All posts by Campus Talk

Apple bananas are among the many organic fruits and vegetables grown and sold by SOFT.

Feature: Fruits of their labor

SOFT members proudly showcase their bountiful produce at their weekly farmer's market.

They’re SOFT all the way, and proud of it.  That’s true of students in the Sustainable and Organic Farm Training (SOFT) program, which has finally made the leap from two off-campus sites to the middle of the University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa.  Established in 2007 by the College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources, the program – one of the largest in the state run by students and faculty – has blossomed into a harvest of vegetable crops, fruit trees and a bountiful herb garden.

Initially, the collegiate cultivation took place on a one-acre site at the UH Research Station in Waimanalo and at the Magoon research facility in Mānoa, giving students a true hands-on experience in horticulture, pest control, nutrient management, business and marketing.  In the initial start-up stage, several participants toured college farms on the mainland to help them plot out and develop a sustainable farm environment of their own. They returned with a bounty of information, and then applied their newfound knowledge to create a successful campus farm program that strives for smart, efficient and sustainable agriculture.

On most weekends, SOFT volunteers, or SOFTies as they like to call themselves, could be found hard at work at either of the two initial farm plots. The crops are harvested regularly and sold at a weekly farmer’s market on campus.  The profits are then used to purchase more plant material, tools and supplies.

But while the farms served as valuable training grounds for the students, the University’s larger campus community was unaware of their growing prowess. “We wanted to have something visible for people to see so they could learn more about our group,” said Gabe Sachter-Smith, a recent graduate of the Tropical Plant and Soil Sciences (TPSS) program who will be pursuing his master’s degree in the Fall. “Establishing on-campus plots is also easier to sustain and can help promote our work by acting as living billboards.”

In cooperation with landscaping manager Roxanne Adams, the green-thumbed students came up with plans to bring sustainable farming to the middle of campus. Their tireless efforts came to fruition this past Spring, and right around Earth Day in April, when they established a plot on the grassy stage of the Sustainability Courtyard.  SOFT volunteers dug up the rich Mānoa earth to create what they envision to be a mini edible garden, planting everything from sunflowers, cassava, basil and rosemary, to sweet potato, taro, coco yam and lemon grass, to name a few.  “It is our hope that this installation will encourage more student involvement,” said SOFTie Jeana Cadby, a senior in the TPSS program. “We look forward to selling these publicly grown veggies and herbs soon.”

SOFT also has plans to create another garden behind the Art Building.  Dubbed “banana walkway,” the plot will feature different varieties of bananas as well as some intercrops such as jicama, squash, beans and sweet potato.  Observed Sachter-Smith, “Since it’s a living system, it is always changing and the many different crops grow at their own pace. We will constantly be rotating and replanting crops to ensure an aesthetically pleasing landscape while maintaining even production. We’ll always have something ready to harvest.”

One person who couldn’t be more thrilled with the student-driven effort is Ted Radovich, a CTAHR specialist in sustainable and organic farming systems, and SOFT’s proud faculty advisor. “With support from CTAHR, UH Landscaping and others, the SOFTies have really taken the initiative to develop self-learning opportunities for themselves and other students,” he said. “They’ve put science and theory learned in the classroom into practice by growing and marketing food.”

To enjoy the bounty of their harvest, come to the SOFTies’ weekly produce sale on Mondays from 12:30 to 2:30 p.m. in front of the St. John building on Maile Way. Plus, always being sought are volunteers who have an interest in developing skills in sustainable agriculture, and who are willing to work on the three farms. Summer internships are also available. To learn more, send an email to soft@hawaii.edu or visit the website at http://www.ctahr.hawaii.edu/sustainag/soft/.

Top photo: Apple bananas are among the many organic fruits and vegetables grown and sold by SOFT.

Garden shot

CTAHR Workers

Energy House front

Feature: Reenergizing the Energy House

Volunteers help transform what was originally a septic tank into an aquaponic fish tank at the Energy House.

In the 1970s, long before sustainability became a modern buzzword, the University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa’s School of Architecture built a model home where people could learn about sustainable living, local style.  The Energy House, located at the end of East-West Road on the Mānoa campus, included elements that would help reduce or minimize the need for energy use and promote an eco-friendly lifestyle.

Its sustainable features were decades ahead of their time. They included durable materials used to build the house, notably redwood; solar panels; a rainwater collection, filtering and pumping system; a septic tank to utilize grey water for irrigation; a wind turbine to generate electricity for an electric car; and an energy monitoring system.  The Energy House was not only a model of energy conservation and production, but also featured landscaping that consisted entirely of edible or usable plants.

More than three decades from their implementation, these features are now in need of updating with newer, energy-efficient technologies and sustainable systems that would signal a new era in sustainable building.  Mary Martini, psychologist and professor of Family and Consumer Sciences at UH Mānoa’s College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources (CTAHR), licensed carpenter James Estrella, and a team of dedicated volunteers have been spearheading efforts to restore and revitalize the old Energy House.  “I’d like to see it become a model house and urban garden highlighting the sustainable practices of today,” said Martini.

Since February 2010, Martini and her team have made significant progress at the Energy House.  Their work has included restoring 1) the natural conditioning of the inside air; 2) original, natural, building materials; 3) rain-water harvesting system; 4) pv solar electricity system; 5) sustainable gardens with help from staff and youth groups; and 6) the use of edible and useful plants as borders and wind diverters.

New features promoting sustainable food choices have also been introduced.  Working with CTAHR faculty, a sustainable urban garden featuring hydroponic and aquaponic systems was installed.  It includes a 500-gallon fish tank, an aquarium for rooting plants, and a fish nursery and two hydroponic grow tables for tomatoes and lettuce. Martini hopes to disseminate information to the public in the form of a sustainable lifestyle plan that includes instructions on how to install these features, plant and harvest gardens, and prepare meals using the garden produce.

