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Garden teaches preschoolers sustainability

Work began before the check was in hand Saturday at ‘Ae Kamali‘i Preschool.

Chainsaws whirred and people moved pieces of lumber and wheelbarrows of soil as Penni Taketa, co-director of the preschool, and MaryLee Harris, a master gardener volunteer, oversaw the operation with a handful of parent volunteers.

School was out for the weekend and the crew from the Lifetime Stand from the Kaua‘i Community Correctional Center, operating under its “Giving Back” program, cut down invasive trees, created six raised beds and helped Harris spruce up the existing Keiki Garden at the preschool.

Wanda Shibata, representing the Young Brothers Community Advisory Board, arrived with the grant that will expand the Keiki Garden just as a tall invasive tree cracked and disappeared from the skyline.

“Look at the plants in the Hawaiian Garden,” Harris said, excitedly pointing to growing stalks of ti plants and taro. “They’re so happy now. They can get the sun.”

Taketa said the preschool started its original garden using recycled tires as planters back in 2003.

Those have been replaced by raised beds of herbs, vegetables, flowering plants and a Butterfly Garden when Harris came into the gardening program as a volunteer with the University of Hawai‘i Extension Master Gardener program.

“We met at a New Year’s party,” Harris said. “Today, we have an active composting program, herbs, vegetables and the Butterfly Garden with crown flower trees so the children can have a butterfly experience. Everything is totally organic.”

According to a press release from Taketa, the Young Brothers grant will expand on this program to include the construction of six raised planting beds for the purpose of growing more vegetables to supplement the school’s lunch program.

Taketa said the children spend time each week to help prepare beds for planting, watering, fertilizing and weeding.

Under Harris’ supervision, she said the garden is all-organic and the children learn about helpful and harmful bugs. To demonstrate, she pinched off the shoot of a nearby herb to show the egg casing of a spittle bug.

“We get rid of these by shooting water at them,” she said.

Additionally, Harris said Kaua‘i Producers have expressed an interest in obtaining some of the surplus herbs for its own use.

The education students receive by working in the garden has gone home with them where several of the parents said their children asked to start home gardens as a result of their experiences at the school, according to the release.

“The kids, after spending time in the garden, eat vegetables they would otherwise never touch,” Harris said.

Shibata said the ‘Ae Kamali‘i Keiki Garden is sustainability education that children can really grow with, and that Young Brothers is happy to be a part of the program.

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

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