prana-students.jpgThe minute you step onto the ground and breathe the air at Kua O Ka Lā New Century Public Charter School you know that you have arrived somewhere special.  Located at the ancient village site of Pu‘ala‘a  (adjacent to the Ahalanui County Park (warm ponds) in Puna, you feel like you are simultaneously inhabiting two worlds—the old Hawai‘i and modern Hawai‘i.

Driven by Hawaiian culture Kua O Ka Lā PCS is steering a course towards a healthier and more economically vibrant community—through food.

Puna seems like a Hawaiian paradise (and in many ways it is), but if you look a little deeper you will discover that the area is economically depressed, lacking in job opportunities and has a high percentage of adults and children with diet related health problems.

Ike ‘Āina—From the Seed to the Table is an agriculture and culinary arts program that connects culture, agriculture, healthy eating and cooking. The program also exposes students to possible careers in agriculture and culinary arts (or both!).

The Seed

Based predominantly on lava and prone to invasions of plant eating pigs, school garden teacher “Mama” Chioke and the students have their work cut out for them. They explore growing food in many different traditional and modern ways—vertical systems, raised beds and planting in pots and pukas, just to name a few. The greenhouse and surrounding areas are replete with all kinds of agricultural experimentation—which is resulting in the growing of a lot of food that is shared with the school and community.

The Table

Being invited to share lunch at Kua O Ka Lā is a real treat. Culinary Kumu Mariposa Blanco and her students create amazingly creative and healthy meals from the garden food. The students learn about healthy living and nutrition in a real “down to earth” way. Each Friday, the culinary arts class cooks and serves a 100% locally grown lunch to the school staff and guests. They also provide a healthy, organic snack to the elementary school students. Coming soon…a cookbook of their recipes in English and Hawaiian!

Shovel Ready

Ike ‘Āina—From the Seed to the Table is now in its third year and is digging more deeply into the community. Ensuring that the cultural practices of the place are perpetuated and practiced, the school will hold an ‘Ulu Festival on March 3, 2012. Lacking in abundant soil and water for growing taro, ‘ulu (breadfruit) was the primary staple in Puna.

The school is very interested in testing the feasibility of making ‘ulu flour as a value added product that the community can make and sell. (‘Ulu flour has been proven as a highly nutritious and delicious gluten free flour!)

Kua O Ka Lā  is “Shovel Ready”, meaning that all of the permits are in place to build a certified kitchen and cafeteria. Their vision is to expand the quantity of healthy, locally grown meals that they serve to their students, and to create entrepreneurial opportunities for the community through the creation of value-added products.

Ho‘oulu Lahui (the non-profit organization that works closely with the school community) is  also in the process of creating a “Made in Hawai‘i” store at the Old Acerola Factory on the Kalapana Highway. This way the community could sell all of those great value added products that they create.

From the seed to many tables!