FETCH garden manager and TPSS student Justin Long leading a tour of 5th-graders through the Energy House gardens.
“I am pretty tired, but my work here is really gratifying and fun,” is Mary Martini’s (FCS) comment on the work that’s gone into rehabilitating the Energy House, first built in the ’70s as a model for sustainable living and now the site for youth science programs of the Family Education Training Center of Hawaii (FETCH), and offices for Family and Consumer Sciences and 4-H. Both statements are understandable. It took a huge amount of effort to get the building to its present multipurpose, inviting, and structurally sound state, and it takes just as much commitment, thought, and “sweat equity” to sustain it. But the fun, and the benefits, come from sharing the work—and the excitement. The multidisciplinary program staff includes graduates and interns from across four CTAHR departments.
Mary Martini (right) with recent CTAHR graduate and program coordinator Adam Baker (left).
“We don’t just sit around and talk at or with the youth—we show them how to do things,” explains Dr. Martini of FETCH’s philosophy. Concrete tasks such as carpentry, gardening, and hydroponics give children (and adults!) a sense of accomplishment and mastery. This combination of the practical and the idealistic extends to the physical surroundings. Bookshelves bulge with books on gardening, CSA farming, building, nutrition, cooking, crafts, and music. In a small kitchen, hopeful future chefs are mentored—and given a sense of purpose. Members of a FETCH family work together to prepare, serve, and eat an evening meal—and learn better communication skills. The land around the house overflows with the edible bounty incorporated into those meals. Fruits and vegetables burst out of garden beds, hydroponic systems, and less conventional containers, like the sweet potatoes twining from stacks of old rubber tires. (Instead of digging for the harvest, student gardeners just dismantle the stack). The edible landscaping provides enough produce to support a family of four and serves as a model sustainable urban garden. The house roof, designed to promote cool airflow through the structure, will hopefully soon support solar panels.
But the “energy” in Energy House isn’t just solar electricity. There’s good energy here purpose and momentum combined with a gentle peace. A participating teen catalogues, in minute detail, the guppies in tanks on the porch, while an upstairs office buzzes with scheduling for the next family event. The programs in the small red building aren’t just working to generate electrical power and food fuel, important though these are—they’re growing sustainable families and communities, too.