Island keiki bloom with school gardens

This is a great time of year to reflect on all the good things growing around us.

To see the joy on a keiki’s face when he picks a carrot from the ground for the first time, or she spears a fresh cherry tomato with mozzarella and basil to create a child’s Caprese salad on a stick is wondrous.

Grow Some Good is celebrating its eighth year of planting school gardens and promoting healthful eating on Maui.

Its programs have grown from one school to more than 3,000 students in 12 schools across the Valley Isle.

According to Grow Some Good co-founder and Operations Manager Nio Kindla, school gardens are key components to the success of farm-to-school programs.

“School garden programs are an important part of supporting the farm-to-school initiative. When students grow, harvest and prepare their own dishes using school garden produce, they are more likely to eat fresh fruits and vegetables in school lunches and bring that enthusiasm home to the dinner table,” Kinda says.

While the program has been budding like bamboo in a rain forest, Grow Some Good is declaring 2016 “a banner year” for upcoming projects.

Maui leads the islands in the farm-to-school movement with community-based agriculture and nutrition and education improvement in our communities.

Currently, Maui School Garden Network is comprised of 45 school gardens on Maui and one on Lanai – and they are in all stages of development; while Grow Some Good runs the programs in 12 schools.

On July 7, Gov. David Ige signed Farm to School bill SB 376, aiming to increase the amount of local produce served in Hawaii school cafeterias.

Representatives from Maui School Garden Network and Grow Some Good also participate in the statewide preschool through college (P-20) Working Group. The goal of the group is to weave a strand of agricultural learning through curriculum that develops from pre-K through college level.

“We are starting at the earliest stages of the keiki’s development and keeping them inspired through their entire educational careers,” says Lehn Huff, coordinator for Maui School Garden Network.

“The group is looking at ways to incorporate best practices from all schools that can be implemented in programs statewide.”

The governor’s farm-to-school press release explains that SB 376, Act 218 established the Hawaii farm-to-school program and funds a farm-to-school coordinator position.

But across the nation, schools are jumping on board.

“Farm-to-school programs are reconnecting students to a better understanding of the food system and where their food comes from. Farm- to-school programs introduce students to healthier eating habits and help them become familiar with new vegetables and fruits that they and their families will then be more willing to incorporate into their own diets. The farm-to-school coordinator negotiates the complicated process of procuring local agricultural products for our schools,” continues Huff.

To support this initiative on a local level, Grow Some Good has launched a fundraising campaign to support current programs and expand outreach to more students and schools throughout Maui.

Grow Some Good has set a goal to raise $30,000 through direct private donations in the first quarter of 2016. According to organizers, it costs approximately $50 for each student to participate.

In addition to the direct donor fundraising campaign, Grow Some Good is now offering advance tickets, tables and sponsorships to its signature event. Now in its fourth year, Taste of School Gardens will be held March 12 outdoors at Hotel Wailea.

During this multi-station culinary event, Maui’s top chefs prepare gourmet dishes made from school garden-grown ingredients. Guests may also sample an incredible selection of fine wines and local brews and enjoy live music by the aptly named Soul Kitchen as well as take in the spectacular sunset views.

This year’s featured chefs will include Gary Johnson of Hana Ranch Provision Co.; Craig Dryhurst of DUO at Four Seasons Resort Maui; Cameron Lewark of Spago; Brian Etheredge of Capische?; Christopher Kulis of The Market by Capische?; Brian Murphy of Cow Pig Bun; Kevin Laut of The Outrigger Pizza Co.; and Mike O’Dwyer of Fabiani’s and Mulligans on the Blue.

“Whether it’s your time, your resources or donating money to support school gardens and the local agriculture movement, it means that you want more of this in the world, and that’s what we’re coming together to create,” says Kirk Surry, co-founder.

Co-founder Kathy Becklin adds that these kids will be our future engineers, scientists, mayors and parents.

“It’s really important that they learn lessons about taking care of the earth and taking care of themselves, so that we can build a better community for the future,” she says.