Before and after photos of SOFT’s edible landscape garden located in UH Manoa’s Sustainability Courtyard.
When Douglas Vincent, the chair of the Human Nutrition, Food and Animal Sciences department, first lobbied in 2007 for funds for a student group that wanted to dig up UH-Manoa’s carefully landscaped grounds and plant beans, people might have thought he’d gone soft. But really, he’d just gone SOFT. That’s the Student Organic Farm Training group, advised by Ted Radovich and other CTAHR faculty, and it’s on a mission to promote sustainable agriculture and ecological awareness—one campus plot at a time.
A green wave of edible landscaping is sweeping gently over the campus, leaving in its wake a grove of banana plants here, a terraced rockery stocked with sweet potatoes and oregano there. Getting to class is becoming a mouthwatering experience. “Establishing on-campus plots can help promote our work by acting as living billboards” for the group, explains Gabe Sachter-Smith, a core member. Eager tasters can head over to SOFT’s farm stand, held Mondays from 12 to 2 outside of St. John Laboratory. For nominal sums they’ll receive ripe ‘ulu, eggplants, chili peppers, and other fresh and local—very local—products, and they’ll also have the satisfaction of supporting the group’s future efforts.
Because SOFT is all about the future—they have big plans, both for the campus and for ways its ready-to-eat plantings can inspire others. They’re also involved in CTAHR’s partnership with Noelani elementary school, in which student volunteers, led by Nate Ortiz, help Noelani first-grade classes to prepare the soil, plant the seeds and starts, and harvest the bounty in their own plots at the nearby CTAHR Magoon Research and Instruction Facilities. Children of all ages love to get their hands dirty, but more important are the program’s academic benefits: It’s teaching the keiki about counting and measuring, scientific investigation, nutrition, and ecology. This successful partnership is in its second year now, growing as vigorously as a well-tended stalk of corn.
And so is SOFT. They may have a hard row to hoe, attempting to reverse the Islands’ overwhelming reliance on imported produce, but they’ve been planting and tending the seeds of change for a few years now, and those seeds are starting to bear fruit.
Link to SOFT’s Web site: www.ctahr.hawaii.edu/sustainag/soft