, conscious consumers, and environmental stewards.