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Soil and Tech

Mari's Garden as a Learning Partner

Posted on June 20, 2016 by Scot Allen

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Thirty-seven MPX9 students unveiled their Mari's Garden App to parents and community members at the aquaponics farm's Mililani location. The app is designed to empower visitors to take a self-guided tour of the eighteen acre property, scanning QR codes at nine different stations and reading student-generated descriptions and photos about each farming process at work. The content in the app, however, only shows a fraction of what students learned during their yearlong collaboration with Mari's Garden.

Please click here to view photographs.

"MPX came on a few regular field trips like any other school," explained Mari's Garden manager Brendon Lau. "Gregg Kaneko [MPX9 teacher] and our team here at Mari's instantly jibed. We then started discussing the complexity of aquaponics and how it could not be covered in a single field trip." MPX9 teachers Gregg Kaneko and Heather Calabro realized that students would need an immersive experience to fully understand the complexities of modern food systems and make meaningful connections to the ninth grade science curriculum. They arranged for 16 field trips to Mari's Garden during the regular school year.

On field trip days the students piled out of the bus prepared to get dirty. "Our team would get together the week that MPX were going to come and talk about the ever-changing list of tasks that would be available at the given time," explained Lau. "We would then prioritize the tasks based on educational value and urgency for completion. The students attained experience in spawning tilapia, stocking commercial fish tanks, harvesting commercial fish tanks, planting seeds and seedlings for various types of vegetables, harvesting vegetables, and packing vegetables. With this style of planning we were able to execute fun, educational, productive work days for the kids."

At the app unveiling, students led tours of the Mari's Garden's grounds, pointing out the different areas where they had worked and the importance of what they did there. "When we started working in the worm bin, I realized [that while] farming is always fun it could also be full of things you might not want to do," Kalen Rita ('19) told a group of parents. She explained that the work team was lagging and the Mari's garden guide tried to give them a little perspective. "What he said really impacted my thoughts on working in the worm bins. What he said was, 'Doing this might suck, but if no one does it who is gonna make compost? No one. That's right. So you might hate doing this because it's nasty, but it's the result that is gonna make the whole thing worth it.' This really got me thinking and made me understand that you might not always enjoy doing it but you want to be the one to finish the job and have a good result after it is over."

Mr. Kaneko and Ms. Calabro wanted to expose students to the full "farm-to-table" cycle and so reached out to Kapiolani Community College (KCC) Culinary school. KCC was excited to continue their active outreach into high schools and arranged several cooking classes on Mid-Pacific's campus.

"This year's theme was Food Preservation," said Daniel Leung, KCC outreach coordinator. "Using traditional methods such as pickling and fermentation, students learned the science and biochemistry of the two processes. Elements of learning included reducing water activity with salt and sugar, preventing bacterial growth, osmosis, action of acids on cell walls, the infusion and interplay of flavors - salty, sweet, sour, bitter etc. with different vegetables, herbs, and spices. The students pickled cherry and currant tomatoes, carrots, cauliflowers. They also made a "quick" kim-chee with Won Bok Cabbage, carrots, green onions, garlic, dried chili flakes, sugar, and fish sauce, as an illustration of a fermentation method." Mr. Leung, saw the fruits of the students' canning work at the app unveiling where pickled vegetables were raffled off.

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"The best thing about this yearlong food project was learning by doing," said Mr. Kaneko, loading pickled vegetables from his truck as the event wrapped up. "As I listened to how well the students explained their work and answered questions from the visitors, I realized how important 'doing' is to deeper learning. I think students will walk away from this year with experiences they will never forget."

Many parents at the event took advantage of Mari's Garden's open vegetable stand while they were on the grounds, keeping Mr. Lau busy throughout the morning. "One of the largest parts of our mission at Mari's Gardens is to pass the attitude and passion required for farming on to a new generation," said Lau. "I think that this yearlong program gave us the opportunity to achieve that in the highest degree possible."

Tanya Candido, Mari's Garden manager, expressed her excitement about the yearlong collaboration with Mid-Pacific. "I had such a great experience with the kids during their time with us! Whether or not the kids become future farmers of Hawaii, I am sure that this impacted them in some way shape or form. Everyone expressed how much this experience opened their eyes to where some of their food comes from and walked away with a greater appreciation for farming, food and what it means to be sustainable."

Got an idea for an app that could be useful in the local community? Email Chief Innovations Officer Brian Dote.

By Laura Davis