Fruitful Grant Money
Molokai High receives $5,000 for hydroponic farming
By Dan Murphy
Molokai High School students enrolled in the Natural Resources Academy will be bringing a new fruit to the island this year. Last spring, the school applied for and won a $5,000 grant from Ke Alahele Funds that will allow them to grow strawberries hydroponically.
The 12 students in the program will use the money to build a hydroponic system designed to grow strawberries using water instead of soil. The project will give the group experience in the process of growing and selling crops. They will do market research, as well as build, grow and eventually sell their strawberries.
“We decided on strawberries because no one currently grows them here, so we thought it would be good to have a new product,” Karen Harada said. Harada teaches the languages arts branch of the Natural Resources Academy (NRA).
The NRA program was started at Molokai High School six years ago to help provide a good background for students looking to make a career using natural resources. Along with language arts, the three other branches of the NRA are business/technology, science and agriculture. The students will be working on various aspects of the project in all four classes.
The NRA tries to grow something each year that the students can use to learn marketing skills. According to the program’s aquaculture teacher Weldon Wichman, this year’s project has the students especially excited because it is their first experience with underwater growing methods.
“Every day the kids come in to class they say, ‘Hey, can we start building today?’” he said. Students are currently in the process of using the internet to research and buy the supplies they will need.
When the time does come to build, the students will be improving the school’s current greenhouse to make room for the hydroponic tank. They hope to use some of the grant money to create a system that is capable of running off of solar power.
Harada said the strawberries should be planted within a month. The group hopes to have some fruit ready to sell at the school’s annual exposition in December.
Ke Alehele Funds is a part of the STEM program created by the Maui Economic Development Board (MEDB), which is designed to promote science, technology, engineering and math among youth. The board provides 25 grants of up to $5,000 every year to various educational groups.
“Molokai has been unbelievable,” MEDB project director Jeanne Skog said. “They’ve all earned the awards. They turned in wonderful applications.”
The program has given out over $300,000 since its inception a few years ago. Molokai schools have received a good-sized chunk of that funding. This year five education groups from Molokai received grants totaling over $15,000. Molokai Middle School, Kilohana Elementary School and Huli Au Ola also received money from STEM.