Progress report for FW19-345

Project Type: Farmer/Rancher
Funds awarded in 2019: $14,900.00
Projected End Date: 10/31/2022
Grant Recipient: CNMI Public School System
Region: Western
State: Northern Mariana Islands
Principal Investigator:
Francis Mendiola
CNMI Public School System
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Project Information

Abstract:

Title: Improve dragon fruit production in the Northern Marianas Island through hands-on student education

Saipan has a growing tourist economy that increased by 21% this past year. However, only several thousand acres are currently farmed compared to the almost 40,000 farmed before WWII, so most of the food is imported. The few farmers that are producing dragon fruit say it is easy to sell and they could sell more if they could produce more.

This proposal will enhance the quality of science education at Koblerville Elementary School. Adding dragon fruit production to the Koblerville school farm will Increase student income that can be used for educational activities. Also, students will share information with families and relatives who can also choose to be part-time farmers, or make it a full-time activity.

Benefits and impacts to agriculture: Students will learn science concepts as they grow, observe and experiment with growing dragon fruit. The money produced will benefit the school and students by providing other educational opportunities, and the students will be learning business management in the process. The Koblerville farming activities have been ongoing for more than ten (10) years with Francis Mendiola in charge of the project. He works with other teachers interested in using the farm for their own instruction and activities. Students work on the farm during science class time and after-school and Saturdays. The students can take food home for their families, or sell it. Products sold at the school go to the student leaders (STUCO) account that is used for school related activities such as sports, school beautification, and field trips.

Project Objectives:

1:The Koblerville Elementary School students will conduct experiments following the scientific method with 60 plots divided into three (3) main experiments of 20 plots each: lighting, planting/growing design, and hydration. Each of the three main experimental designs will include  additional experiments such as variety of dragon fruit, trellis design, and different soil and fertilizer combinations. The 60 plots will be identified and marked out by October of 2019, and the cuttings will be growing in the experimental designated plots by December 31st of the project’s first year.

 

2: 200 Koblerville Elementary Students will demonstrate increased understanding of business and marketing skills by selling dragon fruit for $1,000 the second year, and $6500 the third year. Marketing outreach will be demonstrated by the distribution of 650 fliers and 50 posters each year of the project. The project facebook page will have 200 followers and the project web page will have an average of 500 visits per month by the end of the projects 2nd year.

Cooperators

Click linked name(s) to expand
  • Lawerence Duponcheel - Technical Advisor
  • John Mcguire (Educator)
  • Francis Mendiola - Producer

Research

Materials and methods:

Set up three (3) experimental dragon fruit growing plots, with each plot having 20 trellises each. Group #1 will use different trellis designs, Group #2 will use artificial lighting, Group #3 different hydration methods. Within the three main experimental areas, groups will experiment with:

  • Different varieties of dragon fruit
  • Different dragon fruit growth heights (also included in the trellis designs)
  • Experiment on synergistic companion plants
  • Different pest control designs
  • Designs that can withstand or recover quickly from typhoons

Students will set up their experimental designs using the scientific method and record the results in their science journals and notebooks. Digital photos and spreadsheet documentation, as well as scanned science notebook numbers and drawings, will be stored in the student google drive folders; all of which will be part of the student’s science grade.

Results expected: By the end of the project’s twelfth (12th) month,150 community members will participate in the project grand beginning. 60 trellises will have dragon fruit growing on them. Growth rates will be identified and categorised. 

Criteria for evaluating: Sign-in sheets from the project grand beginning, and the following years’ sign-in sheets for the project related PTA meeting. The students involved in the Dragon Fruit project will have drawings and graphs showing dragon fruit grow rates grouped by the different growing conditions and this will also document the number of trellis growing dragon fruit. The students will  upload digital photos to their google drives to verify growth rates and appearances.

200 Koblerville students participating in hands-on science and the after-school farming/science activities will demonstrate business knowledge and skills. By the end of the project’s twenty-fourth (24th) month,200 students, each year, will receive instruction in business management, and will demonstrate their skills by promoting and selling dragon fruit.

Criteria for evaluating: Sales receipts from hotels, farmers’s market, local produce sales vendors, grocery stores, and local sales at Koblerville Elementary School. Promotions by number of facebook followers, and visits to project web page.

By the end of the project’s thirty-sixth (36th) month, locally grown dragon fruit will be growing at the homes of 100 or more Koblerville students. Criteria for evaluating: Documentation uploaded to student google drives.

The project will be determined as success if it achieves the two main objectives of 200 students participating in the project each year using the scientific method with 60 trellises growing dragon fruit, and 200 students, each year, show improved business management skills through business activities recorded in their google drives.

Note: 200 students each year does not mean a total of 600 students for the project as many students will participate during all three years of the project.

Research results and discussion:

As of now no results have taken yet no production have been produced.

