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Green harvest benefits Salvation Army’s kitchen

Despite the rows of fresh green lettuce, there was just not enough to take care of the fifth-grade class at Elsie Wilcox Elementary School.

Yoshi Nakao, the caretaker of the hydroponic house located right outside the school’s office, said since there was not enough for all the students, a portion of the harvest would be donated to the Salvation Army.

“I checked with the teachers, and rather than have some students go without, they said it was alright to donate to The Salvation Army,” Nakao, who has been tending to the hydroponic gardens for at least nine years, said.

Normally, Nakao said they have enough produce to send home two bags with each student.

“One bag is for the student’s family to enjoy, and the other bag is sold for a dollar with the proceeds going to the class fund so they can get things,” he said.

About a month ago when the students were planting the seeds, no one anticipated what would happen.

Instead of a uniform crop, there were stunted plants.

“I checked with Roy Yamakawa of the University Extension Service, and after he came to see the crop, he said it was a case of a low nitrogen count in the nutrients,” Nakao said. “That probably resulted from the nutrient batch being too old.”

Armed with the newfound knowledge, Nakao said that didn’t help the students, but everyone felt good about donating to the Salvation Army.

Wednesday morning, fifth grade students not involved in testing came to Nakao’s hydroponic house which the school affectionately named “The White House” because of its white shade cloth.

Inside, they were joined by William Silva as they harvested the larger heads of Green Forest romaine lettuce and brought them to the front area where student Blaine Saito and Nakao supervised the wetting down and packing process amidst the inimitable aroma of freshly-harvested lettuce punctuated by an occasional squeal as Saito’s spray overshot its target.

“This house has already outlived its life,” Silva said. “Every so often, the cables snap and we repair them. If you notice, there are cables twisted to hold the shade cloth in place.”

Silva said since the school is undergoing some renovation work, the administrative staff tried unsuccessfully to get the hydroponic house covered under the renovation budget.

“It couldn’t be done because this is not considered a permanent structure,” Silva said.

Nakao, who has been in charge of the house since it sprouted on the campus, said the shade cloth was brought in from New Zealand, and through the years, has changed from its original white color to a hue similar to the red dirt of the schoolgrounds.

Additionally, mold and mildew has darkened the color.

The 30 feet x 60 feet house was originally acquired by a grant authored by the principal, Nakao said.

“Ten years ago, the whole thing cost $10,000. It must be twice that amount to replace it now,” Nakao said.

During its tenure at Wilcox School, the house has produced cucumbers, tomatoes and lettuce for the students, teachers and their families to enjoy.

Nakao said each of the classes get their turn at producing crops, the Wednesday harvest coming from the hands and efforts of the fifth grade.

“Next time, it’ll probably be the fourth grade,” Nakao said. “We rotate through the classes, so after that, it’ll be the third grade.”

But for the moment, Kiana Pagador, Teyanni Esaki, Jaycie Murata and Saito were more concerned about packing the boxes, each containing about 35 pounds of lettuce for The Salvation Army.

• Dennis Fujimoto, photographer and staff writer, can be reached at 245-3681 (ext. 253) or


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