Growing up in the South Bronx, Pardo and Coletti recognized the value of after-school programs like those offered by Boys and Girls Clubs, YMCA, YWCA, and arts programs offered by organizations such as Maui Academy of Performing Arts (MAPA).
Since students from nearby Makawao Elementary School began to make a habit of dropping by the establishment at the end of the day, Pardo, Coletti and Magenheim began to cook up an idea that could provide positive activity for the children. An organic garden would be perfect, they thought.
They surmised that a hands-on organic garden would encourage the kids to eat better and at the same time educate them about agriculture and healthy food sources.
Diyani smooths the dirt in preparation for planting basil at the Makawao School organic garden.
After a couple of months of planning and meetings about immersing the students from seed to harvest in an organic garden project, the restaurateurs got the green light from Principal Emily DeCosta, Student Services Coordinator Desiree Abreu and the teachers who would participate.
Two first grade classes and two special education classes would begin the project. The students came from classes taught by Melani Palmer, Bonita Lum, Kathryn Hund and Christina Cowell, who designed a unit to support the experiential learning opportunity afforded by the organic garden.
“Without their [Market Fresh Bistro’s] initiative and dedication to the children and our school, our garden would simply have not happened,” said Lum. “We have used the garden as a springboard to discuss what plants need to grow, habitats, food chains, recycling, worms, composting and more.”
“Other teachers and students have also commented on our little garden,” added Lum. “Perhaps this will set an example to the rest of the community. It would be great if the county would set up more community gardens so more people could grow their own food.”
The six-week project began in early March. The bistro owners provide everything, including a few hours a week of direction and supervision for the children.
The restaurant co-owners began the project with a brief presentation to the children. When they brought out seed trays, the children literally dove in. Children and dirt seem to be a magical combination. Every seed sprouted.
“We dug up all of the weeds in the old hedge beds only to find beautiful soil underneath with worms already happening!” said Coletti.
Then Pardo and Magenheim constructed a retaining wall and shoveled in a layer of potting soil to get ready for the planting.
The students’ enthusiasm was readily apparent as they smoothed the soil in preparation for the receipt of their ?edgling plants. The children gazed lovingly and in amazement at the greenery that had come from the tiny seeds they planted only two weeks prior.
The garden consists of basil, carrots, beets, lettuce, radishes, wax and yellow beans, sun?owers, cherry tomatoes, eggplant and broccoli.
When the produce is harvested, Chef Pardo will prepare a feast for the children and their teachers.
“Some of these kids have never had beets or wax beans,” said the chef. “I hope to help them learn something about where their food comes from, help them to experience new food, improve their diet and learn to appreciate good, wholesome, freshly grown, local organic produce.”
As the Upcountry students anxiously await the arrival of the harvest and their feast, they will continue to learn more about monitoring, recording, maintaining and caring for their organic garden.
The restaurateurs financed the project by donating $5 from every “Farm Dinner” they serve.
Each special Farm Dinner uses produce from an organic farm on Maui. Often, the farmer is invited to present a talk about the fruits and vegetables of his or her labors.
Chef Pardo uses the farmer’s products in his design of a five course, prix fixe menu ($50 per person, plus tax and gratuity). The Farm Dinner event is always a sell-out. Initially held once a month, they have expanding to every other Thursday and Friday.