At Waipahu Intermediate, pioneering young farmers earn national recognition

(Image: Hawaii News Now)
(Image: Hawaii News Now)

WAIPAHU, OAHU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Every Monday afternoon, 10 eighth-graders at Waipahu Intermediate voluntarily stay after school to work on planter beds and an aquaponics garden.

They grow lettuce, tomatoes, eggplants and green beans, then eat the fruit of their labor.

"It tastes good and fresh," Darren Estal said.

The students signed up for the Future Farmers of America program, a national effort to teach youth about the agriculture industry through hands on activities. Waipahu Intermediate is the first intermediate or middle school in Hawaii recognized by FFA. Up to now, only high schools have been involved.

"I have some students that are potential blue collar workers and some students that are potential white collar workers. I have them all integrating with each other," teacher Ken Kozuma said.

The extra-curricular activity is an off-shoot of Waipahu Intermediate's agriculture program. FFA promotes agriculture education, but it also helps youth develop other skills..

"Science, math, English, everything," Kozuma said.

The students learn to create fertilizer mixes using ratios and proportions, how to make drip irrigation systems, and how to present their projects through oral reports.

Estal wants to be a lawyer, so he needs to work on self-confidence.

"We got to learn about public speaking, which is learning to get out of your comfort zone," he said.

Hadassah Hermoso plans to be a veterinarian.

"I want to be able to do animal science. You have to try to cure animals by using plants," she said.

FFA requires schools to compete against other FFA schools. In a recent event Waipahu Intermediate held its own against high-school teams.

Kozuma has about 30 students in his agriculture class. Ten signed up for FFA. He expects a bigger group next year.

"Next year I'm going to have five agriculture classes," he said.

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