KALOKO — For decades, Chelle Ching has always had some kind of garden where she’s lived, be it in a pot or in the ground.
“There’s nothing more rewarding than growing food and putting it on the table to feed your family,” she said.
When she came to The Homes at Ulu Wini among the very first residents to move in to the Kaloko development in 2011, she said, residents weren’t allowed to have potted plants in the common areas.
“So it was really hard not being able to have something outside growing that I could nurture,” she said.
But the more she researched about healthy eating, she recognized the social benefits and value a garden would have in helping residents of Ulu Wini, a low-income rental and transitional housing complex, meet their neighbors.
Starting with her and a handful of other residents, they started Ulu Wini’s first garden toward the end of 2013. Their very first planting, Ching said, was green onions.
And in the years since, the neighborhood and those who manage it have worked to provide more of Ulu Wini’s residents an opportunity to nurture the area where they live and cultivate as a community, culminating in a blessing on Monday of a new community garden and rock wall as part of a day of service for Martin Luther King Jr. Day.
“Since I’ve lived here, it put a roof over my head,” Ching said. “But it opened my heart to realize how many giving people there are in this world.”
For Anthony Savvis, youth program director at Ulu Wini, Monday was about celebrating community, he said, and honoring King’s vision “of a world in which we all come together for the benefit of the community and the individual and celebrate diversity.”
Savvis said they were approached about the potential for a collaborative day of service by FoodCorps, an AmeriCorps grantee that works to connect youth with healthy food in schools.
Seri Niimi-Burch, Hawaii program coordinator for FoodCorps, said they had been looking for a community partner for the day of service.
“We’re really excited about what’s happening with the community garden, to have it accessible to kids — not only at school but at home — to have that experience,” she said.
After connecting with FoodCorps, Savvis said, they also connected with their partners at FarmCorps Hawaii, which is an AmeriCorps program, and the West Hawaii Community Health Center.
“In my own personal life, the land has healed me, so I first-hand knew that, the power of that opportunity that was right there before us,” Savvis said, adding that it prompted him to set a mission to create a “food-producing space of healing” at Ulu Wini.
And coupled with the dryland system as an integral story of the region’s past and place, he said, it’s a chance to teach kids about why the plants growing in the garden are there as well as their value.
“They form a nice backdrop, but once you start to learn the story, there’s teaching moments all around us,” he said.
FarmCorps Hawaii director Shannon Ramirez said the development of the garden, including the wall, offers additional teaching opportunities on top of those directly associated with the act of gardening.
“So we’re hoping to introduce not only growing food, but trades are really important,” she said, saying it also offers great opportunity for mentoring and career pathways.
This community garden, located between two blocks of apartment units, has been in the works for three years and includes a variety of plants,including ulu, taro, ginger and sugarcane. It also includes cotton, ti and dwarf tangerine.
“Some have medicinal value, some are creating canopy for more food-producing oriented plants, and each one brings their own value,” he said. “I like the ko (sugarcane), just for the look of it in the wind — I think it’s healing. So there’s aesthetics to it and then when you look at planting out medicinal gardens and food gardens, there’s certain plants that fall into each of those.”
The rock wall at the front of the garden was donated and constructed by Hawaiian Rockscaping.
Owner Camilo Ramirez said he hopes the community has a successful gardening project and that the garden, along with the wall, can be a point of pride for the neighborhood.
The original garden site has been adopted by Hawaii Technology Academy, and on Monday students took on their first day of work at the site. Sophomore Leinaala Medeiros said their plans for the garden includes potentially incorporating native plants as well as those that are robust and resilient.
The plot also, she said, can hopefully benefit her fellow students. As a blended school, she said, HTA students have face-to-face classes twice a week and are online at home the rest of the week. Having the garden, she said, would get students out more to be more active and social.
“So I think it’ll do us good,” she said.
She also hopes the community at Ulu Wini can benefit as well from the students’ presence and involvement in the neighborhood. In addition to their time spent in the garden, said Medeiros, students from HTA will also be helping with after-school learning programs at Ulu Wini as well.
“Just not only being a part of the garden,” she said, “but a part of the community itself.”