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Maui Ag Education Sows Seeds for Future

Green schooling movement is growing in schools across Maui County. “Kids need to connect to where their food comes from.”

September 23, 2010
Sarah Ruppenthal

It’s no secret that kids like to play in the dirt. But today, on the campuses of many Maui County elementary schools, you’ll find that students are not only excavating the Earth to construct the perfect mud pie, but they are also sowing the seeds for our future.

It’s not an uncommon sight, and for those who have been clinging to a vision of a better tomorrow, it’s a dream come true. At dozens of schools across Maui County, students are enthusiastically flexing their green thumbs, planting, maintaining and harvesting fruits and produce in school gardens—and it’s quickly becoming the status quo.

Dubbed the “green schooling movement,” a national effort is underway that seeks to integrate school gardens, healthy school lunches, food education and ecological and sustainable principles into traditional school curricula.

Article Photos

In August, five members of the Maui School Garden Network joined more than 60 educators statewide at the Waimea Middle School Māla‘ai Culinary Garden on Hawai‘i Island for the Third Annual Hawai‘i School Garden Teacher Conference hosted by the Center for Ecoliteracy, a Berkeley, California-based company that promotes sustainable living education.
Photo: Lisa Daly

A growing number of educators have joined this movement and are actively coordinating efforts to teach, inspire and empower students both in and out of the classroom. In August, five members of the Maui School Garden Network arrived at the Waimea Middle School Mala‘ai Culinary Garden on Hawai‘i Island for the Third Annual Hawai‘i School Garden Teacher Conference hosted by the Center for Ecoliteracy, a Berkeley, Calif.-based company that promotes sustainable living education.

Throughout the three-day conference, more than 60 educators from across the state worked to develop a curriculum that will effectively address a range of challenges—such as obesity and poor nutrition—facing Hawai‘i’s youth, while encouraging students to embrace sustainable practices, including gardening, farming, recycling and stewardship of the land.

Lisa Daly, a teacher at Haiku Elementary School, was one of the five Maui educators who attended last month’s three-day conference. Daly said she is thrilled to see the school garden movement in full bloom. “We decided to have our blessing of our new garden on Oct. 15,” she said. “It’s exciting!”

Daly and other school garden coordinators hope that this momentum will yield future generations of residents who will be intrinsically connected to the soil beneath their feet, forming a bond that will create a healthier community, both environmentally and economically.

Maui Aloha ‘Aina Association Founder Vincent Mina couldn’t agree more. Encouraging youth to see—and better yet, get a feel—for the “big picture” is more important than ever, he said.

“Our gardens are the bridge that leads us to staying connected to nature and the pleasure of growing something beautiful and/or nutritious,” said Mina. “It also opens the dialogue of sharing that beauty and nutrition with our friends, neighbors and community, a primal act of relating with one another that promotes peace on Earth from the Earth.”

Susan “Chef Teton” Campbell, author of The Healthy School Lunch Action Guide, and Essential Cuisine, A Journey From Seed to Soul, is an ardent supporter of the green schooling movement—and she has taken matters, quite literally, into her own hands.

“I’ve spent several years working in schools in all parts of the country,” she said. “I am adamant that kids need to connect to where their food comes from… traditional nutrition education is simply not enough to motivate kids to eat healthier, particularly when ‘junk food’ is affordable and available where ever they turn... even in their own schools.”

During a formal study she conducted in three schools in three separate states, Campbell discovered a correlation between the quality of nutrition education—or lack thereof—and students’ healthy food choices.

“What this study showed us is that when kids connect to their larger world and understand how their food choices affect the larger societal and environmental issues, they connect to their world and are naturally inspired toward stewardship,” she said, “to not only their own bodies, but the environment as well.”

The lesson learned here, said Campbell, “is that if kids have the experience, on this small, little island, to connect to sustainable ag systems and make the connection to how their choices today affect their health and their island’s future, they will become involved and act accordingly.”

With so many programs available, such as the Maui School Gardens Network and the Maui County Farm Bureau’s Agriculture in the Classroom program, an increasing number of island youth are improving their “agriculture literacy.”

And in order to cultivate a greater awareness of local agriculture, the Maui County Farm Bureau is currently developing a pilot program for a “Grown On Maui, Menus That Matter” program in schools across Maui, with the goal of “getting more fruits and vegetables to our keiki.”

This is good news for food education advocates like Campbell. “Kids need to connect to their world and have purpose,” she said. “School gardens are a must. Changing school food is a must. Educating kids about the ‘whole’ system of food production is a must. This alone could have far reaching effects for the future health of this island.”

For more information about the activities for youth offered by the Maui County Farm Bureau, visit To learn more about Susan “Chef Teton” Campbell and her book, visit or email



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