Saturday | April 18, 2015
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Planting the seeds of entrepreneurship

The farm stand at Waimea Middle Public Conversion Charter School makes more than common cents.

It teaches students the fundamentals behind running a business and working with produce while generating funds for Malaai, the school’s culinary garden. It also serves to remind students about the importance of local agriculture, while showing them the things they do are valuable and their goals are never out of reach, said Program Director Amanda Rieux.

The farm stand is open between 1:15 and 3 p.m. Wednesday and Dec. 4. After a short break, it will reopen in the spring. The stand is located on the access road on the south side of campus.

Prior to the last school bell ringing Wednesday, garden leader Holly Sargeant-Green and Food Corps service member Julia Nemoto set up the stand, which was decorated with freshly cut flowers in Mason jars, handmade signs and a brightly painted wheelbarrow. The bounty included leafy greens, beets, green beans, squash, grapefruit, herbs and edible flowers. Prices varied, from 50 cents for a Ruby Red to $4 for a bag of Swiss chard or kale.

Immediately after school, seven students volunteered at the farm stand. All were eager to practice their business skills and customer service, as well as get locally grown food into the hands of their peers and supporters.

Some students waved signs to motorists passing by, hoping to drum up business. Others manned the stand, where they politely conversed with customers, answered questions about products, as well as kept complete and honest records of investment and sales. There were no calculators. They tallied up costs and change mentally or on paper.

It’s not uncommon for the farm stand to sell out. It usually gets 30 customers a week and brings in about $150. So far, the best sales day was Oct. 23, when nearly 70 pounds of food was sold, generating a $223 profit, Sargeant-Green said.

Students and their families get a discount, typically $1 off each item purchased. This promotes the consumption of fresh fruit and vegetables at the school, where 62 percent of students qualify for free or reduced lunch. By keeping prices affordable and offering the stand in a convenient location, access to such food will hopefully not be as big a barrier for those experiencing food insecurity, said Malaai Executive Director Alethea Lai.

The proceeds go directly to Malaai, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit that works in partnership with the school and is funded almost entirely by the generosity of the North Hawaii community. The money is used for the nursery, tools and supply costs to keep the garden program going, said Patti Cook, the school’s community relations liaison.

The school provides the land, water, an annual stipend and more than 280 students in sixth- through eighth-grade. The students spend time in the garden during science, health and physical education classes, Cook said.

Founded in 2005, the garden is nearly an acre in size. Hands-on, place-based lessons are applied in the outdoor living classroom. Here, the relationship between students and the land is cultivated through the growing and sharing of nourishing food. Relevant connections between land stewardship, culture, health, commerce and the importance of lifelong learning are also made, Lai said.

The farm stand was created last year, with the help of a grant. The goal was to go beyond growing and caring for fresh organic produce. The idea was to teach other important skills farmers need, including hands-on money management, marketing, etiquette and collaboration, Sargeant-Green said.

For eighth-grader Johnna Marsh, volunteering at the farm stand is gratifying because “it helps out the community, shows our hard work, and gives us other ideas on how we can use our skills and efforts.” The 13-year-old girl also thinks “the low prices make it easier for people to buy food that results in better, healthier choices.” Through her participation, Marsh said she has gotten better at counting money and gained more insight into the steps needed for a successful business venture.

Eighth-grader Macartney Biegler, 13, thinks people should support the farm stand because “it offers delightful vegetables and fruits at good prices.” Biegler explained how time spent in the garden is something many students look forward to and hope for. He thinks the lessons learned in the garden and at the farm stand will help him throughout life, particularly as he pursues a career as a herbalist specializing in wild medicines.

For more information, call Sargeant-Green at 987-0092 or Lai 989-7861 or visit malaai.org.