Kū 'Āina Pā: Teacher Training for School Garden Learning in Hawai'i

by Melinda Caroll, Youth Education Coordinator

Kū 'Āina Pā is a DOE sponsored Garden Training unlike any other garden training one might attend. Because we live in Hawaiian Islands and share this original land or ‘Aina with our host culture, the Hawaiian people, our gardens here have an even deeper meaning.  “Maka Aina,” the land has eyes that watch and protect it’s people.

For anyone who has a love of growing things and wishing a stronger connection to the Hawaiian culture this 4-Day workshop is a must! Intense? Yes! And deep, beautiful, rich and highly informative.

 School Garden Advocates from Maui: Rae Takemoto, Melinda Caroll, Lehn Huff and Mahie Atay

School Garden Advocates from Maui: Rae Takemoto, Melinda Caroll, Lehn Huff and Mahie Atay

The Garden is a Place of Change. The metaphor is repeated each day as we begin the workshop in meditation, but first, we pānānā, find our own compass, our orientation in the garden, feeling our sense of place and purpose here with our own two feet planted firmly on the ground. We ask, “what does the garden need from me today?” and quietly listen for the answer that always comes. Each of us is drawn to a certain spot or plant that asks for our presence. And each one feels the life force where we stand.

 The Garden is a Place to Activate Our Spirit. Four Days from 8 am to 5 pm we listened, explored, challenged, tested, chanted and communicated our connection to the land and to the growing things that resided there. The land then communicated back to us. At the foot of Diamond Head, the days were bright with soft rain and gentle clouds, the soil a deep brownish-black with endless shades of greens and rainbow colors of flowers and fruit rich that the pollinators had blessed so abundantly, very satisfying to the eye, the nose, the hand and the mouth. Beginning with our fresh sense of place, we moved toward the science of our surroundings by touching and smelling the various kinds of soils and textures of organic materials. The next day we gathered, prepared and fed our bodies with the wonderful rich and curious varieties of lively, tasty vegetables and newly discovered leaves and petals, roots, flowers and fruit all being freely offered to us in this humble place in the middle of an urban neighborhood busy with Waikiki traffic and noises of construction.

Humus, Human, Humility, our interconnection to all living things is both humbling and exhilarating. Our last day began in the usual way but with the added question, “Can you see evidence of your connection to this place? Do you feel a sense of knowing where you stand?” The garden is our teacher and we are married to the soil, the elements reside in our ancient DNA. We share the carbon elements of our bodies, the chemical composition of the stars. It holds our health, our vitality, our energy exchange. When we tend and care for our surroundings, our surroundings, generously give it back to us, magnified.

All of the metaphors and similes about the garden are true. Hold the seeds in your hand and give them energy, because when these plants grow up, they give us energy. In order for it to grow, we must weed the garden. Build healthy soil, for there is nothing more pleasurable than feeling healthy and eating well. Nourish the garden so it can nourish you. I am in love with this work, with this place and this incredible sense of knowing that emanates from this garden. This workshop was like no other I’ve attended. More than inspired, I felt myself reconnecting with a part of me I had forgotten. The garden brought me home.

(Dr. Koh Ming Wei, Dr. Debbie Millikan, and Ms. Amanda Rieux are co-authors of the Hawai‘i School Garden Curriculum Map which is aligned to NGSS, Common Core, and the National Health Education Standards. Passionate about ‘āina-based education, nutrition, food security, and engaging children with nature, they have been training teachers to use school learning gardens as an outdoor laboratory for the past 10 years.) For more, go to: http://www.kohalacenter.org/docs/resources/hisgn/flyers/KAP_SummerIntensive_2017_Honolulu.pdf)