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May 7, 2019

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Planting seeds of Horticulture Therapy in the Community

Kumu Carrie’s 6th grade class gathered at 8am for their usual attendance, announcements, and oli to start off their Ho’okele class. However, today there was a change in scenery. The desks were pushed aside and in the middle of the room lay a tray of soil, bunches of mint and oregano cuttings, and an assortment of plants, seeds, and books on therapeutic horticulture. Kumu Carrie invited me to be a guest speaker for her class on the benefits of nature and the topic of therapeutic horticulture, and it was a pleasure to rearrange the classroom.

The students wasted no time noticing, commenting, and examining the plants. The observed some to smell good or bad, some were fuzzy or dry, and some they thought were pretty or ugly. We all started by sharing a little bit about our history with gardening, and shifted into a deeper exploration into our senses by exploring the mint and mexican oregano. I then taught the students the basics of the Neurosequential Model of Therapeutics (NMT Model) and discussed how they could use their senses to help ground themselves and regulate their nervous systems. They were excited to share stories of what the herbs reminded them of, take nibbles of the leaves, and some students even shared their experiences with essential oils in helping to calm their emotions.

Next the students were given a basil seed to hold in their hands. They were told to watch and see what happens as a few drops of water were added to the seed. The student gave voice to their uncertainty by saying, “What’s going to happen?… Is it going to explode?…Is it going to be ok?… It looks like it’s getting fluffy!” Students were able to relate to how sometimes in life it can be hard to sit in uncertainty while other students said they love suspense and mystery.

The students proceeded to plant the basil seeds, digging their hands in the soil. The students all showed each other their dirty fingernails and learned about the microbes that have coevolved with humans and live in the soil. Students learned that when these microbes interact with our hands, they can release endorphins in our brains. One student inquisitively asked, “What are endorphins?” The class was astonished to learn that these chemicals in their brains help them feel good.

Last but not least, the students were given the chance to label their seeds. Giggles were heard across the room as newly planted seeds were being named, and worms were being unearthed in the soil bin. Soon ‘Wormy’ was the talk of the classroom, and everyone was huddled around the soil bin searching for worms to add to their pots of soil and seeds.

After the most extensive worm hunt by 6th graders of 2019, the class circled up and recited a Mahalo oli and the class was dismissed. The energy of the students was palpable as they were buzzing about their new plants, talking about gardening, and discussing how they were going to take care of their new seeds.

Thank you very much to Kumu Carrie for inviting us into your classroom and gifting us with an opportunity to share the joy and healing powers of gardening. Mahalo nui loa.

October 20, 2017

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Eat Local Initiative at PQ!

By: Dara Downs, Alumni & Family Services Liaison

Green beans thriving at Reeds Bay

In mid April of 2016 we started the Eat Local Initiative at our Young Adult Program at Reeds Bay.  This initiative was designed to help track the amount of produce being harvested, being cooked, as well as to help create motivation in the student milieu. It’s set up so that every time we grow and harvest food from our gardens, we weigh it, clean in, and document it. Then when it’s time for meal prep, we check to see if any of our freshly harvested produce can be cooked with that meal. If this is the case, then the food is used during that meal and documented. At the end of the month, based on how much home grown produce was cooked in our meals, the students are given a stipend to spend on specialty or rare items to use in the kitchen. In the past student have purchased cacao nibs, fruit leathers, passion fruit, dried spiced bananas, coconuts, ulu flower, and other island treats.

I work closely with Annette Nickontro, our Young Adult Kitchen Manager, who is really hands on in motivating students to use produce from the garden.  She oversees every part of the kitchen, working directly with students in creating weekly menus and recipes.  For many students, wandering the garden to collect herbs and produce is a whole new experience. Annette notes, “It’s been exciting to see the students pulling produce they grew from seeds and creating some amazing recipes for things like hot sauce, pesto, leafy green stir-fries, and kale chips!”  It’s a wonderful collaboration for both Annette and I to help students see their potential in gardening and cooking from something so small as a seed and feeding their fellow students.

Working together we found that since the Eat Local Initiative started, we have harvested 990 pounds of produce from our gardens, and of that, we have cooked 490 pounds of food!  With these numbers, we concluded that we are harvesting approximately 55 pounds of food per month and we are preparing about 27 pounds of food from our gardens per month.

Basil harvest for fresh pesto!

Once I found out how close we were to reaching 1000 pounds, I told our current students, and their immediate response was, “What?! Only 10 pounds away from 1000, we are so close, let’s keep eating what we grow! That’s a crazy amount of food.” Soon after, Annette and the students harvested 12 pounds of Basil and made a bunch of pesto to freeze for the winter! So we are happy to say that after a year and a half we have reached 1000 pounds of harvested produce from our gardens.  When asked to comment, PQ’s Horticultural Therapy, Travis Slagle, M.A. said, “The need for self-sufficiency is both practical and emotional.  The young people we serve benefit by knowing where their food comes from and taking an active role in sustaining their community.  At PQ, we believe the experience of self-sufficiency is transferable and relevant across the lifespan.”

With the Eat Local Initiative in place, we are focused on creating realistic goals and continuing to build a self sustaining agricultural model at PQ. We are excited to celebrate this accomplishment!