Party for Farming #HFWF19

Oct 22, 2019

After a big weekend on Maui, the Hawaii Food and Wine Festival is wrapping up in Honolulu this week. The annual event raises money for agriculture and culinary projects across the state, and organizers say they’ve raised nearly two and a half million dollars since they started eight years ago. It’s a lot of work, and much of it is volunteer, but workers include students who see their future in the field.

Hulita Ahonima found she loves working with animals. Here, she shows us this lip contortion that Bingo, the Leilehua Mules' mascot, does. It makes him look, well, like he's not too impressed to meet you.
Credit Noe Tanigawa / Hawai'i Public Radio

The Keiki in the Kitchen Family Sunday event runs 10-3pm at Victoria Ward Park. There will be safe trick or treating, kid recipe contest showdowns, cake decorating, and cooking classes. Students across the state have been working for weeks on a market featuring goods that they have grown, developed, cooked, packaged and are marketing just for you.

The ag program at Leilehua offers hydroponic farming, which involves water and nutrients, aquaponics, where fish provide the nutrients, and they have recently started a Korean Organic farming area.
Credit Noe Tanigawa / Hawai'i Public Radio

Leilehua High School Natural Resources Pathway will have fresh produce, leafy greens, broccoli, and the Mules’ Culinary Pathway is making fresh salad dressings. ‘Aiea culinary is making banana lumpia sundaes, while Baldwin H.S. from Maui gathered Maui lilikoi for jams and empanadas. Farrington H.S. Culinary is making smoothies.

‘Ilima Intermediate is also working with lilikoi, they’re making butter mochi and brownies, Kaiser H.S. is going with the Day of the Dead theme and making horchata mochi! Konawaena H.S. is bringing Kona coffee. Olomana Correctional students have made coasters their teachers will have for sale.

Jackie Tichepco heads the Natural Resources Pathway at Leilehua High School.
Credit Noe Tanigawa / Hawai'i Public Radio

Pearl City H.S. students are making teachers’ trick-or-treat-bags, Waipahu H.S. Culinary has made mango jam, and Waipahu Ag students are offering mamaki tea! Roosevelt students have made wooden cutting boards and hot plate sets from local avocado wood. Waipahu Intermediate is doing a chef-for-a-day thing, helping guests decorate cookies.

On O‘ahu, a lot of culinary students from high school and college programs are involved in the Hawai‘i Food and Wine Festival. Some make pivotal connections with visiting chefs, and all who participate get a sense of what producing food at a high level requires.

Ask any chef. The farm is where flavors start.   

For that reason, we’re looking for the next generation of people pulling delicious things out of the ground here at Leilehua High School in Wahiawā. Hulita Ahonima and Marvin Esdicul are seniors in the Natural Resources Pathway led by Jackie Tichepco.  Classroom study is combined with field work in their 3-plus acre farm there on campus. They have hydroponic, aquaponic, and traditional fields, and recently added an area of Korean organics, a style of “natural farming” that commands top dollar.  

Tichepco, a Leilehua grad, was mentored by the person who held her current position. Students cite Tichepco’s dad as another key mentor (and back hoe driver) in the program. Vegetables grown in the garden are packaged and sold by Leilehua Special Education students at various locations in Wahiawā. Call the high school to find out what is available and where to pick up.

Leilehua is one of the eight public high schools whose ag and culinary programs were funded by the Hawai‘i Food and Wine Festival through the Hawai‘i Agricultural Foundation.

“Here are our turkeys, and these are our egg layers,” says Hulita Ahonima. She started volunteering at Leilehua’s farm when she was in middle school and her brother was in the Ag Pathway.

Leilehua students also harvest and sell honey from the farm.
Credit Noe Tanigawa / Hawai'i Public Radio

"Not everybody can grow a plant, it’s not that easy. You have to connect to it.  A lot of people think it’s weird to talk to your plants and stuff, but it’s not.”

Hawai‘i, especially O‘ahu, was much more agricultural until very recently-- crop lands across the state shrank by over half in 35 years between 1980 and 2015. More recently, there’s been a slight uptick in farms and farmland across the state. That’s good news, for a state that grows less than 20% of what we eat.

Esdicul joined the Ag Pathway at his brother's suggestion, too.

“I personally have a hard time learning from books and through computers like that. I like to do the hands-on, down in the dirt, gritty work. It’s cool to me because we get to grow our own produce, when we grow it and eat it after, it’s kind of gratifying, I guess you could say.”

That’s a feeling the Hawai‘i Agriculture Foundation and the Agricultural Leadership Foundation want to encourage. Escidul will have forty dollar-an-hour jobs in construction dangled in front of him once he graduates, but figures higher education is still a good bet.

“If you wanted to start your own ag business,” says Escidul, “Continuing school is a good idea because people don’t know the behind-the-scenes of an agricultural workplace.” He’s right, there are regulations and certifications to contend with, plus staffing, marketing and distribution.

Often, near the end of the school week, Tichepco has a cook-out using their own products. Ahonima says they’ve done locomoco’s with their eggs, kālua pig and cabbage, and great salads. Escidul is not wild about salads, he prefers cooked vegetables, like eggplant.

Credit Noe Tanigawa / Hawai'i Public Radio

Ahonima and Esdicul attended the annual Hawai‘i Agriculture Conference October 15-16, 2019, sponsored by the Agricultural Leadership Foundation of Hawai‘i.  They say they were inspired by other young people and their projects, and by the opportunities out there for agriculture in Hawai‘i.  

That's good news, because both long term sustainability and climate mitigation strategies hinge in part on successful development of agriculture in Hawai‘i.