Certifiably Organic Farming Graduates Ready To Dig Into Jobs

Meet the first LEAF/HCAP graduates of organic farm training, congratulated at the Waimanalo farm ‘classroom' by state Sen. Mike Gabbard (left), LEAF director David Santistevan (center, with lei) and Down to Earth's Mark Fergusson (far right). Photo by Leah Friel.

A first graduating class stepped up last month at a Waimanalo farm to claim certificates showing they’re qualified to work in the organic farming industry.

A dozen students, recruited from Oahu WorkLinks, have spent the past few months learning about soil fertility, crop planning, non-violent animal husbandry, medicinal plants, pest management, etc., and have earned formal certificates from Hunter Heaivilin and Matthew Lynch in Perma-culture Design from the Asia-Pacific Center for Regenerative Design.

The inaugural program was sponsored by LEAF (Laulima Eco-Friendly Alliance of Farms) in partnership with HCAP (Honolulu Community Action Program) and was conducted at the two-acre LEAF/HCAP farm on Saddle City Road, makai of Weinberg Village. According to LEAF director David Santistevan, the comprehensive curriculum also offered the business side of farming and taught each student the skills to make a living as an organic farmer.

“The next phase of the program is to try to match them with potential employers,” Santistevan said. “They all are in the process of applying for work in some aspect as budding farmers. We are hopeful opportunities will emerge the more word gets out what they have to offer.” For details, call him at 389-1819.

Key roles at the ceremony were played by Hawaii Organic Farmers Association, which issued the certificates; Down to Earth CEO Mark Fergusson, who provided lunch; and state Sen. Mike Gabbard, who presented an honorarium to the project.

Officially known as the Aina Corps Organic Farming Training to Empower the Unemployed, the program started with clients who were deemed suitable candidates for success. Federal funding and support from other agencies made the course free to all participants. Santistevan noted that it all started as a dream to end hunger and poverty by developing on-the-job training for low-income families, homeless and unemployed on Waimanalo land.