Access to healthy food is a national concern. Teaching people to produce food for themselves is essential to building sustainable and healthy communities (Community Food Security Coalition: Health 2008). Project Fresh: Mountain View Community Gardens is an agricultural educational community outreach program designed to nurture farmers in order to increase the number of food growers, food marketers, healthy food choices and affordable nutritious local produce. Thirty low-income participants, seniors, families, school-age children and youth were given hands-on mentoring in ecologically friendly farming. The sustainable practices included creating compost and vermicompost, learning the benefits of plant and animal symbiosis and utilizing strategies which encourage biodiversity. A short questionnaire administered at the beginning and after participating in Project Fresh for fifteen months revealed that families are making healthy food choices, providing food for the family table, sharing, donating or marketing the surplus and passing on the gifts of eco-friendly farming and recycling methods, which are generating ripple effects in our community. Currently 40 million Americans are using food stamps (USDA; 2010). Planting seeds and nurturing their growth is crucial and catalytic in producing nutritious food, conserving water and land resources, reducing family food budgets and providing income.
Project goals are to contribute to community food self-reliance. Goals include:
a)providing families with eco-friendly farming practice in food production (cultivation, harvesting and marketing)
b) providing food for the family table
c) giving back to the community (through sharing or marketing) the surplus to contribute to the local economy and increase family income.
The mentored areas included are:
a) Building healthy soil, which is central to the prevention of pest infestation and producing healthy plants. Compost is created using locally-available organic matter and used as bedding around the vegetable plants on the family plots.
b) Vermicomposting is also taught and used as compost tea.
c) The soil on initial testing was severely depleted of key nutrients. Ideal tilth and friability have not yet been attained. Based on follow-up soil analysis, regular amendments of compost and vermicastings are effectively boosting the fertility level.
Other mentored areas include:
d) Greenhouse practicum in the how-to of constructing potting soil, planting a ‘community’ of seeds and the fragile process of ‘pricking’ them out for starter plants.
e) Planning and planting seed and huli using spatial markers.
Additional (essential) areas of education include:
f) Bed maintenance
h) Harvesting (when to and how to)
i) Basic food safety
j) Marketing know-how
k) Ecological awareness emphasizing identification of pests and their cycle and organic treatment, identification of beneficial pollinators and the building of small butterfly/pollinator gardens to attract them as they are essential to seed production. The harvest log included taro, cassava, purple potato, pigeon pea, bean, collard, kale, New Zealand spinach, green soy, okra, turmeric, Hawaiian hot pepper, basil, cilantro, rosemary, lemon grass, mint, pineapple and banana. This project also donated cassava cuttings and pigeon pea seeds to the community.
Project goal is to nurture the production of healthy and affordable food and healthy food choices and promote participation in the community economy via mini-farmers markets. In order to succeed we taught many sustainable agricultural strategies. The project initially taught stewardship of the land. The key component of sustainability is healthy soil that will produce healthy plants, which in turn clean the air and impart vigor, rendering the plants less susceptible to pests.
Community learned (hands-on:
* The basics of composting
* Compost returns organic matter to the soil in a usable form
* The identification of nitrogen and carbon organic waste, kindling to 160 degrees in order to remove pathogens and when cooled to 120 degrees, to use as soil amendment and bedding around the vegetable beds.
* A second method of recycling organic matter, e.g., food scraps and plant debris through vermicomposting is also integrated into our system
Soil management activities included:
* How to protect the soil
* Enhance productivity and buffer against pest infestation by planting a cover crop (leguminous)
* Participants were taught that after the initial tilling the tillage level would be reduced to no-tilling and the advantages of no-tilling (e.g., reduction of soil compression. To this end we discouraged walking except on the periphery of the planted raised beds in order to avoid further soil compression.
* To further protect the soil we planted nitrogen-fixing trees and also more windbreak. Biodiversity was promoted by intercropping and planting indigenous crops and incorporating microbial-rich compost and vermicompost. The incorporation of plant- animals symbiosis also contributes to biodiversity.
This project follows the sustainable working model which promotes enhancement of the quality of life of farmers. This project supports the development of stable local food systems and access to affordable and nutritious produce. Direct observation reveals staff and families engaged in healthy and safe eco-friendly food production methods. This continuum has provided participants with a significant quality of life benefit, namely the promotion of community food self-sufficiency. This sequence consisted of crop planning, cultivation and harvesting, which is a well-documented restorative and confidence-building process. Besides the production of healthy food (per acre), this intergenerational agricultural project provided many well documented health benefits. Among them, exercise, stress reduction and nutritional knowledge. The children in this agricultural educational project shared their time in nature with caring adults. These two factors – time in nature and caring adults – are well known critical factors in the development of healthy children and healthy environments. Participants were guided to and welcomed into recently organized mini-markets associated with nearby community organizations and churches. The availability of local healthy safe low-cost produce is welcomed across this rural area which is at the cusp of revitalization; reconnecting farm, food and community is underway. Awareness of eco-friendly food growing methods and healthy human-ecological relationships is a trend which is gaining momentum.
