Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Learning to Grow Together

What works in gardens on the continent doesn’t always make sense in Hawaii, of course, but sometimes there are some inspiring ideas that deserve a second look. This past week I was in the San Francisco Bay area and my friend Allyson Gordon invited me to a special open house at a school garden.

Allyson is a second grade teacher at Bay Farm School in Alameda, a man-made “island” in San Francisco Bay. That was an unusually bone-chilling day – couldn’t wait to get back to real island weather! Still, I had a great time partaking in all the joy represented through the work of these creative students. Their fundraiser featured handmade goods from the garden, such as yummy lavender lemonade, handmade soaps scented with botanicals, plus...

a soothing “Itchy Salve” made from beeswax, olive oil, plantain, calendula, mint, rosemary….

“Seed Balls” formed with terra cotta clay, compost and native wildflower seeds -- perfect for throwing over the fence of a vacant city lot to do some urban guerilla greening-up. Imagine tossing some seed balls of native Hawaiian plants and veggies on some bare Honolulu lots!

The school’s butterfly habitat is part of the school’s outdoor learning center, which also includes for each classroom generous plots and container gardens to grow veggies and fruits.

The program relies heavily on parent and teacher participation, and it has a part time garden coordinator on staff. Where does the money come from? Most of it is from the PTA, in addition to modest fundraisers like the one I attended.

In Hawaii, school gardens are inextricably tied to place and Hawaiian culture, which make them all the more important in our communities. Planting a butterfly garden to attract native Hawaiian butterflies is really a lesson in how many butterflies in Hawaii are not native, unless the school is already located near a native rainforest. This is because there are only two native butterflies: the Kamehameha butterfly and Blackburn’s butterfly, and both live only in native forests.

Unfortunately, even if you plant the host plants of native Hawaiian butterflies they won’t be attracted to your garden unless your locale is already near a native forest. Certainly that’s another reason why field trips in outdoor education programs are an important component when teaching concepts about native ecosystems in Hawaii.

One supporter of Hawaii school gardens is Jack Johnson’s Kokua Hawaii Foundation, a local grassroots organization offering an ‘Aina in the Schools program and mini-grants.

I’m always on the lookout for interesting community garden happenings – send me an email if you have something delightful to share!

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