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4th grade haumāna from Papa ‘Ōma‘o get their hands dirty as they harvest worms for their vermicomposting project-based learning assignment.

4th grade Papa ‘Ōma‘o tackles KSK food waste - with Red Wiggler worms

May 2, 2023

KSK fourth grader Keahonui Takatsugi remembers her reaction last fall when Kumu Naomi Helenihi-Aweau told the class about their yearlong project-based learning assignment. "Worms, really? Worms. We're going to work with worms. That was my first thought - I didn't know what these worms would do for us. But it made a big impact on us to let us know that we can help the world; act today for a better tomorrow."

Takatsugi and her classmates quickly learned the basics of vermicomposting: feeding dining hall food waste to a colony of composting worms, who digest that to produce an ideal superior organic soil amendment. This vermicast is spread on māla around Kula Ha‘aha‘a to grow a variety of vegetables and native plants. "Aloha ‘āina - that's exactly what we're doing. We're switching from dumpster disposal to resource recovery, repurposing our waste into rich soil and replacing damaged soil that is releasing carbon dioxide into the atmosphere causing climate change," explained Helenihi-Aweau. In the process, haumāna learn about their role in sustainability. "If we want them to ho‘ōla lāhui, then we need to help them identify what are the problems that are impacting our lāhui."

The project started in September with only a quarter pound of worms divided into two bins named "Hui Aloha" and "Hui Mahalo." By March, the class harvested more than four pounds of worms, and over 33 pounds of vermicast, or compost. That process took over 3 hours. Beyond the care and feeding of worms, haumāna Iwi Lee and her classmates got firsthand experience in E Ola! foundations: "I learned a lot about lōkahi and alu like in this project. Lōkahi, all the parts have to work in harmony. If one part goes off balance, the whole system will collapse. Alu like, all the parts work together and rely on each other to make the system complete."

"What I learned was kuleana and mālama. We worked together to ensure our worms were watered daily and fed weekly with food that we collected from the dining hall. While harvesting, we had to be very observant, mindful, and careful in what we were doing. We couldn't squeeze the worms too hard or do something that would hurt them," added Peyton Bonilla.

Classmate Nainoa Burgess liked the idea of getting dirty and touching the worms, but also came away with a valuable E Ola! lesson. "Our kūpuna lived a subsistence life where they only took what they needed and cared for the land because if you provide for the land, the land will provide for you. And that's ‘ike kūpuna."

The worms already have a new home. A quarter pound was adopted by another fourth grade class and the rest of the colony went into a larger lateral vermicomposting bin. Several of the original bins were passed down to kindergarten and first grade classes for their own vermicomposting projects. "You can make a difference no matter what age you are," said Helenihi-Aweau. Her goal is to see KSK's food waste reduced to zero. "All you need to do is be aware of your surroundings. Be observant. Find problems out there. Be creative, innovative, find solutions and get others on board because the more the merrier. ‘A‘ohe hana nui ke alu ‘ia - No task is too big when done together by all."


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