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Growing the Future

By Office of Communication Services    Published on 05/02/2017 More stories >>

SOFT students help educate the keiki on organic farming practices,
nutrition, ecology, food safety, and other STEM areas.

SOFT students help educate the keiki on organic farming practices, nutrition, ecology, food safety, and other STEM areas.

Not only committed to sustainability but triumphantly sustainable itself, the Sustainable and Organic Farm Training (SOFT) CTAHR student organization is now in its tenth year and still going strong. This group of student volunteers and faculty mentors is dedicated to creating a place for student exploration and leadership in agriculture and highlighting the role of ecological processes in sustainable local food production and community health.

The students create and maintain edible landscapes and coordinate campus food-waste pick-ups from UH Mānoa and Noelani Elementary School for their compost piles. They have plots on the Mānoa campus in the Sustainability Courtyard and alongside the Art Building, including a flourishing banana grove, and they also have a larger garden area at the Magoon Research Facility. The group was recently awarded a Green Project Implementation Award, given to student-led sustainability projects with measurable impacts on campus, in the amount of $10,000 from the Johnson Controls to create a sustainable food system on the UHM campus that repurposes food waste for food production.

The SOFT students'
partnership with Noelani Elementary School is in its seventh year.

The SOFT students' partnership with Noelani Elementary School is in its seventh year.

Perhaps their most fruitful and popular venture is their volunteer partnership with Noelani’s first-grade teachers based at Magoon. They work together to create student gardens that educate the keiki on organic farming practices, nutrition, ecology, food safety, and other STEM areas. Not only do the students get to see the miracle of plants germinating, feel the sun-warmed soil in their hands, and literally eat the fruits of their labors, they’re fulfilling science components of the DOE curriculum!

Over the years, SOFT students have shared different types of gardens with the first-graders: one year they grew the ingredients for a bountiful vegetable soup, another year the makings for spaghetti sauce. Once they planted herb gardens with lavender, lemongrass, rosemary, sage, and parsley; another time, they created a version of the Native American planting system of corn, beans, and squash. They’ve experimented with companion planting, introducing their youthful charges to the concept of plant allies.

The partnership, now in its seventh year, has been so successful that a fourth-grade cohort has been added, and SOFT is committed to teaching them as well. Many of the fourth-graders remember their first experiences with the school gardens they tended three years ago and are excited to learn more and get their hands in the dirt again. There’s no better way to nurture the next generation of local farmers—from the ground up!