KAPAAU — During any week of the school year, more than 300 Kohala Elementary students from kindergarten through fifth grade can be found in Kohala Discovery Garden planting, tending or harvesting their produce and herbs.
“Every single student comes down to this garden and sometimes put their blood, sweat and tears into it,” Kayla Sinotte, the school’s garden teacher said. “It wouldn’t be anything without them. They love working in the compost, planting and harvesting. Eating food is, of course, their favorite part.”
The school was recently notified that their hard work had paid off, literally, winning the Cooke Foundation’s 2017 Beautification Award valued at $5,000. On Wednesday, James King, an alternate trustee from the Foundation, presented the award to Principal Danny Garcia, Sinotte and FoodCorps Hawaii service member June Guo, broadcast live to all classrooms via the school’s morning newscast.
The Beautification Award was created in 2008 to recognize exemplary completed projects that enhance the overall appearance and ambiance of Hawaii public schools. The Cooke Foundation selects one elementary, one middle and one high school throughout the state every two years to receive the award. Kohala High School is also a recipient of the award this year, attributed to the renovation of signage located on the exterior of their gym, a focal point of the campus.
“Each year we give between $800,000 and $1 million in grants to everything from humanities to health to education groups,” King said.
Sinotte submitted the award application for Kohala Elementary’s garden last fall. The Beautification Award guidelines say, “Children deserve to be surrounded by beauty. A beautiful environment at school is conducive to learning and encourages respect for one’s school, respect for others and respect for oneself.”
Since created in 2010, Kohala Discovery Garden has won an award or been recognized at least once a year, according to Sinotte. Kohala Elementary students also sell herbs and produce from the garden to local businesses, teaching them the value of their hard work.
“We sell taro leaf to CSC Café across the street, and mint, parsley and dill go to Sushi Rock in town,” Sinotte said. “We want to support our community, and the money comes back to the school garden.”
The $5,000 received from the Beautification Award will be used to build an outdoor kitchen within the garden — providing a safe space to harvest, process and prepare food during the garden classes, Sinotte said.
“We’ve started leveling the ground and already have some materials to build it,” she added.
Sinotte’s ultimate goal will be to provide produce from the garden to their school’s cafeteria.
“We’re working towards a food safety plan so we could legally sell our produce to the cafeteria for our Farm to School program,” she said. “The kids ask all the time, ‘Is what we’re eating in the cafeteria from here?’ Unfortunately, I have to say, ‘Not yet,’ but my goal by the end of this year is to be food safety certified, and then we can get our produce up there.”