Sustainable agriculture students enrich class experience with community service

Each semester, the class helps clean up a fruit and vegetable garden at the Malia Puka O Kalani Catholic Church in Keaukaha.

By Juan Avellaneda, Student, Agriculture.

Group of students gathered for photo.
Students in UH Hilo’s course on sustainable agriculture in fall 2014 gather for group photo. Click to enlarge.

Have you heard about the sustainable agriculture course (Ag230) at the University of Hawai‘i at Hilo? This course offers community outreach, sustainable practices, and the experience of designing your very own sustainable garden. The course is taught by Norman Arancon, associate professor of horticulture. Students in the course are separated into groups and are assigned different areas on the UH Hilo campus, where they get to plant, grow, and harvest their own food.

This article will give you an insight on one of the field trips taken in the course last fall. In this community outreach field trip, the class helped clean up a fruit and vegetable garden at the Malia Puka O Kalani Catholic Church in Keaukaha.

The Malia Garden

Malia Puka O Kalani Catholic Church.

Malia Puka O Kalani Catholic Church is located in Keaukaha, Hilo, where almost half the resident population is Native Hawaiian and 295 acres are devoted to Hawaiian Home Lands.

The Malia Garden was initially started by the members of the community of Keaukaha, and parishioners of Malia Puka O Kalani, using a small portion of the land located at the back of the church to grow a variety of vegetables. People of multiple ages, cultures, ethnicities, and classes now work and learn together in the garden for a common goal: local, inexpensive food.

The Malia garden serves the Keaukaha community in two ways. First, by involving diverse agriculture students in building garden beds and covered seed-starting tables, cultivating the garden, and learning the scientific procedures of implementing soil amendments, indigenous microorganisms, and vermicompost. Secondly, harvests from the garden are given to the food pantry that the church then distributes to the community.

In 2012, UH Hilo agriculture students in Ag230 started coming to the garden once a semester to help clean up and plant more vegetables. Kaylie Pickup, a student at UH Hilo who took Ag230, made it a mission to focus on redesigning the garden while taking an independent course in horticulture.

Kaylie redesigned a whole new area and implemented her efforts with funding support from the Malia Puka O Kalani maintenance committee and social committee. Funding support also came from Diversity and Equity Initiative of UH Mānoa. The new design was implemented successfully with the help of students in Ag230 in the succeeding semesters.

The field trip

Students working in gardens.
Students help clean up the church’s Malia Garden.

Students and teachers worked together to get all classmates and tools transported to the site. When we arrived at the garden, we discovered there were three raised beds already set by previous semesters, and the beginning of a gravel trail across the garden. There were banana trees, taro, and lots of weeds covering the area.

After a brief orientation we set out to work.

Students working in garden plots.
More clearing and weeding!

There was a lot of manual weeding involved and we were glad we had appropriate garden tools available. The class brought two wheelbarrows from the university and used them to move around the gravel to make a pathway.

Other members of the class repaired existing vegetable plots, weeded out old patches planted to papayas and bananas, watered existing vegetables, hauled rocks for the pathway, and made a compost pile out of the weeds from the garden.

After a couple of hours work, we headed back to school feeling glad that we were able to make our contribution in making the garden as productive as it can be.

About the author: Juan Avellaneda is earning a bachelor of science in agriculture with a specialization in aquaculture at UH Hilo.