Young stewards of the land

The hills were alive with the sound of music at Retro Farms as North Shore students from various schools descended upon the outdoor learning center to plant berries and pineapples, connect to nature, play games and sing their happy little hearts out.

The annual field trip season, now in its fourth year, began last week with a visit by two Kanuikapono classes and continued through the following week with several field trips that included four classes from St. Catherine School.

Students ranging in age from kindergarten through fifth grade made the trek up the hill, to the 14-acre farm that serves as a natural classroom designed to bring science to life while connecting kids to nature.

The students from these North Shore schools, as well as Kilauea Elementary school, participated in the “Pollinators in Paradise” program, which teaches about the importance of pollinators and stresses a need to protect them as well as their habitats, and pollination, how it works and why we need it to be able to enjoy many of the foods we eat every day.

Retro Farms director Mary Ellen Pearlman visits the schools in the fall and teaches in-class lessons that culminate in a visit to the farm in the spring, where the students get some hands on planting experience in the student generated gardens. The aim of the program is to teach a respect for ecological systems while encouraging the students to be responsible stewards of the land.

“We want the youth of Kauai to experience the wonder of nature and develop a relationship with the wild earth that results in responsible stewardship,” Pearlman said. “The future health of our islands natural resources depends upon the success of our environmental education programs today.”

The gardens began four years ago with the first field trips where students planted native plants that include Ma’o O’ Hau Hele, Kokio O’ Ke’o Ke’o, Pohinahina, Ulei and Akia. These now mature gardens serve as part of the natural classroom at the Mighty Seed Learning Center at the farm.

This year, the focus was on planting food for humans as well as the pollinators. Students planted strawberries, blueberries and pineapples in the fruit salad section of the farm. When the field trips take place next year, the children will be able to enjoy the fruits of their labors, literally.

Equipped with child-sized shovels, hoes and wheelbarrows, the students enthusiastically planted their own plant under the guidance of lead farm volunteer, Aaron Pearlman. They were instructed to handle their plants carefully as they added compost to the holes they had dug adding mulch around each plant as the final step.

Following the hard work of planting, the students return to the outdoor classroom overlooking Moloaa bay in the shade of the custom canopy, which was provided by a funding from the Kauai Visitors Industry Charity Walk.

“The highlight of St. Catherine’s fourth-grade class field trip to Retro Farms in Moloa’s was too close to call,” said St. Catherines teacher Michele Kitko-Reilly. “It was either the planting of a long row of strawberries following the meticulous harvesting of every strawberry off the keiki plants for the students’ shared enjoyment — or it was the reward that followed: a piece of honeycomb bathed in honey that was harvested from a nearby hive.”

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