On April 24-26 students, chefs, teachers and volunteers celebrated the Kihei Elementary School annual Harvest Fest.
Students in kindergarten through fifth grade prepared Asian stir-fry dishes and gourmet veggie pizzas using ingredients grown and harvested from the school's own Pizza Garden. Chefs supervised a giant wok and wood-fired pizza oven and served the feast in a pop-up-tent cafe.
Now in its sixth year, the Kihei Elementary School Garden, managed by Grow Some Good, has become a model program for integrating sustainability and nutrition into its school curriculum.
Some of Sandra Rivas’ third grade students at Kīhei Elementary School--(left to right) Waimea Tsark, Niko Von Nostrand and Maura Smith--prepare garden-grown ingredients for an Asian stir-fry.
Photo courtesy of Grow Some Good
On a quarter-acre of the campus, the program includes a diversity of gardens. For example, the Canoe Garden features plants brought by the earliest Polynesian settlers on the Hawaiian Islands, such as taro and sugar cane.
Grow Some Good is a nonprofit community program dedicated to creating hands-on, outdoor learning experiences that cultivate curiosity about natural life cycles. The teaching connects students to their food sources and inspires better nutrition choices.
"We help establish food gardens and living science labs in local schools," said Kirk Surry, co-founder of Grow Some Good. "We provide resources and curriculum support through community partnerships in agriculture, science, food education and nutrition."
The Kihei Elementary School garden serves as an outdoor laboratory for more than 950 students to grow, harvest and taste their creations.
World-class chefs from Capische?, Spago, Four Seasons Ferraro's Bar e Ristorante, Private Chef Maui, Outrigger Pizza Company and others participate in hands-on recipe workshops. Their intent is to encourage the children to think differently about food and nutrition.
"We hope the next generation will learn to sustain the vegetable crops we eat," said Chef Brian Etheredge, owner of Capische? restaurant in Wailea. "That is especially important because we live on an island. It's important to start their education early and inspire them to become actively involved in every aspect of sustainable living."
"We have observed children who are shy or don't do well in the classroom blossom just like the plants they are cultivating," said Halle Maxwell, principal of Kihei Elementary School. "They share gardening information and techniques with the other students and beam with pride from the positive response they receive from their classmates."
Starting with one teacher and three small, raised garden beds at Kihei Elementary in 2008, Grow Some Good began work as part of a local sustainability effort.
Later, with grants from the County of Maui, the Ulupono Initiative, Johnson 'Ohana Foundation, Community Work Day and Whole Kids Foundation, plus generous donations from many local businesses, Grow Some Good matured into a comprehensive school garden program.
In 2010, two local chefs, Brian Etheredge and Dan Fiske, pledged to support the garden with a monthly stipend, assist with fundraising and mentor the students.
"Etheredge and Fiske, now joined by other chefs, also encourage students to improve their nutrition choices with 'localicious' recipes," said Surry.
By 2013, the school garden program expanded to multiple schools, involving 50 teachers and over 2,000 students in South and Central Maui. Participating schools now include Kihei Elementary, Lokelani Intermediate, Kamali'i Elementary, Wailuku Elementary and Kihei Charter School.
"We incorporate a variety of math, science and other educational lessons into school garden programs," said Surry.
For example, students at Kihei Elementary practice measuring perimeter and volume in the garden to determine quantities of soil and lumber required to build a new raised garden bed. They also design garden layouts, using other measurements to determine how many plants can be planted in the surface area of the new bed. In addition, they apply math skills to decide what price to charge for the produce.
"Our goal is to share our expertise with other schools wishing to establish or grow their own gardens and living lab classrooms," Surry said. "Improving nutrition habits and inspiring our next generation of farmers, scientists, teachers and chefs are what this is all about."
Grow Some Good continues to seek long-term partners, expanded funding and community advisors in order to support healthy, well-managed sustainable school gardens.
With more support and assistance, they will be able to plant new seeds of change every day throughout Maui while providing outdoor learning adventures and greater nutritional awareness for the island's keiki.