Gardening for the Future
Windward Community College’s bioprocessing facility encompasses both culture and economy
Windward Botany Club members at the medicinal garden
When Kermit the Frog mourned that it’s not easy being green, he obviously hadn’t met Inge White.
With a combination of cultural and scientific knowledge, Windward Community College’s own green goddess will convince you that going green is good for the health of individuals, the environment and the economy.
"There’s so much that we can do with plants—processing them into herbal teas, perfumes, wine…" enthuses White, an associate professor of botany and microbiology.
White established Windward’s new Bioprocessing Medicinal Garden Complex in June 2007. The initiative fosters entrepreneurship based on natural plant products. The complex includes the medicinal garden, with plants from Asia, the Pacific Islands and America; an aquaponic system where fish help fertilize water-growing plants; and a bioprocessing trailer where students use medicinal and nutritious plants from the garden to make marketable products.
Supported through grants from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the medicinal garden is the living, growing heartbeat of the campus’s developing Plant Biotechnology Program.
The term "medicinal garden" may conjure up images of a wise old sage furtively picking herbs and grinding them into potions with mortar and pestle. Herbal lore crosses the ages and cultures, the respected expertise of tribal witch doctors, shamans and āhuna who understood remedies from the earth.
The medicinal garden has a history in academia, as well. Dating to 1545, the Hortus Simplicium of Italy’s University of Padova bills itself as the "most ancient university garden in the world."
Closer to home, the University of Washington broke ground on its drug plant garden in 1911, and the University of Connecticut founded a medicinal garden in the 1950s. Hawaiian medicinal plants inspired design elements and grow in the garden at the University of H awaiʻi at Mānoa John A. Burns School of Medicine’s Kakaʻako facilities.
Windward’s garden draws on Hawaiʻi’s location and history as a crossroad between Asia and the U.S. mainland.
"We’re able to do a lot just based on our location and environment," says White. "For 14 years I took students on independent study to Asia to learn medicinal and nutritional plants. I’m from Indonesia and I know a lot of uses for plants that people here just don’t know yet."
Student Kimberly Ching, left, joins garden guru Inge White in planting orchids and other useful plants
For nearly a decade, White has nurtured a seedling biotech program with an eye to bringing a different kind of green to the state of Hawaiʻi. Her vision is three-fold—
- Provide skills to enter the biotech workforce. "Hawaiʻi has lots of biotech jobs, but up until three years ago, all of the companies had mainland hires," says White. Now the medicinal garden complex, together with White’s Kuhi Lāʻau Tropical Plant and Orchid Identification Facility, climate controlled greenhouse and the Tissue Culture and Plant Biotechnology Lab equip students with plant culture, aquaponic and genetic engineering techniques—skills that can net biotech jobs.
- Prepare students to continue their studies. Students who complete Windward’s academic subject certificate in bio-resources and technology: plant biotechnology complete prerequisite classes that partially fulfill requirements for an associate in arts. Careful elective planning puts them on track for pursuing bachelor’s and advanced degrees at UH Mānoa’s College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources. CTAHR Associate Dean Charles Kinoshita recalls a student who entered CTAHR’s undergraduate biotechnology program, received an MS in molecular biosciences and bioengineering and now is in medical school. "She is using the foundation she gained in the biological sciences, in both Dr. White’s and CTAHR’s programs, to become successful in the life sciences," he says. Encouraged by White, Windward student Ika Ika has set his sights on pharmacy school. "Inge has a heart and a passion for this. Not all teachers have that,", he says.
- Fuel bioprocessing entrepreneurship within the state. "I want students to see a plant and think, ʻDoes this plant have nutritional value? Does this plant have economic value? What can we do with this plant?’" says White. Former student Lora Stark did just that and won the $20,000 social enterprise prize in the 2005 UH Business Plan Competition. She founded Hoku International, manufacturer of natural skin care products including lotions and soaps developed in Stark’s laboratory from locally grown plants and herbs.
"There weren’t a lot of products that bring out the natural beauty of Hawaiʻi," says Stark. "So much comes from other places and is sold under the idea that it’s Hawaiian, but it’s not. Everything I make comes from plants grown in Hawaiʻi."
Stark, in turn, helps the industry grow. She even offered internships and mentored White’s botany classes to stimulate entrepreneurship. "If we can rebuild the land and help medicinals come alive again, we can help heal our land, too. I’m not Native Hawaiian, but my heart is."
Word of the garden has spread. Boy Scout Troop 329 is seeking a community service grant to build benches and help maintain the complex. White invites community members to participate in planting new specimens to cultivate interest in use of plants to benefit health. She is collaborating with Windward’s Employment Training Center to have students from the Certified Nursing Aid Program work in the garden as part of their studies in nutrition.
For White, education is organic. "She’s helped us get grants, brought in people to talk about where we can go and lots of extra things, too, like cooking for us," says former student Kim Chinen. The professor and her students have even compiled a cookbook of plant-based recipes to share the health benefits with other students and friends.
White has a keen interest in using orchid flowers grown in the medicinal garden for food and medicine. "Ask your grandmother and she’ll tell you how back in the ’60s and ’70s everyone at the airports received Vanda orchid lei," says White.