Participation Summary
1 Farmer participating in research

Educational & Outreach Activities

2 Consultations
2 On-farm demonstrations
1 PTSA meeting

Participation Summary

2 Farmers
Education/outreach description:

The educational outreach plan includes:

  • Grand beginning activity that will be conducted as a PTA meeting for the beginning of the project.
  • Years 2 and 3 will use the project as a beginning of the school year PTA activity.
  • Posting of posters, banners and handing out of fliers
  • Project web page
  • Young farmers will wear promotional t-shirts

Francis Mendiola has wide experience in the use of educational technology. He is experienced in web page design and in the making of educational videos. He has also been involved in numerous promotional activities for STUCO and sports programs, that used similar technology as will be used in the promotion, and documentation of dragon fruit production.

With many of the project students living in tents and other temporary shelters, farming activities can be family activities that are enjoyable, and will provide healthy nutrition. As a community activity that will have over 200 students directly involved in the project, it will be a model project that community members will observe and will become interested in starting their own production in their living areas. As the homes are rebuilt, the home lay-outs can be changed to better accommodate farming areas, and with construction materials and equipment on site, it will be easy to add trellesses for use in producing dragon fruit.

Learning Outcomes

4 Farmers reported changes in knowledge, attitudes, skills and/or awareness as a result of their participation

Project Outcomes

3 Farmers changed or adopted a practice
3 Farmers intend/plan to change their practice(s)
1 Grant received that built upon this project
5 New working collaborations
Project outcomes:

The dragon fruit production program through hands-on education has already begun in the CNMI Public School System. At the elementary level, initial steps have been taken to build the dragon fruit farm, particularly at Koblerville Elementary School, by 5th grade students and their teacher. Communication about the program has also started in the hopes of possible collaborations with a few middle schools in the CNMI. 

With the hands-on education program starting in the schools, future economic benefits will surely come into play. The dragron fruits student farmers help grow will be sold to local businesses including markets and hotels. They will also have the opportunity to sell during the local farmers’ market.

Because dragonfruits are grown locally, they do not have a large carbon footprint as opposed to imported crops. Therefore environmentally this is a huge benefit. Students are educated about this benefit of local agricultural sustainability. They also

practice organic farming as they do not use pesticides for the crops they grow. 

As students practice local sustainability when growing the dragon fruits, they will be part of educating others by being models to other students and the general public. They will be able to show that even youth are capable of producing crops such as the dragon fruit which tends to be viewed as a challenge to grow in the islands. 

 

 

 

Success stories:

Our current success stories come from our very young farmers themselves and their teacher. Their 5th grade teacher has expressed that students are very motivated and excited for future production. He has noticed students who normally do not get excited about outdoor activities are now even more intrigued to participate and learn about farming practices. He sees the excitement on their faces as they work with tools and set up the dragon fruit farm. In addition, he is very pleased with the opportunities for hands-on learning and students being able to work together for a common goal. 

 

Our school principal had recently shared current photos of our dragon fruit farm progress with the school district leadership. She informed me that they were very impressed with the recent developments despite the setbacks resulting from the Covid 19 pandemic. Moreover,  when students began blended learning, they were very excited and happy to see that their school had started a dragon fruit farm where they would have the opportunity to participate in hands-on learning this year. They expressed their eagerness to become part of making progress for the project. 

Recommendations:

As of date, we have created three types of dragon fruit trellis to test which would yield the most crops and would be most sustainable for our island’s environment. One type of trellis is growing dragon fruit in a 20- gallon planting pot with a 4-foot PVC pipe. The second type of trellis is a 4-foot vertical concrete pole dug into the ground with a spacing of 5 feet away. The third trellis is similar but instead of individual vertical poles it would include two vertical poles with two 20-foot poles attached horizontally. Dragonfruit will be planted a foot and a half from each other.  

Prior research has been done to determine the three types of trellis to test by the students’ teacher through various videos and online articles of dragon fruit farming. Students are taught about using the scientific method and inquiry to see which yields best results for their project. 

One of the challenges during this process included needing to change the location for dragon fruit farming due to an emergency construction project the school needed to begin. It took 2-3 months of waiting for approval for a new plot of land to start the project. The second and third trellis is currently in progress and will be completed in the next week. A big reason for such delay in the project was also due to Supertyphoon Yutu in October of 2018 and numerous weather disturbances that caused setbacks. As a result, our school has been on double-session for over a year since then which means students only come to school for 4 hours a day. With limited time, progress has been slow but still moving forward. With the current CO-VID 19 situation, we are also currently experiencing school temporary shutdown and unsure of future circumstances. 

The USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service for the Pacific Islands Area assisted our project this year. Their soil conservationist helped us design an efficient irrigation system that helped us to use time efficiently to water the plants while also conserving water consumption. In addition, they delivered a presentation on water and soil conservation and erosion control for the 5th grade students who are a part of the project. 

Our next step would be during the flowering season, where we would teach the students about pollination. They will learn that although dragon fruits are self-pollinating plants, they would be even better in terms of taste and growth with the help of humans to cross pollinate. Students will have the opportunity to try and compare self-pollination versus pollination with help of humans of the dragon fruit plants. 

Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.