Before I knew it, school was back in session and HiP Agriculture was jumping right back into the After-School Garden Program at Kohala Elementary School (KES). This school year there are more students enrolled in the garden program than ever before, revealing it to be favored by students of all ages, throughout K-5. The program takes place at KES’s school garden, however, what makes it special is its story, its purpose, and the collective effort that continues to promote its success. How it all began: Once an overgrown gulch surrounding the school, the area has been transformed into beautiful rows of vegetables, flowers, herbs, and fruit trees. The garden was created 5 years ago with major help from principal Danny Garcia and, years later, FoodCorps volunteers and HiP Agriculture contributing the education component. The garden has had many hands to help it come to fruition including HiP Ag, FoodCorps members, volunteers from the community, and, most importantly, the hands of each student at KES that has contributed to its flourishing.
Our role: Once a week for the entirety of the school year, HiP Agriculture partners with FoodCorps member and garden teacher, Maylan Ackerman, to welcome 20 students into the school garden for an experiential learning session. What does experiential learning mean? In the garden, we encourage students to slow down and make observations using their senses. This active participation is not only tons of fun, but it is also a multi-sensory learning experience, an active engagement of taste, smell, touch, sight, hearing, and movement that stimulates their engagement and ability to process information. As educators, we prompt them with questions: what colors do you observe? how does the basil and oregano smell? how does the tomato taste? how does the cotton feel? All in all, our goal is to connect them to the garden in whatever capacity resonates and encourage them, as our future generation, to be environmental guardians in the community. After-school programming can look and feel hectic with 20 students in the garden. However, I must remind myself - teachers are required to ask these same students to sit, read, study, and take tests for the majority of their school day. The garden program is an opportunity for students to engage in nature while we promote important learning goals of environmental awareness, plant identification, gardening skills, and relative consciousness of other living entities. Together we flip the compost, learning about natural recycling, plant seedlings, harvest, water, and weed. Again, it’s a multi-faceted method of learning - it’s work, it’s play, and it’s education! Education comes in many forms; my favorite method of teaching and engaging is, hands down, garden education. I believe the following quote from Zenobia Barlow, author of “Confluence of Streams,” relays my sentiments most eloquently. She wrote, "Children are born with a sense of wonder and an affinity for Nature. Properly cultivated, these values can mature into ecological literacy, and eventually into sustainable patterns of living." Building relationships with these students as they explore the natural world through hands-on garden work continually reminds me of HiP Agriculture’s invaluable mission. To teach our future generation how to live and eat right through empowered teachings of how to develop, grow, and love a garden.