Other programs introduced at the Energy House include a training curriculum in these emerging sustainable trade areas for various youth groups and a cooking program featuring child-friendly recipes using food found in the gardens.  “By developing and providing these training programs at the Energy House, we hope to help transition intermediate and high school students into CTAHR undergraduate programs in the future,” said Martini.

While there is still much to do for the Energy House to reach its full potential, progress has been made.  A new front porch, heat-reflective paint on the roof, sidewalk to the handicapped entry, and rainwater catchment and irrigation system, among other improvements, will be completed in the next few months.  Future plans include converting the garage to a workshop for youth and others to complete sustainable gardening and carpentry projects. 

“I want so much to work with others in sustainability,” said Martini. “We are just getting to meet those around campus and in the community who have similar interests.  With our efforts combined, it won’t be long before we are close to completion and getting the house where we would like it to be.”

For more information about the Energy House, contact Mary Martini at (808) 956-2249 or martini@hawaii.edu.

Top photo:  The newly renovated Energy House at the University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa.

Farm raised tilapia is becoming a popular choice among consumers and restaurant chefs.

Feature: The growing wave of aquaculture

Aquaculture Specialist Clyde Tamaru with a barrelponics system at Windward Community College.

When First Lady Michelle Obama ordered farm-raised tilapia during a vacation-time meal at Alan Wong’s Restaurant in Honolulu this past December, it signaled a smiling acknowledgment for the once frowned-upon fish.  Many longtime locals still cringe at the thought of eating tilapia, which was historically notorious for thriving in icky canals. 

 But, it’s a new day for tilapia, as consumers and connoisseurs are learning it’s actually an epicurean delicacy. In fact, the species is being viewed as a splashing success in aquaculture farms throughout the state—helping to boost Hawai‘i’s production of fish stocks, eliminating reliance on imported stocks, and improving the 50th State’s ability to be more sustainable. 

Currently, more than 30 aquatic plant and animal species are being raised for research or commercial purposes in the islands. According to the Hawai‘i Department of Agriculture, the commercial aquaculture sector has expanded from 13 farms in 1976 to 100 in 2003.  That number continues to grow, due to an increasing demand for fresh, local products and a high consumption of seafood.

In fact, aquaculture has become the fastest growing segment in local diversified agriculture, grossing record sales of $34.7 million in 2008.  To cope with the high demand for aquaculture products, University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa scientists and researchers have stepped up to work alongside farmers, and state and national aquaculture personnel, and share their expertise.

At the Hawai‘i Institute for Marine Biology, for example, Director Jo-Ann Leong reported that colleagues are focusing on targeted sectors for greater development in aquaculture, based on the industry’s track record to date.  They include:

  • High-value seafood products such as opihi.
  • Macroalgae or seaweeds for food or specialty chemicals.
  • Year-round production of specific pathogen-free broodstock and seedstock.
  • Marine and freshwater aquarium species for export.
  • Offshore and open-ocean production of fish and pearl oysters.

Leong added that a trio of long-term projects will concentrate on the development of 1) disease-resistant strains of aquacultured species, 2) appropriate and sustainable food supplies for different stages of the life cycle for new animal species, and 3) environmentally friendly aquaculture methods.

Meanwhile, funding support from the U.S. Department of Agriculture is enabling Sea Grant College Director Gordon Grau to develop feeds for fish that help them grow optimally with the mildest impact on ecosystems. Grau aims to design feeds without fishmeal that promote efficient growth with minimal loss of nutrients. He works in collaboration with colleagues at a USDA lab at Auburn University in Alabama to compound the feeds for tilapia, which are then evaluated by both his lab, and university and government partners, in the U.S. and Japan.  Last year, more than 400 million pounds of tilapia were imported into the U.S. from Central and South America, China and the Philippines.

Then there’s the Aquaculture Research and Extension Unit in the College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources.  Led by aquaculture specialist Clyde Tamaru, his team members are engaged in a variety of aquaculture research and extension activities.  Tamaru is principal investigator of a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration supported project on how to improve the hatchery output of the Hawaiian pink snapper or opakapaka, a favorite of many locals. His research hinges on the species ability to naturally spawn from captive broodstock held at Coconut Island.  Due to its overfished status, the bottomfish fishery is now governed by the federal Magnuson-Stevenson Act, thus the state has been mandated to devise ways in which the fishery can be restored by at least 20 percent.

Working with the Division of Aquatic Resources, Tamaru and researchers at Mānoa are developing hatchery and nursery techniques for the production of opakapaka juveniles that can meet commercial-scale requirements, with the intent to transfer those technologies to appropriate end users for either public or private use. His research has already proven helpful for local farmer Hukilau Food, significantly improving its moi hatchery outputs that now average about 400,000 per hatchery run.  These researchers and many others at UH Mānoa continue to develop cutting-edge aquaculture technologies to help achieve a more sustainable Hawai‘i while drawing international interest.

To learn more about these research projects and others being conducted by these units, visit:

Hawai’i Institute for Marine Biology – http://www.hawaii.edu/himb

Sea Grant College – http://seagrant.soest.hawaii.edu/

College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources – http://www.ctahr.hawaii.edu/

For more information, contact:
Jo-Ann Leong at (808) 236-7401 or joannleo@hawaii.edu
Gordon Grau at (808) 236-7408 or grau@hawaii.edu
Clyde Tamaru at (808) 342-1063 or ctmaru@hawaii.edu

Top photo: Farm raised tilapia is becoming a popular choice among consumers and restaurant chefs.