"Unfortunately, they fell out of fashion and went down to only one cent per flower. In the 1970s a Mānoa graduate student did a study that showed the flower is highly nutritious, containing many amino acids. I made tempura and chocolate-covered flowers for my students and visiting Kagawa Junior College students from Japan. They seemed to enjoy it, so I took it to chefs. Alan Wong made three dishes out of it, and Grant Sato from Kapiʻolani Community College made a delicious appetizer and dessert."
So it may be good—and lucrative—to be green, Kermit.
Recipes from White’s garden
20 Amaranth (large) leaves
1/2 to 3/4 cups all purpose flour
2 cloves garlic, pressed
Pinch of salt, black pepper, sugar
Vegetable oil for frying
Mix flour and water to make a batter. Add pressed garlic, salt, pepper and sugar to taste.
Heat oil. Using one whole amaranth leaf per fritter, dip leaves into batter and fry until brown.
This popular Javanese apetizer is rich in protein, vitamins A and C, calcium and iron, amaranth leaves have a delicate flavor similar to that of spinach. Many species grow as weeds throughout Asia, the Pacific and Central America.
2 lbs. fresh pumpkin
15–20 bamboo orchid flowers (Arundina graminifolia)
3 cloves garlic, pressed
1/2 stick of butter
4 oz. light cream
salt, black pepper, sugar to taste
Cut pumpkin into pieces and boil until half-cooked. Retain water. Peel off skin and puree pumpkin pieces in blender with some water. Mix puree with enough of the cooking water to produce desired consistency (not too thin).
Sautee garlic in butter and add to soup together with cream, salt, pepper and sugar to taste.
Let boil for 5 minutes. Serve hot, garnished with floating edible bamboo orchid flowers.
Briefs from the garden: More plant news from UH
Mānoa campus plants to be mapped
The University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa’s historic architecture and landscaping will be mapped, photographed and archived under a $100,000 grant from the J. Paul Getty Trust. The campus features more than 800 tropical plant species, including eight registered "exceptional" trees.
Projects prove that gardening is healthy
Two communal garden projects supported by the Department of Native Hawaiian Health in UH Mānoa’s John A. Burns School of Medicine are producing positive health results.
About 25 community members experienced weight loss and improved blood workups in the Makahiki Project at the Waiʻanae Coast Comprehensive Health Center. The participants cultivate native crops and share the foods during a monthly potluck.
At Kōkua Kalihi Valley, individuals who have or are at risk for developing diabetes attend educational sessions and learn to prepare healthy foods that they grow in a community garden. Participants saw decreases in cholesterol, blood pressure and HbA1c, a blood factor indicative of diabetes.
Get free garden help online and via free publications
UH Mānoa’s College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources has redesigned its Cooperative Extension Service website with top billing for home and garden topics. Subjects range from the Master Gardener Program to backyard conservation, and links include the Ask an Expert database.
CTAHR also offers a wide range of free publications. Say you want to grow Hawaiʻi’s hot new crop. You can download "Germinating tea seeds" under Soil and Crop Management or learn about "Home Processing Black or Green Tea" under Food Safety and Technology. Don’t miss the "Home Garden" offerings.
Summer course create conscious kids
Ten students from Big Island high schools received high school and college credit for an intensive interdisciplinary course on kalo in June 2007. Teaching in both English and Hawaiian, staff from Waiākea High School, the University of Hawaiʻi at Hilo’s College of Agriculture, Forestry and Natural Resource Management and ʻImiloa Astronomy Center of Hawaiʻi presented the cultural significance of kalo along with growing methods and end products, both traditional and modern.
Besides introducing students to economic opportunities related to the taro crop, the courseencouraged study of science, agriculture, mathematics and Hawaiian language and culture. Students had access to UH Hilo’s career planning services.
Organizers tapped federal and local funding sources to offer the inaugural session; they hope to expand the program in 2008.
Summer school supports savvy science teachers
A dozen middle and high school science teachers from Hawaiʻi and across the country gather at Kauaʻi’s National Tropical Botanical Garden each summer for two weeks of topics from traditional plant uses to laboratory plant analysis. Special attention is paid to environmental diversity, human impacts and efforts to preserve endangered species through the use of place-based experiential science examples.
The course, offered in partnership with savvy science teachers A dozen middle and high school science teachers from Hawaiʻi and across the country gather at Kauaʻi’s National Tropical Botanical Garden each summer for two weeks of topics from traditional plant uses to laboratory plant analysis. Special attention is paid to environmental diversity, human impacts and efforts to preserve endangered species through the use of place based experiential science examples.
The course, offered in partnership with Kauaʻi CC, helps teachers create learning modules and science kits that they can reproduce in the classroom in fulfillment of national science education standards. Kauaʻi Professor Brian Yamamoto and other course instructors want teachers to challenge students to appreciate, understand and respect plant life. Kauaʻi Community College, helps teachers create learning modules and science kits that they can reproduce in the classroom in fulfillment of national science education standards.
Kauaʻi Professor Brian Yamamoto and other course instructors want teachers to challenge students to appreciate, understand and respect plant life.