Thursday, November 18, 2010

Bees, Chickens, Mites and Fish. Community Gardeners on Kauai Gather to Talk about More Than Vegetables.

Raising backyard chickens is part of the conversation for Kauai Community Gardeners. This small flock is featured courtesy of David Tabonia.
On Saturday afternoon November 13, 2010 twenty individuals, covering the gamut from church community garden leaders, environmental educators, aquaponics teachers, grant writers, honey and bee advocates, back yard chicken farmers, private landowners, practitioners in the spiritual aspects of gardening, soil remediation experts and more gathered at the Kauai Community College (KCC) to talk about the issues and resources they share in common and how to maximize the local food sustainability efforts on Kauai.

Glen Hontz, developer of the course Growing Food as well as Agricultural Entrepreneur classes at KCC is the dynamic coordinator behind the gathering. The discussion ranged from the problems affecting the bees to how to repair overused and toxic soil. Here’s a few highlights from the afternoon exchange:

Bee covered in pollen. Photo courtesy of Happy Hour Design.
Growing food shouldn’t hurt. Perspective on growing up on a farm with a lot of chemical use. Hendrikus

Growing local food is way to restore not only our own health, but the health of the local economy. 

There are great implications for bee colonies from the varroa mite (Varroa destructor). There are also solutions but it requires very different techniques to protect your bees today.

Several months ago I started a quest – traveling around Kauai visiting the community gardens and writing stories for NatureTalksNews (for more see Kekaha and Kilauea). New community gardens are springing up across the island and linking with existing gardens that have been growing together for years. In the upcoming months we’ll visit all that are open and share their stories, who to contact and how to get involved. Next on the list are more of Kauai’s Church Gardens and the great work they do.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Growing Community Through A Garden: Kekaha Community Garden

Just imagine what kind of world we would have if everyone grew gardens instead of lawns.
Leez, Kekaha community gardener

Everyone is welcome to chip in and help. Pastor Mary's
daughter picks some tomatoes for an afternoon snack.
In the tiny little town of Kekaha, far on the west end of the island of Kauai, a visionary preacher, church congregation and small group of dedicated gardeners have banded together to start the Kekaha Community Garden. While one intention is to create a place where locals can grow fresh, healthy, affordable food the underlying philosophy is really to grow a stronger more connected community. The setting is quite informal, you might wonder, what could be formal in a garden? Gardens and landscapes like homes, churches and public buildings have their own sense of place, and spoken or unspoken rules of order. In Kekaha Garden there is a sense that all are welcome. On Sunday evening when we entered the gate I was instantly greeted by a very large well- mannered dog and a few children gathering tomatoes and exploring the bounty.

Kekaha Garden, on 6500 sq feet behind St. Paul's Church
Kekaha is a small community of a little over 3,000 people scattered over about 1 square mile. St. Paul's Church is set in the midst of houses on one of the residential streets surrounded by a large yard. Pastor Mary,  her husband and leaders of the Church started thinking around seven years ago “what can we do to give back to the community?" The question came up again when economics took a down turn and they decided to offer a bit of land for a community garden. The garden was launched on 6500 square feet tucked in behind the church, today, it is surrounded by a solid fence and donations of mulch, fruit trees and compost bins line the edges.

Leez, Barb and Loretto
Diane Rosenkrantz stepped in at this point. She is a dynamic leader who has organized the garden grants, mission and vision and the path for the future. Kekaha is in dire need of local affordable healthy food, there is no grocery store in the town, and as you can imagine the food costs, notorious in general throughout Hawaii, reach some all time highs in the westernmost community of the country. Diane organized a task force to launch the garden and create a setting conducive to this small, diverse community.

Currently the Kekaha Gardeners meet from around 4:30 - 6:30 PM on Sunday evenings when the temperature has cooled. It’s a great way to unwind from the day and connect with neighbors and make new friends. Weeding, harvesting, composting and taking home food are some of the activities and all are welcome. Please contact Diane Rosenkranz for more information on the garden and the plans for the future. Kehaha Community Garden is set up to welcome friends, family, and children. A peaceful setting to end the weekend so ride your bike over, pull some weeds and share in the harvest!

NatureTalks offers presentations geared to engage community in urban greening, our newest talk is titled, the Power of Plants to Transform Communities based on the book, It's About More than Trees. Visit NatureTalks for more information.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Where does my food come from? Community Gardening Kaua`i Style.

“The best fertilizer for the farm is the farmer’s footprint on the land”
German farmer quoted by Nancy Redfeather on KKCR’s garden show (

Sylvia Partridge moved to Kaua`i eight years ago, and is best known for her musical talents with two CDs out–Heaven is Waiting and Walking Home. She joined the Kilauea Community Garden to learn the answer to her question, “Where does my food come from?” Sylvia, like many of us, has easily navigated through the food pyramid, creating 100s of meals, while maintaining a distance from the origins of the food on her plate. Today, she has set about changing that. By immersing herself in the soil of Kauai’s north shore she is learning to distinguish between the weeds and the small papaya plants that she hopes will soon be lining her breakfast table with their fruit. One of Sylvia’s greatest pleasures is spending time with the other gardeners. “They are inspirational. They come here with a deep seated passion for the garden, the plants, and the land.”

