UH West Oʻahu trains future food and agriculture professionals

The University of Hawaiʻi – West Oʻahu is taking an important first step in supporting Hawaiʻi’s future sustainable food agriculture professionals by offering the bachelor of applied science in sustainable community food systems this fall. This exciting multi-disciplinary program addresses the key issues of environmental quality, social equity, community food security and economic development in Hawaiʻi and beyond by providing higher education and training to support the local food and agriculture industry.

UH West Oʻahu is the only University of Hawaiʻi campus to offer the bachelor’s degree in sustainable community food systems, an experiential and applied education focused on the analysis of key ecological and social issues in the food system. The new concentration incorporates problem-based and hands-on learning to develop food system professionals capable of solving real-world problems and transitioning Hawaiʻi’s food and agriculture sector toward greater ecological sustainability and social equity. Integrated into the sustainable community food systems curriculum and located on the UH West Oʻahu campus, the UHWO Student Organic Garden serves as one of many “living laboratories” where students directly apply the theoretical knowledge taught in the classroom.

UH West Oʻahu Student Organic Campus Garden

UH West Oʻahu Student Organic Campus Garden

“The food system of Hawaiʻi is at a crossroads,” said UH West Oʻahu Assistant Professor of Sustainable Community Food Systems, Dr. Albie Miles. “Importing an estimated 90 percent of its food, fertilizer, energy and seed, the Hawaiian Islands are uniquely vulnerable to statewide food insecurity in the face of rapid global climate change or economic disturbances. Food insecurity and diet-related health disparities have long impacted the Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander communities of Hawai‘i. These are but a few of the pressing issues we systematically explore in the sustainable community food systems bachelor’s degree program with the aim of training a new generation of food system professionals to think across traditional disciplinary boundaries and to actively solve current problems through work in agriculture, policy-making, planning, business, research and education.”

The bachelor of applied science in sustainable community food systems prepares students for a variety of careers including

  • Natural resource management
  • Agriculture and food policy
  • Sustainable inputs and value-added food businesses
  • Social enterprise and non-profit organization management
  • Certified organic agriculture production and research
  • Social work
  • K-12 education and more.

The concentration was developed in partnership with Kamehameha Schools’ ʻĀina-Based Education Department and the Waiʻanae Coast’s MAʻO Organic Farms. Funding from Kamehameha Schools was used for sustainable community food systems academic program development, to conduct a food system assessment of Oʻahu, and in support of the UHWO Student Organic Garden. Bi-weekly weekend “work parties” are held in the garden where students, faculty and staff come together to prepare soil, build compost, plant fruit trees, install irrigation, sow seed, weed and harvest.

“We’re excited to continue our collaboration with UHWO on the Sustainable Community Food Systems program,” said Director of Kamehameha Schools ʻĀina-Based Education Department, Dr. Brandon Ledward. “From a Hawaiian perspective, food is social, cultural, political, economic, and spiritual. As such, it is best approached from a systems-perspective. This new concentration – and the career pathways it supports – will increase our community’s capacity to understand, to engage with, and to innovate solutions to our food system that honor our natural resources and native culture.”

MAʻO Organic Farms is a key UH West Oʻahu community partner and was instrumental in the sustainable community food systems program development, providing valuable input about sustainable organic farming that serves the Native Hawaiian community and is based on traditional practices. Qualified West Oʻahu area students receive college stipends in exchange for working on the Waiʻanae farm as part of MAʻO’s Youth Leadership Training Program.

Image courtesy of Albie Miles