The direct and indirect effects of this project include: growing nutritious food for the family table, promoting growing nutritious food at home and sharing and marketing the produce. Mentoring sustainable agricultural practice is contributing to a sustainable food system which in turn nourishes the environment, the community and the individuals. Project Fresh is promoting the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s statement on food security which urges: “Access by all people at all times to have enough nutritious food for an active healthy life.”
Protection of the health and safety of those involved in farm systems is central to sustainability. This project teaches the sustainable measures needed to develop efficient biological plant/soil balance without the input of petroleum-based fertilizers and toxins (pesticides and herbicides). Participants are taught to hand-weed or alternatively to use cultivators and hoes and mulch around plants versus the use of herbicides or similar chemicals. Project Fresh staff mentored participants in the benefits of pasture-fed chickens and ducks, which fertilize the pastures and also act as natural a biological insecticide. Participants observe that the manure (nitrogen) is composted in the farm’s 24 x 24 compost hoop house. Participants observe the farm guava saplings being chopped up and chipped up; this carbon is added to the compost. The finished compost is then used as bedding around the vegetable plants on the plots. Participants became aware of the animal-plant symbiosis here at work for the betterment of each. Participants became aware that this small family farm is producing biodiesel, which is used in the farm machinery. Participants are aware that biodiesel is a clean burning alternative to petroleum diesel fuel which reduces greenhouse gases, air pollution and related health risk factors. The dynamics of beneficial and destructive insects was mentored; natural controls emphasized, e.g., our soap recipe for reducing the aphid population. Providing information in ecological sustainability within the community garden context teaches families the practice of cultivating, maintaining and harvesting healthy fresh food for the family table, sharing or marketing the surplus. This continuum is designed to enhance the life of the farmer by reducing agricultural pollution and health risk factors for the family. This aggregate of sustainable practices benefits the community, the earth and the individual.
Educational & Outreach Activities
Public appearances regarding Project Fresh outcomes:
* Holy Cross Church, Hilo, HI 10-16-10: The benefits of learning to grow your own healthy and nutritious food.
* University-Hawaii, Hilo Micronesian Student Organization 10-17-10 The benefits of learning to grow your own healthy and nutritious food.
* Project findings are being sent to U-H College of Agriculture, CTAHR, LeafHawaii, Kohala website (community garden section) and Hawaii Homegrown Foods Network.
Mentoring farmers encouraged healthy food choices by connecting members of the community with the land. Land stewardship prompted sweat equity needed in order to produce nutritious high-quality safe produce for the family table. Participating in the local economy became an important benefit. Mini-farmers markets associated with rural neighborhood community groups and churches are surfacing, a trend which is on the increase. Planned for the coming season is a Youth-Farm Stand to give young people jobs selling the produce and cooking classes to give the youth a chance to learn more about nutrition and care for what the earth produces. In the present project ‘farmers’ also promoted food security by sharing harvests with community members needing emergency food assistance. Mentoring practical farming experience (cultivation and harvesting information) encouraged healthy food choices. In this program, the youth tended to eat what they grew and got to know.
The participants were given a short questionnaire at the beginning and after participating in Project Fresh for fifteen months (fifty responses total). On all 13 items in the questionnaire at the beginning (pretest), responses significantly differ from responses after being in the program for fifteen months (post-test).
Participants began this project with a limited knowledge to grow and nurture plants. Approximately 50% reported no knowledge about how to grow plants. Seventy-six percent reported not knowing how to create compost and ninety-one percent reported not knowing how to create potting soil. Sixty-seven percent reported not knowing how to save seed, seventy-one percent reported not knowing how to start plants and sixty-seven percent reported not knowing how to plant vegetables. Fifty-two percent reported not knowing how to weed and ninety-one percent reported not knowing how to identify or control for pests.
After fifteen months in this project, ninety-five percent reported that they know how to grow vegetables, create compost, start seeds, make potting soil, plant vegetables and weed. Ninety-three percent of the participants report that it is easy to provide fruits and vegetables for their families. Ninety percent of the participants report they now grow most of the vegetables they eat, and one hundred percent report that the extra produce are sold or given away. Please note Appendix A.
This community-based initiative appears to be encouraging and is consistent with the recent emergence of community gardens, heightened environmental awareness as noted in the increase in growing food at home. Backyard gardens are on the rise. The project workshops on compost-building essential to producing fertile soil without the use of petroleum-based fertilizers is having a ripple effect. Visiting producers to this project included ministers who are developing gardens for and with their church members, school teachers who run the school-based farms and gardens and farmers who run small family farms. Producers all view composting as the single-most important asset. Heavy year-round rainfall typifies this geographical area which recently has been experiencing drought. Composting conserves moisture in the soil.
Participation in community-based agricultural educational sustainable farming food production methods carries many well documented benefits.
Low-income families experience direct access to healthy, safe high-quality food. Participants also engage in ecological sustainable farming practice and learn about nutrition, make healthy food choices, share harvests, contribute to the local economy and reduce health risks. The diversity of the participants engaged in ecological sustainable farming should also result in the generalizability of these benefits to Samoa and other Pacific Islands. The benefits are far-reaching, rippling through the community and the earth.