Agricultural interns benefit from sponsors

LIHUE — Johnny Gordines said Tropical Flowers Express in Kapaa hosted two groups of students, one from Kapaa High School with eight students, for a hands-on experience of what it takes to bring tropical flowers and foliage from the farm to the door.

“They worked hard,” Gordines said. “We had students for two weeks, and during that time, they did whatever work needed to be done. They really worked hard.”

The students were part of the 2017 Ag Internship Program, a collaborative sponsorship effort between the state, the county through the Office of Economic Development, the Department of Education, and the Department of Labor and Industrial Relations.

“This year, our goal was to triple participation from the eight students last year, to 24, or eight from each of our public high schools, Waimea, Kauai and Kapaa,” said George Costa, director of the OED. “I have been in communication throughout the year with school principals, and Natural Pathways-Agriculture teachers to promote the summer program.”

Students were broken into three groups and worked at farms and ranches from Omao to Waipa, including Kaneshiro Farms, Kauai Nursery and Landscaping, Tropical Flowers Express, Kilauea Community Ag Center, Kauai Fresh Farms and Ornamentals Pacifica taro loi in Waipa.

“The county’s funding is essential to the program because it pays for the transportation of the students,” Costa said.

Akita’s Bus Service provided transportation for the students.

“Kylie Hashizaki is a recent graduate from Oregon State University with a master’s degree in agriculture,” Costa said. “She was hired at Kapaa High School last year, and has gotten Kapaa High School students enthused, having 43 students interested, and 29 freshmen actually enroll in the program.”

Costa said Waimea High School has one student, and Kauai High School has six enrolled.

“We are very fortunate to have such a giving agricultural community,” Costa said. “During the three years of the program, the farmers, ranchers and agriculture- related, value-added companies have taken time out of their busy schedules and farming to share their knowledge and enthusiasm with the students in hopes of growing new farmers.”

When the program started in 2015, there were only two students from Kauai High School’s Future Farmers of America program with Herbert Keamoai. The students spent two weeks each at Jerry Ornellas’ Farm, Moloaa Bay Coffee with John and Daphne McClure, and Kauai Fresh Farms in Kilauea with Markeeta Smith.

Enrollment jumped to eight students in 2016, seven from Kauai High and one from Kapaa High, working at Billy DeCosta’s Farm and Ranch, Tropical Flowers Express with Gordines, Moloaa Bay Coffee, Kauai Fresh Farms, Kaneshiro Farms with Valerie Kaneshiro, and the county’s Kilauea Community Agriculture Center with Yoshito L’Hote.

Costa said the program would not be where it is without the funding. The initial program received $10,000 in funding when it launched in 2015. The funding was renewed in 2016 with the county providing a matching $10,000 in 2016.

“With the goal of increasing student participation, we requested and received $36,000 from the DLIR and the state Legislature for this year,” Costa said. “Mayor Bernard Carvalho and the Kauai County Council also increased their funding to $20,000. The state funding goes to pay for the students at minimum wage, which was $7.75 in 2015, increasing to $8.50 in 2016, and this year, at $9.25.”

Costa said his goal is to continue increasing this program and make it part of the curriculum at each of the public high schools with the possibility of having a year-round program.

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