To foster inspiration in science, technology, engineering and math in public middle schools, Jahren Lab at the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa and the STEM Pre-Academy developed a research and technology-based curriculum focused on environmental science and nutrition.
The UH team created a three-part outreach program for middle school students—from discovering the nutritional and environmental importance of locally sourced fruits and vegetables, to designing their own self-watering planters and transplanting their vegetables and herbs in the school garden and finally, using their harvest to construct a healthy meal with a local chef.
“With food transportation and processing accounting for 30 percent of energy use within the U.S. food system, the adoption of diets based on locally sourced, unprocessed whole foods has the potential to significantly improve the health of our environment and our citizens,” said A. Hope Jahren, a professor at the UH Mānoa School of Ocean and Earth Science and Technology, who leads the Jahren Lab.
Nowhere is this more apparent than in the Hawaiian Islands, where a majority of supermarket food is produced thousands of miles away, resulting in substantial fossil fuel emissions and higher costs for fresh fruits and vegetables.
“We wanted to concurrently address both public and environmental health in educational programs by demonstrating how such diets not only improve our well-being, but the economic and environmental health of our local communities as well,” said Josh Bostic, a Jahren Lab research technician and the driving force behind this collaborative project.
Bostic and Lori Hashimoto, STEM Pre-Academy program manager and lead engineer, decided that to affect healthy lifestyle changes there’s no better place to start than in schools, where children are still forming the opinions and habits that will follow them for the rest of their lives.
“Being able to expand the educational value of the school-based garden with nutritional expertise brings greater value to students both on and off the school campus,” said Hashimoto.
The resulting pilot project, completed at Jarrett Middle School, was a success.
“My students gained useful life long knowledge from this pilot project. They really enjoyed the hands on activities like making the self-watering plant containers. But their favorite activity was placing their plants in their garden to see it grow,” said Sue Erickson, a P.E./health teacher at Jarrett Middle School.
Erickson will continue the school garden project and plans to incorporate similar learning activities in physical education classes next year.