by Marielle Hampton
For older adults stuck at home during the pandemic, a container gardening program is one way to provide them with fresh home-grown crops, support for plant problems, and opportunities for socialization.
In partnership with the non-profit Kumuki‘a, CTAHR Extension on Hawaiʻi Island helped launch a ʻKumu Malaʻ program with 64 Waimea-area kupuna; each kupuna received potted plants with herbs and vegetables to grow at home. We also delivered a short guide to container gardening and kit of supplies, along with invitations to an online training session and weekly Zoom check-in. This pilot program was funded by the Hawaiʻi Community Foundation.
Each week, Master Gardeners from around Hawaiʻi Island staff a virtual “Kumu Mala Happy Hour” to help the kupuna with plant problems. Trained by Extension to provide assistance to home gardeners, these volunteer experts field questions about unidentified pests, mysterious leaf changes, and other issues with potted plants. The kupuna themselves swap cooking ideas and plant photos, and share stories and memories about growing up with food and plants.
With additional funding from Hawaiʻi Community Foundation’s West Hawaiʻi Fund, we’ve expanded the program to include students at Waimea Middle Public Conversion Charter School, who grow plants and write letters to the kupuna.
I am grateful for the wisdom and insights from both kupuna and Master Gardeners. These online gatherings offer an incredible opportunity to enjoy stories, gardening knowledge, and camaraderie in a safe format. I find myself looking forward to checking in with our volunteers and participants to learn more about plants – and the life experiences of our kupuna.
Feedback is very promising. Participants say their container gardens are convenient, practical, and enjoyable. “I love my container garden!” a kupuna said. “It's easy to manage and provides healthy fresh veggies for my ʻohana to enjoy. Tending to my container mala is refreshing and therapeutic for me.” In another memorable session, a participant talked about how her Hawaiian mother taught her to always give food to guests. Whether sharing food, connections, or experiences, giving to others always leads to receiving something in return.
The Kumu Mala project demonstrates mana‘o in action. CTAHR Extension’s gifting of plants, time, and expertise to kupuna in the community has nurtured appreciation, connection, and fruitful experiences for everyone involved.
Photos by Liz Barney.