The Farm That Is Also A Classroom

Jillian Seals with a basket of freshly harvested eggplant

Kauapea Farms grows organic produce for clients and also offers intensive gardening classes

Jillian Seals can’t remember a time when her hands weren’t in dirt: first, while growing up in Connecticut and working on her parents’specialty and culinary herbs farm; again with her family after they moved to the Dominican Republic to grow tropical flowers and fresh culinary herbs on several thousand acres, and now on 12 acres out at Kauapea Farms in Kilauea.

Nothing would make her happier than for you to get your hands into Mother Earth, too.

Seals designed and offers a 12-week intensive “Seed to Table” farm-training program at organic Kauapea Farm that’s jammed with hands-on experience plus classroom instruction in the living art of farming. This is the school she says she was looking for as a young adult and never quite found.

“For many years,” she says, “I thought, if I was a young adult with this interest, how would I go about it to fill my heart and soul?”

“Seed to Table” is the answer. Up to 20 students per session spend 15 hours per week at Kauapea Farm’s 4,000-square-foot garden plots consisting variously of organic fruits and vegetables grown for a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) model.

Seals with a box of fresh produce for a Kauapea Farms customer

In a CSA, subscribers pick up a box each week filled with garden goodies. Seals says the Kauapea CSA, in business for four years, produces anywhere from 30 to 50 generously sized boxes per week – thousands of pounds going out annually, all organic.

This is the study turf of the “Seed to Table” school without walls.

With or without rose-colored glasses, the greens, reds and golds of cucumber, tomatoes and marigolds in these plots fill the eye with their “pops” of saturated color.

Crunching along on cardboard over palm fronds that’s melting into the earth as it keeps moisture in and weeds down, it is difficult to pass a bed without munching on basil, salivating over arugula or reaching for a tomato or ear of blue corn just to admire it. Lessons are a mix of the practical and the academic. Grazing is optional.

Seals teaches largely in answer to an accumulation not only of her own lifetime of questions and those that local residents visiting the farm repeatedly ask, but also using hard-boiled methods and materials obtained from the University of Hawaii College of Tropical Agriculture, the University of California at Santa Cruz and from other leading agricultural training institutions.

The curriculum is adapted to the specific semi-tropical growing conditions of Kaua`i and has been tested in consultation with experienced local farmers and through ongoing field experiments.

“We’re producing high quality food on minimal acreage, utilizing as many local resources as possible,” says Seals of the farm. “We’re working to achieve genuine food self-sufficiency for our island.”

We read and hear about peak oil and oil dependency, and that most of the food in Hawaii arrives from faraway shores at a hefty cost. Seals, along with others – for this is a concert of folks, not a solo routine – is watching out for our good health and our pocketbooks.

The Seals ohana (clockwise from top left) Gary, Azure, Jillian, Sage and Faith

A USDA website on farming in the United States states that farmers made up 90 percent of the labor force in 1790. By 1900 that number shrank to 38 percent, and to 2.6 percent in 1990. “Seed to Table” is a path to bump up the number of farmers supplying food to the people, starting right here at home.

From the start, Kauapea had a buzz going that attracted members of the community.

“As more and more people started showing up, I was finding myself spending a lot of time teaching,” she says. “As it got bigger and bigger, I wondered, ‘How can we restructure this?'”

The answer came in a partnership with Kaua`i Community College, through which “Seed to Table” is offered twice annually as part of the KCC Food Industry Career Pathways program. Graduates of the program receive internships to further polish their skills and can get assistance starting their own farming enterprises, including technical support and more.

“Seed to Table” is but one of many collaborations Seals, a dynamo of energy, helped engineer. Another is the Kaua`i Farmers Co-op by farmers for farmers that’s developing an island-wide CSA network by creating jobs for graduates and outlets to farmer members – while insuring a continual supply of fresh locally grown and distributed food for the Island.

“My passion has always been around food in some way,” Seals says, “whether growing it, preparing it, serving it or even having a conversation about it. Food brings people together.”

Get together with Seals at Seed to Table, a 12-week intensive class held Kauapea Farm, running September through December 2010. Call 828-0800 or e-mail seedtotable@yahoo.com.

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