'Grow Your Food, Grow Your Future
Kilauea Community Garden, based on the principle ‘Grow Your Food, Grow Your Future’ is a four acre parcel on Wai Koa Plantation leased to Malama Kaua`i for the purposes of establishing a community garden (malamakauaiNews).
Gardening community-style is not a typical feature of Kaua`i’s contemporary agricultural landscape. While in years past, plantation camps offered a bit of land for gardening or individual plots for families, the notion of formalized community gardens is really blossoming just in the past few years.  A major impetus for Kaua`i is in recent years we have become more influenced by economic issues, more concerned about the quality of our food and cognizant of our isolation from our food sources. Lets face it–3,000 miles is a long way to go for groceries. But generally that’s at least the distance 80 to 90% of our food travels to get to the island’s shores and stores. Building our capacity to feed ourselves has been a great motivating factor for many of our small farmers and gardeners for years on Kaua`i and today, the idea is growing.

Jerri Di Pietro of GMO free
Kauai see
for more on efforts in
Hawaii to keep taro GMO free.

 One practice that sets this community garden apart is the commitment to preserving genetic diversity.  In the Regenerations plot (see, eight varieties of taro, known in Hawai`i as kalo, intertwine, completely filling the 18 x 20 foot space and reaching for the sky. Some of these kalo are seldom seen today.

Here in Hawai`i, the growing and cultivation of the kalo plant is a tradition that stretches back for centuries.  The Hawaiians loved, honored, and cared for kalo and were in turn, as the creation story implies, fed and supported by it for generations and generations.  By tending carefully the kalo, the Hawaiians eventually cultivated more than 300 varieties by selecting the plants for certain conditions, climates, and soils and by hand-pollinating over years and years. (Excerpt from interview with Walter Ritte and Jerry Konanui for more see

Kalo, cultivated as part of the
Kauai Community Seed Bank Project
of regenerations Botanical Garden.

Other treasured taro varieties have been brought into Hawai’i by different cultures. For example the Fa`a Fausi, one of the kalo flourishing in the Kilauea garden, originated in Tonga. This taro boasts beautiful variegated stems, patterned leaves and reportedly a fantastic tasting orange corm. Growing these varieties in the Kilauea Community Garden produces a wealth of planting material destined for distribution to gardeners island-wide. Taro is vulnerable, like many plants, to a range of pests and is considered quite delectable to the wild pigs. The largest collections of taro on Kaua`i are maintained at UH CTAHR’s Research station in Wailua and at Limahuli Garden in Ha`ena. Sadly other collections have been wiped out by the foraging of feral animals looking for a tasty treat. To volunteer on the Kaua`i Community Seed Bank Project, contact

A successful community garden needs to be tended
by a dedicated gardener like Paul Massey, who
takes the lead at Kilauea.

 If you want to learn some basic gardening skills and discover hidden tips and insights from experts, then a community garden could offer you just the right setting. Here at the Kilauea Community Garden, while ground breaking only happened last November, in less than one year it is filled to the brim with plants and people. The site is 4 acres total with the initial 48 plots filled but more in the planning. Malama Kaua`i has exciting plans for the next phases of the community garden. To learn more about how you can get involved contact Malama Kaua'i at

The Kilauea Community Garden is a site of exceptional peace and beauty. People come to learn about food, to grow food for others and to share in the bounty and joy that comes from growing your own. Some might come just for the sanctuary it offers.
Laurel Francis helps with the harvest of Spanish
Pumpkin, Cucurbita maxima. Photo contributed by Paul Massey.

NatureTalks is dedicated to connecting people with nature. Currently we are exploring the local garden scene to see what’s blooming. We specialize in environmental education and urban forestry programs.  If your environmental project needs a hand, see for more details or contact naturetalks to talk about your specific project.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Have I Taught You Well Enough? Instilling an Environmental Ethic.

Have I taught you well enough? Spoken softly by Kumu Pua Case, these powerful words left a strong impact on the circle of teachers standing in the foothills of the Waimea mountains in the summer of 2010. Have I taught you well enough to make the decisions for the future of our island? Have I taught you well enough to make the decisions on where, what type and how much development? Have I taught you well enough to make the decisions on land use and resource use? Have I taught you well enough to take care of these lands, these sacred sites and our culture for me when I am old? This phrase can serve as a navigational tool for measuring our effectiveness in the role of a teacher--not by report cards and standards--but by our our effective transmission of an environmental sense of responsibility or kuleana, to our students.

