KEKAHA — A little patch of taro grows in front of the playground at Ke Kula Ni‘ihau O Kekaha.
A few months ago, students at the school harvested the taro, or kalo, themselves, and then had it for lunch in the form of burgers handmade by Chef Hoku Chaar.
It’s the process of making those burgers and the other fruits of the Mala‘ia Kula Kauai Farm to School Pilot Program that have put Mala‘ia Kula on the National Farm to School Network Seed Change in Native Communities list.
It’s one of only five programs recognized across the nation.
The recognition will further the farm-to-school pilot and position the program for more grant money, said Megan Fox, executive director of Malama Kauai, which administers Mala‘ia Kula.
“We will be collaborating at the national level to explore farm-to-school in native communities,” she said.
That means those involved with Mala‘ia Kula will be able to help develop school menus that include traditional foods like kalo; work with native producers for the school food supply chain and plant traditional crops; and break down barriers and reinvigorate traditional food philosophies.
“We’re trying to get schools back to being self-sustaining and we’re tying to get agriculture and its cultural relevance back into their education,” said Danielle Jones, Farm-To-School AmericaCorps VISTA, or the coordinator who heads the program at Ke Kula Ni‘ihau O Kekaha.
The school is one of two in the Mala‘ia Kula program — the other is Kawaikini New Century Charter School. Jones’ counterpart at Kawaikini is Akasha Anderson-Nelms.
The program began in 2015 and has supported the establishment of a reimbursable school food program at Ke Kula Ni‘ihau O Kekaha that provides free breakfast, lunch and a snack for students.
Large gardens are underway at both schools as a result of the program. At Ke Kula, noni, ti, ‘ulu, spinach and tomatoes are growing around the school, and Malama Kauai volunteers have built a new greenhouse.
Canoe plants and other vegetable starts are in the greenhouse, and are part of a stockpile being collected for the Ke Kula Mother’s Day plant sale in Waimea on May 13. Proceeds will help support the school’s garden.
Jones hopes the community will support Ke Kula from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. Monday during Kauai Volunteer Week with Malama Kauai.
“We’re targeting that kalo patch and we’re going to make it really nice,” she said. “We could use all the help we can get.”
Teachers and students are planning raised beds as a way for students to learn about growing their own food. A compost pile will teach kids how to sustainably reuse scraps for soil enrichment.
“The other part is they get to see all their work go into something, that’s their lunch program, and they get rewarded with foods that are culturally relevant,” Jones said.