Fifth-graders explore agriculture and conservation

Over 600 fifth-graders from nine elementary schools around the island gathered May 29 at the University of Hawai‘i’s College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources Agriculture Research Center to learn about resource conservation. The event was open to the public, but the majority of participants were 10 year olds.

“This is a really receptive age,” said Roy Yamakawa, interim Kaua‘i administrator for CTAHR. “Ten years old is that period when you can really catch them — they’re not into the ego thing yet.”

Kaua‘i’s Agricultural Awareness Day originated with retired county administrator Terry Sekioka and former research associate Susan Keller. They recognized that with fewer families working in agriculture, more children would think that food comes from the supermarket rather than the farm, states a press release.

Now in its 12th year, agricultural and environmental awareness day is an annual event co-hosted by Kaua‘i County Farm Bureau and CTAHR. It’s an opportunity to introduce students to careers in agriculture and environmental studies.

Yamakawa said when students reach the fifth grade they are prime for learning.

“They’ve had some experience with science,” he said. “At this age they are like a flower just opening.”

Agricultural Awareness Day was developed to plant seeds of curiosity that might motivate a new generation of agriculturists. The concept has been so successful that over the past few years similar events have been introduced on O‘ahu and the Big Island.

This year’s event featured eight lectures and 20 exhibits reflecting Kaua‘i’s agricultural diversity.

Yamakawa said he receives calls daily from residents curious about what kinds of seeds to plant in their home gardens. He’s encouraged by this homegrown renaissance.

“Because of the economy being what it is, this is an opportunity,” said the Lawa‘i born native. “When I was growing up we grew over 50 percent of our food.”

Among this year’s lectures were: hands-on plant propagation; the new food pyramid in food and nutrition; learning about the basics of biotechnology and genetics; soil and water conservation; invasive species; agriculture in the classroom; and cultivation of taro. Lectures were presented by UH CTAHR staff, as well as Kaua‘i Invasive Species Committee members, Pioneer, USDA-NRCS, and the Kaua‘i Taro Association.

Yamakawa stands behind hands-on experience as one of the best ways to learn.

“It’s not passive, like a lecture or TV,” he said.

One presentation by Kaua‘i Taro involved the kids in the process of pounding taro into poi. Exhibits featured a range of experiences related to agriculture and the environment. Students met the kids and goats of Kaua‘i Kunana Dairy, honeybees from Garden Island Honey and learned about biotechnology from Syngenta, Monsanto and Pioneer.

The question that acted as an umbrella for all the exhibits was, “Where does food come from?”

Students also learned the basics of natural resource conservation such as endemic species, fire prevention, and forestry.

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