Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Fresh Sprouts at School

When you think about it, farms and schools have the same goal: to plant seeds and nurture growth. At Sunset Beach Elementary School the figurative ideal has gone literal. Seed-planting, plus a healthy dose of support from educators, parents, farms and the community, has sprouted and nurtured students' love of gardening and their taste for locally grown fruits and vegetables.

On the school campus, students tend a garden and an orchard, thanks to donations from the community and support from the Kokua Hawaii Foundation. The 'AINA Kine Student Farmers' Market Club funds a biweekly healthy snack supplied mostly by local farms, and a weekly lunchtime salad bar comes via support of the foundation.

All this focus on local, healthful food began converging at the school in February 2009, when parent Erin Delventhal noticed that fruit from neighborhood trees was "left on the ground half the time."

"I knew they could be put to good use, so I set up a meeting with the principal and Kim Johnson of the Kokua Foundation, who also has kids at the school," she recalls.  The school organized a farmers market club for students and asked the community to donate home-grown produce for the first sale. On market day they had a table full of food that generated $180 in one hour.

"When we asked the club what they wanted to do with the money, they said they wanted to provide the students with a healthy snack," Delventhal says. "The first snack was watermelon."

Since then, 15,000 healthy snacks have been served to the student body.

"Working with local farmers, I am usually able to purchase produce that is allowed to ripen naturally," says Delventhal. "Buying local gives the students the best-tasting snacks and, ultimately, influences their food choices. For instance, after serving starfruit from Poamoho Organic Produce in Waialua, we saw students lining up, quarters in hand, ready to purchase starfruit at the student farmers market."

Several months after that first market, the club received a grant from the foundation to plant a garden at the school. It also hosted a community tree drive that led to an orchard of guava, starfruit, kumquat, orange, lemon, lime, tangerine, grapefruit, sapodilla, wax jambu and sweetsop trees. Under the trees, the children planted sweet potato, pumpkin, zinnias,
gardenias, lilikoi and pineapple.

Meanwhile, the school organized a fresh lunchtime salad bar.

Today, produce from the school garden takes its place on the farmers market table alongside donations, and Thursday lunches include a trip to the salad bar. And the students love it.

Read the complete story here.

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