UH researchers went looking for urban gardens ... and found an abundance in Kalihi

Updated: Feb. 25, 2020 at 5:30 PM HST
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HONOLULU, Hawaii (HawaiiNewsNow) - University of Hawaii Manoa assistant professor Vanessa Buchthal walked dozens of city blocks in Kalihi in search of homegrown gardens.

And she found them.

"We saw that people were growing food everywhere!" she said.

Buchthal and a team of graduate assistants combed Kalihi streets and discovered more than a third of parcels they looked at in both residential and industrial areas had food growing on them.

“We even saw an aquaponics setup down there, out in a driveway of a sheet metal factory,” she said.

They found fruits, vegetables and herbs sprouting in tiny spaces like in front of Yin Chan’s home where bitter melon covers a chain link fence and sweet potato grows in boxes along the roadway.

“We can eat it,” she said. “The rest we can share with my family.”

Buchthal works in the UH Office of Public Health Studies. Her study was recently published in the Journal of Immigrant and Minority Health, and she’s sharing her findings with Kokua Kalihi Valley and other organizations that offer advice on nutrition.

KKV’s Roots Program teaches how food grown in home gardens help overall health.

"In our modern diet we've gotten away from that a little bit. What our program tries to do is restore some of that, help people who have kept those traditions alive do that," food programs coordinator Jesse Lipman said.

Buchthal said many of the Kalihi gardens she spotted belong to immigrant families. She said they are an untapped resource of information on growing food that should be utilized.

“There’s often enormous assets within that community. Go find out what people are growing, bring them in, engage them, use their skills,” she said.

Buchthal presented her study at an international conference so other researchers can follow her lead and discover what’s growing in their own backyards.

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