KILAUEA — A year in the Kauai Ag Internship Program helped Kaya Labanon explore his passion for the agriculture industry as a career after high school.
“It helped me to understand more about the ecosystem and even more about the business side of agriculture,” Labanon said.
Other interns were inspired to start gardens of their own, as well as snagging a few life lessons along the way.
“I learned how to be patient and plan things out at a higher level,” said Cody Morden, an intern in the 2016 program. “I learned the process of farming and also the business aspects. I have much more respect for farmers, seeing how much hard work goes into farming.”
The Kauai Ag Internship Program began in 2015 and was piloted by Malama Kauai in partnership with Hawaii People’s Fund and individual donors.
The goal of the program is to immerse interested ag students in the field as paid interns. In addition to pay, those who complete an ag internship receive a recommendation letter.
In 2016, 23 high school and college interns participated in a total of 113 weeks of internship across Kauai. Interns worked on projects at the Malama Kauai Community Farm and on Hale Puna’s agroforestry project. They also participated in service projects at 15 sites across the island including the National Tropical Botanical Garden.
Students learned skills like building, seed saving, and fruit tree care.
The program was created in response to the 2013 Hawaii Agricultural Skill Panel Report, which identified a disconnect between education and the agriculture industry. “We’re setting out to change that,” said Megan Fox, director of operations at Malama Kauai.
The goal is to inspire ag students interested in a career in the industry and creating a hands-on ag internship program within the island’s college and high school systems.
The 2015 winter pilot program was a success and the program was expanded into a year-round event, offering paid internships to students based in Hawaii.
Administrators aim to increase the number of students in the program and allowing returning participants an increased
“What was most exciting for me personally was to see how many farmers and agriculturalists from across the island were willing to give their time to share their knowledge and mentor our youth,” Fox said. “Everyone says they want more local food and more farmers in our future, so the time to start investing in that is now, with these kids.”