Trends in Green (Sustainable Innovation On Campus)

Garden of Wisdom

A job in sustainability encompasses the concept of stewardship — the responsible management of resources. Sustainability professionals seek to improve an organization’s environmental, social and economic impact. Some have specific titles such as sustainability manager and director of corporate responsibility. Sustainability professionals in other roles may have experience as industrial managers, logistics (transportation, storage and distribution) managers, environmental scientists, civil engineers or recycling coordinators.

The University of Hawai‘i at West O‘ahu’s Bachelor of Applied Science with a concentration in Sustainable Community Food Systems (BAS-SCFS) prepares students for jobs in the sustainable food and agriculture sector in Hawai‘i and beyond. The BAS-SCFS is a multi-disciplinary, experiential and applied education program about key ecological and social issues in food and agricultural systems. It incorporates problem-based and hands-on learning to develop food system professionals capable of solving real-world problems and transitioning Hawai‘i agriculture toward greater ecological sustainability and social equity.

Students at the University of Hawai‘i (UH) at West O‘ahu will soon be at the forefront of what some are calling the green collar economy. But first, they will need to break a sweat and get dirty.

Hands-On Learning

“The UH West O‘ahu garden is designed as a living laboratory,” explains Albie Miles, assistant professor of Sustainable Community Food Systems. “We teach the theoretical elements of ecological sustainability and agriculture and we use the garden as a site for handson learning where we’re integrating the theory with the practice.”

The BAS-SCFS was developed in close partnership with Kamehameha Schools and MA‘O Organic Farms. The mission of Kamehameha Schools is to improve the capability and well being of Hawaiians through education by operating an educational system serving over 6,900 students of Hawaiian ancestry at K-12 campuses on O‘ahu, Maui and Hawai‘i island, and at 31 preschool sites statewide. MA‘O Organic Farm exists to restore a thriving and resilient community food and education system is based on a successful and progressive 14-year foundation of growing organic fruits and vegetables while cultivating youth leadership.

“We’re getting to meet community leaders and people who are affecting change in the food system and getting to understand the work that they do,” says early BAS-SCFS program enrollee Silvan Shawe of meeting people like Kamuela Enos, director of social enterprise at MA‘O Organic Farms.

“This becomes a space where Professor Albie Miles talks about ‘a meeting of wisdom,’ where the practices of ancestry are repurposed for a contemporary context,” says Enos.

“We’re attempting to train a new generation of people to think critically and systemically about the food system,” adds Miles. “How it functions — ecologically, socially, economically — and how and what ways might that food system be changed to increase its ecological sustainability and social equity.”

Enos thinks the program will appeal to students like those MA‘O works with on the western Wai‘anae coast of O‘ahu, many of whom are Native Hawaiian.

“You can go for a higher education diploma without seeing your role after that as just sitting in an office,” he says. “You can be true to this idea of working with your hands, working with the land, while having a really quality education that allows you choice and control in your life.”

Restoring the Ecosystem

On the east side of O‘ahu in the agriculturally rich Wai‘hole Valley, agroecology students are learning how different kinds of food production systems perform environmentally.

“We have a lot of environmental issues that have been caused from conventional agriculture practices like pesticide use, and just the methods that they use, wasting water, stuff like that,” says student Carly Wilson.

“Right now things aren’t exactly sustainable, we’re degrading certain qualities of our ecosystem,” agrees fellow student John Canner.

“Now we’re just doing some weeding,” says Wilson, explaining the work that has them outside instead of in the usual classroom. “When you don’t use pesticides and herbicides, weeds build up, so you have to use human labor instead.”

“We’re not actually throwing away the weeds,” Canner adds. “We’re just using them for compost. More nutrients for the actual taro.”

While the labor is hard, the payoff of having a workforce highly skilled — like the Hawaiians of old — in sustainable food production will be environmentally beneficial, even potentially life-saving.

Importing an estimated 90 percent of food, fertilizer, energy and seed, the Hawaiian Islands are uniquely vulnerable to statewide food insecurity in the face of rapid global climate change or economic disturbances.

“Our aim is to train a new generation of food system professionals,” Albie explains. “To think across traditional disciplinary boundaries and to actively solve current problems through work in agriculture, policy-making, planning, business, research and education.”

Read more about UH West O‘ahu’s sustainable community food systems program at http://bit.ly/1CTklgY.

This article originally appeared in the August 2015 issue of College Planning & Management.

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