Guest Blog by Donna Mitts – Program Coordinator, The Kohala Center

For almost eight years I have been a coordinator for The Kohala Center’s Hawai‘i Island School Garden Network (HISGN). Founded in the year 2000, The Kohala Center is an independent, community-based center for research, conservation, and education. The Center works for a vibrant, sustainable future for Hawai‘i by focusing on four key areas: food, water, place, and people.

By supporting more than 60 school learning gardens on Hawai‘i Island through technical assistance and professional development programs, HISGN connects Hawai‘i’s keiki (children) to fresh food, healthier eating habits, and the ‘āina (land) itself. The Kohala Center also administers FoodCorps Hawai‘i and the statewide Hawai‘i Farm to School and School Garden Hui. These three initiatives support garden and nutrition programs and help schools procure fresh, healthy, locally grown food.

At public, private, and charter schools across the island—from cool, breezy South Kohala to tropical Hilo, from sunny South Kona to verdant Hāmākua—more than 16 acres of school learning gardens have been planted, annually yielding 30,000 pounds of food for these students and their school communities to enjoy. Concurrently, deeper learning of mathematics, social studies, language arts, fine arts, and the natural sciences is taking place in these vibrant, engaging outdoor classrooms.

Since it began in 2008 HISGN has been offering professional development and networking opportunities for our learning garden community. I remember when the network was first forming: I was still a garden coordinator at a small public school along the Hāmākua Coast. I was given a message from the school office to contact Nancy Redfeather, director of the newly formed Network. She contacted all of the schools on Hawai‘i Island to find out which schools had a garden. I think initially there were fewer than a dozen schools identified. The people heading those gardens were brought together to discuss forming a network. Many of us weren’t aware of other school gardens in existence at that time and were all just gardening with students. I led that school’s garden program for ten years, offering weekly garden classes for students in grades K through 9.

Eventually my position at that school was eliminated due to budget cuts and I began working at The Kohala Center as the HISGN program coordinator. It was a great transition that afforded me the chance to continue helping the school garden movement on our island. Hawai‘i Island is quite large and Nancy needed help doing site visits and offering support. We developed workshops in garden-based learning, offered school garden tours for inspiration, compiled curriculum, and identified many other opportunities for those in our school garden community. We started sharing our resources on our website and news on our Facebook page.

As our network developed, we asked the school garden community what they needed. We found they needed curriculum for connecting classwork with gardens, growing techniques for Hawai‘i’s unique garden challenges, networking opportunities, and inspiration from other school gardens.

We recently released the Hawai‘i School Garden Curriculum Map, created by teachers for their peers who may not be gardeners themselves but intuitively understand the benefits of inquiry-based, place-based, project-based learning for their students.
By listening to our Network’s needs we have been able to nurture and grow a movement in Hawai‘i, one school garden at a time.

Photos provided by: The Kohala Center

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