Earth Day celebrated at Pālamanui preserve in Kona by gardening, planting, composting
April 22, 2023, 1:06 PM HST
* Updated April 23, 12:13 PM
To celebrate Earth Day (Lā Honua), more than a dozen volunteers gathered on Friday at the Hawaiʻi Community College’s Pālamanui Campus in West Hawai‘i to garden, plant and compost.
It was part of the University of Hawaiʻi’s weekly theme of “Indigenous Food Sovereignty.”
Dr. Richard Stevens, a lecturer at the Hawaiʻi Community College Kona branch, said the day also marked a celebration of the university’s acquisition of the nearby 706-acre forest preserve. The land will be used as an outdoor learning area for students and the community.
“This is a dream come true,” Stevens said as volunteers moved mulch over A’ā (lava rock).
Known as The Pālamanui Campus Preserve project, the effort is a collaboration with the Hawai’i State Board of Land and Natural Resources. The board authorized a memorandum of understanding in 2021 between the University of Hawaiʻi and the state Division of Forestry and Wildlife to collaboratively manage the lowland dry forest area next to the North Kona campus.
Stevens, who helped lead the project, said it’s a huge step towards protecting a critical environment.
On Friday, the mix of lecturers, volunteers and students planted native trees and canoe plants, using indigenous planting methods such as planting crops under trees to help preserve the lowland forest. Throughout the years, they’ve planted 70,000 trees on the island, he said.
“These lowland species will be very important to protecting the survival of our entire forests,” he said.
Down below from the forest reserve, students, teachers and volunteers with the university’s culinary branch were doing their own mālama ʻāina efforts by planting and taking care of the culinary department’s edible garden.
Cathy Harlan, a lecturer in the culinary arts department, said the day’s work helped to raise awareness about the goals of the department, which is to provide healthy food and support the island’s food security. From planting herbs for the school’s café and kitchen to learning about composting, she said she was happy to see people participate in this year’s Earth Day initiative.
“This is a great tool for the students to learn about their local food source,” she said while digging her hands in the dirt.
Paul Heerlein, an associate professor and culinary arts program coordinator, said the garden was created in 2015 with the help of the Blue Zones Project. Heerlein said the department currently uses 80% of its ingredients from Hawai’i, and it features local and seasonal ingredients on their menu.
“The idea is for the students to learn theory and apply it for the benefit of the community,” he said.
He also hopes there will be an agricultural program on the West Side of the island someday to work in collaboration with the culinary department. Currently the agricultural program is on the East side of the island at the Hilo branch.
Windy Simmons, a volunteer from Alaska Airlines, said she chose to volunteer after hearing about the festivities at a ClimbHI event.
“Anyway I can help the efforts in the community, I love that,” she said. “It is a worthy cause to give our students the opportunity to learn about farm to table and to support local.”
For more information about Pālamanui visit https://hawaii.hawaii.edu/palamanui.