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Retro Farms’ summer Ag intern program seeking teens, funds

MOLOA‘A — Retro Farms’ Agricultural Intern Program, a summer job opportunity for high school students on Kaua‘i, is seeking help from the county to keep the program going for teens who want to work and learn about farming.

“Retro Farms also gave me a good introduction to working,” said Lei Sitani, a graduate from Kapa‘a High School. “Working on the farm made me realize that it is hard and expensive work, however, it granted me a greater understanding and a new perspective on farm culture.” This internship has not only helped me gain basic farming knowledge but it also helped me grow as an individual.”

The program’s farm is located at Moloa‘a Bay View, and transportation is one of the stumbling blocks for students who would like to be part of the program, RF Director Mary Ellen Pearlman said.

“Many of the students I spoke with wanted to participate and earn money, but did not have a ride and were reluctant to ride the public bus,” Pearlman said.

The program started four years ago through the county’s Department of Economic Development funded by the Department of Education.

“They paid for buses to transport the kids to four different farms, five days a week, and they paid a salary to the students,” Pearlman said. “Sixty kids signed up for the program. They rotated through the different farms and gained a diverse agricultural experience.”

Pearlman said in the past years, the buses hired by the county previously made custom stops to pick up the kids very close to their homes.

“I honestly believe, that in order for us to encourage kids to participate in these programs, we need to provide transportation,” Pearlman said. “I believe the bus budget was $50,000 for four weeks of programs four years ago. Obviously, that is too much for any farmer to bear, that is why there has to be supported.”

When The Garden Island asked the county on Thursday about the program, a public information officer said the county doesn’t have any information on Retro Farms’ program. The county said it generally does assist agriculture programs through its grant-in-aid program, and RF has not applied for any county grants.

RF has been recently funded by Hawaii Community Foundation which helps them pay the students a very competitive wage.

“With the support, we have received, we hope to be an influence in the community where we garner the support of state and local governments, the schools, and the Department of Education to grow our programs and continue to create jobs for our youth,” Pearlman said. “There is a lot of momentum, there are a lot of desired outcomes, now we just have to work together to offer attractive programs for our young people, and make it easy for them to participate.”

The general consensus of the interns was, after all was said and done, a fulfilling experience.

“Admittedly, it was a challenge for them and unlike anything they had done before. But in the end, almost all of them felt it was time well spent and they learned many new skills, gained an appreciation for the ‘aina,” Pearlman said. “As well as the hard work that was a way of life for many of their grandparents. … Many of the students had relatives in the sugar cane industry, and after working hard on the farm for five days in a row, they had a new understanding of how hard their ancestors worked as a way of life.”

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Stephanie Shinno, education and business reporter, can be reached at 245-0424 or sshinno@thegardenisland.com.
Source: The Garden Island

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