A sixth grade garden student approached me the other day about getting to work on the neglected Native Hawaiian Plant garden outside their classroom. Stoked to oblige when a student requests a task, I came in to host a classroom work day. Students started with the irrigation. They traced it back to the source and made sure every line was delivering water to dehydrated plants. A drought does one thing very well; defines what plant is getting water and what plant is not. Students also got to work on their defunct waterfall. They found the pump, took it apart, cleaned it, put it back together, cleared the line up the fall, and troubleshooted about why the waterfall was barren. In forty minutes with five hard-working 5/6 graders, we laid the groundwork to fix the waterfall, replaced existing irrigation, hauled rubbish, moved mulch. Empowered elementary students make a fierce volunteer work force.
Students were delighted when I told them that if they were adults working for that time as a commercial irrigationist, they would have earned at least 80$, starting at $125 for a consultation. Irrigation instalation could be a lucrative way to work your way through college or to travel the world. One with irrigation and graywater knowledge will be valuable in the future as world water supplies become more and more valuable.
The Big Island is blessed by the Soil Whisperer. Gene has dedicated his life to studying soil and sharing the information he has discovered. Yesturday, garden students were lucky enough to hear Gene's knowledge and share in his enthusiastic, hopeful vibe. Gene's message is that soil health = plant health = human health. When he talks soil health, he means literally examining the mineral and vitamin content of soil, discovering that added vitamins and minerals in depleted soil means added vitamins and minerals in human bellies. After decades of agricultural poison, synthetic fertilizers, deforestation, and other means of abuse, the earth's soil has become depleted of the vital nutrients that feed the microorganisms and macroorganisms in soil. These important soil organisms ingest nutrients, breaking vitamins and minerals down into forms usable by plant roots. Plants internalize these nutrients, maximizing the plant's health and making them available for human consumption. Without added nutrients in our soil, plants need more water, are ruthlessly attacked by insects that know where to get an easy meal, and humans are eating food empty of the vitamins and minerals needed for optimal health. In Hawaii, we import 90% of our food; food that is depleted of nutrients, transported by boat across the Pacific, and then fumigated to kill bugs. Gene came yesturday to begin the process of amending our school's garden soil so the fruits and veggies we grow are full of the vitamins and minerals children need for healthy growth.
Garden students were happy to learn from the Soil Whisperer. They were shocked to hear that these basic connections between soil health and human health are actually radical scientific thought. Mainstream science does not embrace Gene's methods of improving soil health, instead siding with the use of more chemicals and more water to make up for any soil shortcomings.
Gene the Soil Whisperer is a modern day Rachel Carson, and our school, our Island, are blessed to have him.
Garden safety starts with spacial awareness. Children don't seem to always be aware of their body's physical location. Kids must be taught about their sense of physical space. Personal spacial values and norms vary according to culture but when adult, steel tools get involved, some things are universal.
Garden classes where children are employing tools, for me, are spent navagating children's spacial safety. As a vigilant detector, I've noticed that a girl can be completely unaware that she is armed with a two-foot, metal clipper as she skips over rocky garden terrain. A boy will be totally oblivious that he is using a shovel as a pogo stick; alone in his own creative play. First and second graders have been known to line-up swinging back to back with shovels twice as long they are, blind to the other child eight inches behind.
Tool safety is serious business. Our first Garden Agreement is "I will be safe." With Tool Privelage, students learn to handle shovels, hand tools, rakes, hoses, hand clippers, laupers. We had a highly sough-over, hand-held pick at one time and older classes get special, incredibly monitored use of the machette and hand saw.
The seriousness of which they face these tasks makes me feel like kids can handle more than society gives them credit for. If we trust them with a cell phone, shouldn't we be able to trust them with a shovel?
Valuable knowledge is gained as students learn about what one's body feels like when gripping hand clippers, or how to organize safe group work with peers using both hand and full-sized tools. Kids take garden safety seriously because they've been empowered with real tools to do important work.
No student has lost their Tool Privelage more than once. The craziest class so far happened three years ago. Injury free, but kids were so wild I had to make them put their tools on the ground and take calm steps back. Twenty minutes later, a storm swept in and lightning literally struck our campus. No wonder the kids were freaking out.
The pigs that maraude our campus off hours are getting desperate. Starving for water, the pigs have taken to rooting up places they have never touched before. No irrigation spicket is off limits; no rock left unturned; no root ball untested. Just yesturday, the pigs pulled up part of the back lawn, directly under our shaded, outdoor classroom; husk marks and all. They drained the pond students made the day before that, leaving desperate guppies in two inches of water.
