Of Carrots and Caring

HPA’s gardens nurture learning and community

HPA’s two campus gardens, Ulu Mālama at the Upper Campus and Ulu Mau at the Village Campus, are thriving under the stewardship of garden teachers Willie Quayle and Kim Narol, as well as the succession of students who have planted and tended the land. Even before COVID-19, the gardens were producing food for the HPA kitchens as well as for free community meals in Waimea. Since the pandemic, production has ramped up, with the two gardens donating approximately 60 pounds of fresh food per week to the Annunciation Church food bank, the St. James community meal, and the Pa‘auilo community meal at St. Columba.

As Ka Makani across Hawai‘i state and beyond are working to ensure food security in their communities, here in Waimea, our farmers and ranchers have bridged the gap during the pandemic, and HPA’s gardens have partnered in this important effort. We spoke with our two campus gardeners and recorded their ruminations on place, production, and what plants can teach us about caring for each other.

How often do HPA kids get to spend time in the gardens?

Kim: I see our K-5 students every other week for a garden class. They’re learning about the compost pile, fungi, and the bacteria. They’re learning about starting seeds, transplanting, and rules for spacing—which provides some rich connections to both math and science concepts. In middle school, students can choose to make the garden part of their capstone experience. Last year, for example, 8th grader Lauren Berger wanted to grow food for the community meal at St. James church, so she started her own garden. I gave her a section and said, “Do whatever you want.” She maintained the space herself. She came out at recess to water and weed. I just sort of was there to answer questions and say, “Okay, garlic’s going to take 10 months, let’s not do that, but what if you did scallions or something like that?” Then we’d meet before school and she would harvest, and wash, and then deliver it. I think she had over 200 pounds of produce in the time before COVID.

That’s amazing! What does the program look like at the Upper School?

Willie: Beginning last year, we started a sustainability work program, so every sophomore spends an hour each week in the garden. I also have a garden-based capstone class. And we have a ton of teachers who collaborate specifically in the garden space. At this point, it’s a little bit more driven by school goals—not just individual student goals—which is really nice.

Kim: It’s kind of a cool progression from K to 12… Willie’s space is much bigger than mine, so they can kind of grow with the garden as well.

I’m curious about what you want your students to carry with them from the garden?

Kim: Oh gosh. So much. With younger students, I think being comfortable in the outdoors and getting dirty is a big one. A sense of wonder and exploration. Understanding where your food comes from… harvesting a carrot and eating it. I hope they carry with them a love and appreciation for the natural world and respect for meaningful work. Food is a beautiful way to bring us all together and to connect.

Willie: I feel the same in a lot of ways. Engaging students with that experience of being in nature and observing, and recognizing that there’s more learning taking place than just how a carrot grows. It’s also how does a carrot grow within that community of plants that are around? If you spend time in a growing setting, you learn a lot about the way the world works from a social standpoint, too. That for me is the real beauty… we can learn about plants, but they can also teach us about how to be maybe better people, or better communities.

Tell me a little bit more about what you mean by that.

Willie: Sure. Some plants are really going to appreciate light, and they’re going to appreciate access to water. They have different attributes within this small space that help them to thrive if those needs are met. What’s also happening is that one that is finding light is also probably offering more shade, so that’s going to give an opportunity or an environment just below the one that’s seeking light for a shade-loving plant. For me, it helps me think about what are the attributes that I bring to any community, and what is my behavior within it, how is that impacting the space around me? Am I a giver? Am I a taker? For me, it’s a core way of thinking about community. Then that’s just a short jump to justice and equity too.

Kim: I love that.

Can you tell me about the connection between HPA’s gardens and the wider community? And why that matters for our students?

Kim: Since COVID, Willie and I have been doing weekly HPA market shares on campus. We’ve been harvesting weekly with volunteers, and then donating produce to the community meal in town and the local food pantry. We were also giving produce away to HPA faculty and staff so that that food wasn’t going to waste over the summer. That was a really fun weekly community gathering of socially distanced veggie pick up and talk.

Willie: St. James feeds between 500 and 700 meals a week. When we went online last spring, we had produce that we were no longer giving to our dining hall. The community meal was an obvious choice, especially because that need is rising every week. It’s important for our students to understand how the work they do in the gardens actually sustains people in their community.

I’d love to hear if you have anything you want to say about traditional Hawaiian ways of producing food, and how that is connected to what you’re doing now.

Willie: One of the great good fortunes that I feel of being in the position that I am is to look up on the hills and be able to see that this is where it was all happening. When we talked about our goal of 40%, that seems so meager when you think about a community that was able to be 100% self-sufficient. It’s humbling to think. How were Hawaiians able to grow, and sustain, and have a community thrive in the way that they were over so many generations? We know that sweet potato, sugar cane, and kalo were integral parts of that system, but exactly how, we don’t know. Was the sugar cane simply to collect water? Was it part of a nitrogen fixing system? For students, they can explore these questions anywhere from the biochemistry route to culture and humanities.

Kim: Willie’s students have had pretty amazing capstone projects that are rooted in sustainable agriculture. It’s such a great way for students to dive into this world of food, and food security, and place… through a capstone project that they design and we sort of support. I’m hoping to see more of that, because there’s so much you can do with food and place.

Willie: I’d like to think, maybe it’s too idealistic, but that connection to place, wherever it is… whether that’s in an urban setting, or a rural place like Waimea… could make a lot of things right. Connection to the land is something that HPA students and alums really seem to understand. If we could all have that be the lens through which we look at the world, then I think a lot of things would fall into place behind that.