At the start of the fall semester last year, a group of students in the Hawaii Community College Agriculture Program set an ambitious goal: to donate 1,000 pounds of vegetables to the local Food Basket in Hilo. In early May, after eight months of growing, harvesting and giving away lettuce, eggplant, tomatillos and other vegetables, the students reached that milestone.
“It sounded daunting in the beginning of the fall,” said ag student Lenny Fujimoto. “A thousand pounds? I thought, ‘We need to grow watermelons or something.’ But we managed to do it.”
Fujimoto was one of 22 students in the HCC Tropical Production classes who grew the produce in greenhouses and fields on a farm site the college shares with the University of Hawaii at Hilo.
The student-driven effort led to weekly donations of fresh produce to the Food Basket, which Fujimoto said made him and other students feel they were playing an important role in the community.
“We took great pride in the quality and quantity of our harvests each week and to know that we could share that quality and wholesomeness with the needy was a great feeling,” said Fujimoto. “During a lecture our instructor, Chris Jacobsen, told us that part of being a good agriculturalist was to ‘assure abundance’ for everyone in the community, and this donation program made us feel like we achieved some of that goal.”
The Food Basket appreciated the vegetables, added Ande Buskirk, the Farm Lab coordinator for the Agriculture Program.
“They always emphasized that vegetables are a nice thing to receive because a lot of what they get are canned goods, and those are important, but we think produce represents something really strong for people’s diets and all-around health,” said Buskirk.
“A thousand pounds is a lot, especially considering it often came in the form of lightweight greens and other vegetables, said Buskirk. “Twenty pounds of lettuce is three huge coolers full.”
The Agriculture Program, which prepares students for a variety of possible careers such as agriculture entrepreneurs and landscapers, is thriving, said instructor Jacobsen.
Recent grants have helped bolster the program by funding the purchase of a tractor, walk-behind tiller and automated greens harvester, said Jacobsen, a UH-Hilo alumnus who has been leading the program for four years.
“There’s strong demand for the program,” said Jacobsen. “There are more than 20 students in each class, which is beyond what we’ve had historically.”