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Building a Food Forest

Molokai High School’s permaculture farm almost in full bloom

AmeriCorps volunteers pose with school garden coordinator Fred Richardson (far right) around one of the “digestors”, a vital component of the farm’s composting system. Photo by Eileen Chao.

The Farmers will have the chance to explore a new method of farming this year, as Molokai High School (MHS) partners with local grassroots organization Sust `aina ble Molokai to create a permaculture farm located right on campus. The garden, which was started in January of this year, will use fundamentals of permaculture farming like building food forests, or diversified ecosystems that wield a variety of fruit year-round, as compared to traditional commercial farms that only produce one crop in mass quantities.

“We want to have kids engaged enough to create their own school gardens and permaculture curriculum,” said Emillia Noordhoek, Sust `aina ble Molokai’s executive director.

This “mini ahupua`a,” as MHS Principal Stan Hao describes it, spans across the sloped hill by the greenhouse at MHS. Over the course of eight weeks this summer, 10 AmeriCorps volunteers, all recent MHS graduates, worked on weeding, tilling, composting, planting and irrigating the garden. It is designed based on an eight-tierred terrace, which helps slow the flow of water, thereby conserving the precious resource. Water streams from top to the bottom via water passageways that were installed by the volunteers. The composting system on the farm, which will be used to recycle green waste for the entire school campus, is the largest composting system in the state’s public school system, according to Noordhoek.

“It’s been a good experience if you want to start your own farm,” said Carol Kahee, a volunteer for Americorps. “We [MHS] are called the Farmers, and it’s good to live up to the name.”

Fred Richardson, Sust `aina ble Molokai’s school garden coordinator, describes permaculture as a process of going back to the basics –that is, indigenous practices that involve working with built-in efficiencies of a geographic location to produce resources for your natural lifestyle. He stresses the importance of home production instead of commercial production in order to properly manage limited land and water resources.

Sust `aina ble Molokai is constantly looking for volunteers to help work on the farm. If interested, contact 560-5410 for more information.


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