Let's Grow Hilo - Edible Landscaping in City's Median Strips
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Downtown Hilo have started a program aimed at simultaneously beautifying downtown Hilo while filling a vital need for feeding residents.
“It started out as a guerilla gardening project,” Alice Moon, Executive Director of Hilo Downtown Improvement Association (DIA) says with a chuckle. “We just started doing it. Then we had four-foot kalo plants growing, and people started realizing what we were doing.”
‘It’, is the “Let’s Grow Hilo” project, designed to show people how easy it is to go green while providing free food for local residents. Hilo is unique in that people strolling along downtown streets can now pick fruits and vegetables for free and take them home to eat.
“Let’s Grow Hilo” came about as a result of the Envision Downtown Hilo 2025 Plan, which calls for enhancing the area’s natural beauty through landscaping, plantings and related improvements. The project started a little over a year ago with then-student, now graduate from UH-Hilo College of Agriculture, Samantha (Sam) Robinson.
While still in school, Sam started community gardens at University of Hawai‘i-Hilo and wanted to expand the idea on a community-wide basis. Teaming up with Alice Moon and the Hilo DIA, Sam’s been working for over a year with youth groups, including Girl Scouts and students at Connections Public Charter School, on several planters along Kamehameha Avenue and in front of the old Hawaiian Telephone Company building on Kalākaua Street. Dozens of area youth are learning how to grow food and take pride in their community.
Hilo DIA is helping Sam seek community gardening grants to expand this part of the project and make Downtown Hilo a model project for other small towns on the island.
At the same time, Chiko Arakawa with DIA’s Senior Training Employment Program has been the driving force for the plantings around palm trees and in other planters around town. Chiko uses space behind the East Hawai‘i Cultural Center as a greenhouse and nursery. You can see his work on the pocket park at the corner of Waianuenue Avenue and Keawe Street. Another group, Natural Farming Hawai‘i, using Korean Master Cho’s method, has joined the effort by planting taro. Drake Weinert and volunteers from the farming group have spent many a weekend planting and nurturing a kalo garden at the small triangle shape where Kīlauea Street and Keawe Street merge at Mamo Street. As this magazine goes to press, DIA and Natural Farming Hawai‘i are planning a harvest celebration for the kalo tentatively scheduled for March 10.
Plants are donated by area businesses, their employees or members of the community. Sam and Chiko have developed relationships with area gardeners and groups, with many supplies being donated. What plants aren’t donated Sam grows from seeds organically. Alice notes that there have been some instances of theft and vandalism, but the damage has been minimal and offset by the tremendous benefits.
She recalls a recent incident where she was walking downtown and a woman admired some tomatoes growing in one of the community gardens. Alice told her she could pick them and take them home, but the woman didn’t believe her. After explaining the community gardening plan to her she was finally able to convince her to take the ripe produce home.
Now that the program has taken root, Alice and others are going about creating more structure for the program. “We’re working with the County Planning Department to formalize the program and its strategic planning,” explains Alice.
“Let’s Grow Hilo” community workdays are typically held the last Sunday of every month.
For more information on the “Let’s Grow Hilo” program, to donate supplies or start your own community garden downtown, e-mail Sam Robinson at firstname.lastname@example.org or look at the website www.letsgrowhilo.com. .