A raccoon feast in the sweet corn, a hailstorm just as the peaches ripen, or a groundhog field day in the field greens. School gardens are often the scenes of minor dramas. It’s nigh impossible to go a full season without one act of nature or another. But how about lava in the school garden? At Kua O Ka La New Century Public Charter School on the Big Island of Hawai’i, the school garden is facing one of the most powerful forces of nature of all: an erupting volcano. The lessons learned through the garden — teamwork, problem solving, natural sciences, and the skills for feeding oneself sustainably —are gaining new importance as the school decides how it will teach, feed, and care for the basic needs of their students throughout the school day.
The lava flow from Kilauea, a small-ish volcano on the southern end of the Big Island, is slowly making its way towards a crucial highway that connects half of the student body with the school. If the road is subsumed by lava, about 10,000 people may have limited access to basic resources such as gas, food, electricity, and water. The coming days will require teachers, students and families to join together with compassion and quickly adapt to the presently unknown challenges to come.
Thankfully, Kua O Ka La has a leg up when it comes to resiliency. Focusing on engaging, place-based learning, the school has a thriving garden program including a large in-ground planting area, a greenhouse, a vermiculture station and several garden beds. Chioke Mims, known by the community as “Mama Chioke,” acts as the main agricultural instructor. Helping implement hands-on nutrition and garden lessons is FoodCorps service member Kaylie Pickup, a recent graduate of University of Hawai’i-Hilo.
“We’re teaching the kids and supporting the community by providing them with the tools necessary to continue cultivating and growing gardens. [This is] why sustainability practices need to be done. [It’s also] an opportunity to curb processed foods, focus on local foods and return to an indigenous diet.” – Mama Chioke
Mama Chioke and Kaylie teach a ‘whole systems’ perspective, which guides children to see the entwined workings of ecosystems and the world around us. Students gain an awareness of scientific concepts in real time, and are given the space to create genuine interest in nature and their interaction with it. The garden is a crucial element for engaging students in learning who they are, where they are from, and what they are capable of. That knowledge gives students confidence in their abilities to care for themselves in a basic, yet essential and sustainable way.
By FoodCorps fellow Andrea Snow.
FoodCorps is a nationwide team of passionate leaders who work to connect kids to real food. As a “Seed Funder,” Annie’s is enabling FoodCorps Fellows to support, guide, and mentor service members who then go out to teach kids about what healthy food is and where it comes from, build and tend school gardens, and bring high-quality local food into public school cafeterias.