Photo: Bamboo Forest

My good friend loves that phrase. We run a work trade program on our farm, and every time we get a request from someone past forty, she’ll shake her head and say, “well, you know what they say, young bamboo bends, but old bamboo breaks.”

She means that life on the farm is a lot different from what most people are used to, and it’s often hard for older people to adapt to a new diet, a new schedule, and a new environment. Never mind that she’s past sixty herself, and one of the most adaptable people I know. She’s a young-at-heart bamboo stalk, but those are few and far between.

Everyone can see we get stuck in our ways. There are so many other sayings in our language that reflect this. “You can’t teach an old dog new tricks.” “Old habits die hard.” I always imagine my mind like a dirt road. All of my habits are like carts that run over the same path, day after day, until gradually the ruts in the road are so deep that it would take a great effort to change paths. Nancy Redfeather, who runs the Hawaii Island School Garden Network, reported that employers who implemented wellness programs in the workplace have trouble getting more than 20% of their employees to change their dietary and exercise habits.

That’s why it’s so important to educate children about healthy living from the beginning of their lives, and not wait until they grow up to try to undo the bad habits they learned when they were younger. So often I see parents giving their kids sugary cereals or fast food because “that’s what they like” or “that’s all they’ll eat.” They never consider that they like those things because that’s what they’re used to!

So that’s why I’m so encouraged by the Hawaii Island School Garden Network. Nancy Redfeather has spearheaded a campaign to get local schools to start gardens on campus and incorporate gardening into the curriculum. There are now 56 schools around Big Island that have school gardens or are working on starting a school garden. These programs help children appreciate where their food comes from, how much work it takes to produce, and how much better it tastes fresh from the earth.

I’ve talked to teachers in and around Hilo who are incorporating gardening into their daily lesson plans for children as young as five. One woman said that a farmer brought a beehive into the school to teach the children about pollination. That’s when she found out that many of her pupils had no idea where honey comes from!

If you have gardening or farming skills, I encourage you to get in touch with a local school and see if they have a garden where you can volunteer, or if they would be interested in starting one. We need to help our keiki form healthy habits, like the habit of working the earth, planting seeds, caring for plants and heading to the garden instead of the candy aisle when they want a snack.