Students greet pig destruction with fascination and a determination to trick them back. Many favor hunting the pigs so our school could have a grand feast. A few sixth grade boys even claim they could do the job. Some students cringe that the thought of killing our school pigs but when asked who in the group eats spam, those same squeemish hands go up.
Students have decided it is far more sustainable to their own bacon eating habits to kill pigs that live on our island and get away from transporting foreign ham. Many class discussions have centered on pig issues, but all agree - the pigs must suffer defeat.
Central to our talks is the fact that our school is smack dab in the middle of ancient pig stomping ground, of some kind. IPCS is located in Pua'a Ahupua'a. Pua'a = pig, Ahupua'a=pig alter; an rock marker that depicted the barriers of ancient land divisions, ahupua'a, that stretched from ocean to mountain with inhabitants trading food and resources from the different zones. We don't know why our ahupua'a was named "Pig," but judging from the amount of the hairy beasts present, they've been around for a long time. I've read about a feast in ancient Kona where 300 pig and 200 dog were said to be cooked up for one party. Mahi'ai (food cultivators) would open and invite pigs in to a new patch, let them move around the rocks, and then wall them out when their rooting was deep enough to plant.
Students never loose hope. Even when pigs have stolen pineapple days away from perfect ripeness, they shrug it off. Replant. Put up a better fence. "What about speading chili peppers around?"
We'll get them one of these days. And when we do, you're invited to the feast.
Tuesday morning kicked off with a bang as the Jr. High students and I talked GMO. They were surprised to learn that Hawaii is a major GM seed-testing-ground, where corporations do not have to disclose their presence to neighbors or other members of the public. It was mind-blowing to these bright-eyed youth that Terminator Seeds exist - seeds mutated to bear fruit that can not be replanted. Terminator seeds sever ancient ties of growers saving seed to continue crop cycles with unnaturally bloated, one-yeild harvests marketed to the poorest of countries. "Why would they do that?" asked one doe-eyed girl. Another answered, "For money." "Well, that's not a good enough reason," she replied in the breath before class ended.
Our students gett really excited about dehydrated banans! A coveted garden delight, even adults can't believe that all they are are apple bananas, cut into fourths, laid on trays and stacked in a dehydrator overnight. The way students respond to dehydrated banana wedges (so they are chewy, not crispy) you'd swear I was getting out a cake! On Tuesday, a sweaty afternoon spent on challenging garden maintenance was rewarded with dehydrated delights. Students waited patiently in line for their work share. One excited first grader went bounding away exclaiming, "I LOVE GARDENING!!! THIS IS THE BEST DAY EVER!!!" I'm not kidding about the absolute glee brought about by these school-grown, easy, plain ol' dehydrated bananas.
The best things in life are still free.
The life of the land is perpetuated in righteousness.
The Hawai'i State Motto is written on our garden classroom "chalkboard," a large dry erase board. We practice saying it together and talk about what the words mean every class. One Garden Agreement we operate by is that a student has used her or his time well if they have done something to give back, to be righteous with the land. That could mean anything from digging a hole or journaling a thoughtful insect sketch; time is used well if they were pono with each other, but specifically with the land. Back in school after holiday, I am reminded about my faith in the next generation. Maybe its the persiverance in the beads of sweat dripping down the determined six year old faces of four boys working together to dig up "the biggest rock in the world" when there are piles of rocks around. Or the respect in the actions of a sixth grade girl directing peers around a golden green chrsylis dangling from a shelf. The kids get pono. And land. And a connection between the two.
It is tradition in Hawaii to let off fireworks for New Year's Eve. The racket that rings in the New Year makes July 4 seem tame. With everyone at my house on a budget and no one of us a fan of the firework debris that litters streets, beaches, and parking lots for weeks after the big night, a friend suggested we bang pans like he used to do when he was a kid in San Fran. All we needed was pans and wooden spoons. Easy enough; we gathered pots and utensils and I couldn't help but feeling a bit shy, like when I was a teenager wearing a new outfit to school. At the stroke of midnight, we started pounding our pans like crazy. Our party of five turned out to be louder than the Chinese lantern fireworks that drown out all other sound. Grinning so big, all I remember seeing was the teeth of my friends. Our pan-banging display came complete with a mini-workout and we could hear other folks down a few streets banging on pans too. Hear's to many more New Years sealed with sustainable, yet loud and crazy-feeling, pan-banging.
Ms Krista says:
Everyday encounters with real garden sprites; tortuous panorama of the surf; old-growth collards; machete lessons; mantis rehab; pesto pasta. Days as a public school garden teacher on the Big Island are filled with unexpected gems of wisdom and infinite inspirations. Introducing my life as a school garden teacher...