Zenobia Barlow and Pua Mendonca discuss
creating a food culture.
July 2010 marked the 3rd Annual Hawaii Island School Garden Teacher Training Workshop. These events are sponsored by the Kohala Center, and lead by Nancy Redfeather, the inspirational conduit for the ever-growing school, farmer and community connection on the island of Hawaii (see for more on Kohala Center’s activities in research, conservation and education). This year the event was co-sponsored by Berkley's Center for Ecoliteracy, whose team of experts delivered "Smart by Nature - Growing School Garden Curriculum” a program designed to bring learning alive for students, right to our doorstep. The Center for Ecoliteracy’s team of experts Zenobia Barlow, Carolie Sly, and Karen Brown introduce the concept of Sustainability as a Community Practice and challenged each of us individually to identify our strengths within the community in one of four categories: are we holders of tradition; visionaries looking to the future; practical and action oriented or relationship and communication specialists? And then collectively to use these skills to to create a network and chart a course of action for school gardens and environmental education across the state of Hawai’i. Learn more about the Center for Ecoliteracy, Smart by Nature and Big Ideas--two exciting curricula focused on Food, Culture, Health and Environment at

Holly Green harvests herbs for afternoon tea.
Mala`ai, the Culinary Gardens of Waimea Middle School, was the perfect setting for the workshop. Mala`ai offers a living example of how a school garden can integrate community and become a focal point for the school. Mala`ai activities also illustrate how to use a garden to teach standards-based lessons in tandem with classroom teachers. Spending time in Mala`ai and experiencing the garden itself, subtly imbues students, teachers and parents with the more intangible lessons−connecting with nature; appreciation of beauty and observation of nature; and, of course; learning how to grow, harvest and cook local nutritious food. Waimea’s school garden was literally hand-carved out of a rocky field and it’s beauty today is a charming contrast to the barren lawns surrounding the school itself and the new development complex creeping up right next door. The garden is a strong tribute to Amanda Rieux, Program Director, Holly Green and the community. To learn more about Mala`ai and how to get involved see

One session featured harvesting
and preparing amaranth.
Presenters shared innovative ways to instill environmental ethics into the every day school scene via: a love of gardening; an appreciation of food and nutrition; a desire to recycle; a dedication to community; a willingness to stand up for change; a passion for worms and composting; and a whole myriad of other core, life and garden principals. The presentations swayed between between inspirational stories of Hawai`i schools to environmental activism at other schools across the nation, returning to the major themes of food, nutrition and classroom specific curriculum ideas from Big Ideas, Smart by Nature and Hawai`i's teachers. If one conference theme were distilled it’s Food! the importance of connecting to food, growing food, harvesting food and how much fun kids have when food is an integral part of the learning environment. But it doesn’t stop with food, that is just the beginning. Teachers shared a myriad of experiences on how to get not just the students, but teachers, administrators and the surrounding community to engage in the garden. To keep an eye on Hawai`i’s Island School Garden Programs visit

In the summer of 2009, I had the pleasure of joining this group when Nancy and her husband Gerry invited over 40 school garden enthusiasts to share in the workshop at their farm. This year there were many familiar faces and a host of new attendees, Gigi Coquito, from Oahu's Hoa `Aina O Makaha, as well as local chef Sandy Barr, Professor of Culinary Arts at Hawai'i Community College in Hilo, and Slow Food. This small, but growing group of teachers, gardeners, food advocates, chefs, parents and students are building a big presence for Hawaii’s schools, farmers, gardens, food, nutrition and environment. At the July 2010 School Garden Teachers workshop, NatureTalks featured the presentation Children’s Perspectives on the Environment -- Gaining Insights. NatureTalks specializes in working with schools and communities in the planning stages of a garden, Before You Dig. Helping you create a school, church or neighborhood garden that meets your specific needs. Contact and visit for more details.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Creating School Gardens

Imagine a schoolyard where students meander through a landscape that is filled with pathways, shade, food, flowers, benches, games, and art. A landscape where the child is intimately connected and familiar with plants they have planted, flowers for cutting, herbs, food, and places to study and play. This vision is the one many in our community, here in Hawai`i, and elsewhere in the world are creating.

Now, picture a school where a child walks through a scrubby, weed, dirt and lawn patch on their way to and from classes, lunch and other activities. Surprisingly, even in Hawai`i , where we live in a lush subtropical climate, this scene is all too common. Other interactions with the outdoor campus might include recess, games and organized sports.

Today, there is a momentum building to help schools develop gardens--with a focus on offering healthy, nutritious local food in the lunchroom. Creating change at our schools will create powerful changes, not only for the children, also for the parents, teachers, and surrounding community.

Several years ago I conducted a study of Hawai’i Schools to learn from teachers about their success and challenges in creating a school garden. Examples from this research were compiled into the book entitled, Growing an Educational Garden at Your School: A Study of the Hawai`i Experience.

Growing an Educational Garden at Your School: A Study of the Hawai`i Experience,
showcases case studies from eighteen gardens. Full publication is available from:

NatureTalks also offers presentations; workshops and planning sessions to help schools get growing!