Often times there are clues along the path, even from childhood that hint to us about what we are meant to do in our lives. While interviewing Tiana I loved how her story begins back in her own childhood and leads to a place where she herself is now influencing the keiki of Hawai'i. Read her story here of how one step led to the next and here she is publishing a book to broaden her reach in helping the farm to keiki connection.
What was the seed that started this passion for connecting kids to healthy foods and gardening?
I was born and raised on Kauai with a mother who showed love through healthy, home cooked meals. She would spend hours in the kitchen every night making the family dinner. She and I would listen to her groovy world music and dance while cooking. The whole process of a healthy meal from gardening and shopping at the farmers market to cooking and eating together was fun and so filled with love. Though I didn’t realize it at the time, my mother was shaping in me a passion and value for healthy eating habits, so much so, that I often refused to eat school lunches and would even make my own lunches at a very young age. Being lactose intolerant, school lunch and most foods out of the home actually made me pretty sick and I suffered with digestive issues for years. I had a gut feeling that something wasn't right and this sparked a curiosity to learn more - to heal myself through the right nutrition and growing my own food. As I child who secretly lived on "Tums", I'd like to help all people skip the icky digestive issues and fast track to feeling fabulous! My mom was right... it's all about the food!
What was the turning point that launched this pursuit?
In college I focused on environmental science and traveled around the globe. Witnessing the environmental degradation happening in the process of globalized food production left an impact on me. I moved back to Kaua'i in hopes of making a difference to keep our food local and people healthy. I started the Kaua'i School Garden Network with a local non-profit, hoping to inspire a new generation of children on Kaua'i that would grow, cook and eat their own food. By nourishing children and connecting them with the Earth, we could reduce our impact on the planet.
At a school gardening conference I was attending in Los Angeles, I met a woman who started the first statewide Farm to Preschool program. I realized if I wanted to make an impact, this age group held the biggest opportunity. After learning that 1 in 3 keiki in Hawaii are overweight or obese before they reach kindergarten (1 in 2 if Native Hawaiian or Pacific Islander), I started my own project, Farm to Keiki to focus on improving the health of Hawaii's preschoolers. Improper nutrition at this crucial time of a child's development can lead to physical and cognitive delays and early onset chronic diseases. Because we establish most of our eating habits before the age of 5, I knew we needed to start instilling healthy habits as early as possible. Beyond the health benefits, I was a bit burned out navigating the roadblocks of K-12 schools and loved the welcoming community of preschool teachers who were all about experiential learning, love and getting dirty.
What was the prototype?
My first pilot project for Farm to Keiki launched in 2011. My goal was to partner with preschools and their teachers to make gardening, cooking, and serving healthy locally grown foods part of their every day routine. I wrote and gave each school the Farm to Keiki curriculum, helped to grow gardens, provided gardening and cooking tools, and supported and encouraged the teachers along the way. The pilot program included around 37 teachers, 11 schools, impacting 450 kids. This first Farm to Keiki curriculum is the basis of my book that is coming out this month - “Farm to Keiki - Cooking, Gardening and Nutrition with Children”. Farm to Keiki is all about creating 'āina experiences because connecting with nature and foods from the Earth makes you feel good. And if you feel good, you live well. This was true in my own journey of learning what my body needs to feel its best and I believe is true for all children.
What strength did you discover?
Writing! I never thought I was a writer but realizing that this was an important way to get the information and tools out to those that were looking, I needed to overcome this hurdle. I discovered that I could write and the work I was doing was helpful. I even had a teacher tell me recently “ why did you rewrite the book - I loved the original curriculum”! It made me realize that I was adding value and capable of making an impact even at the beginning, before I thought I was ready or fully equipped to.
What do you wish someone would have told you?
Just do it.
My biggest failure I found was planning too much, worrying that I didn't know enough, and not getting boots on the ground and hands in the soil! I was always trying to make my book better and it kept it from getting into the hands of the teachers who wanted it. Sometimes the fear of not being good enough can hold you back from doing as much as you’re capable of - and this was a big lesson for me. I feel that if I would have let go of those fears, I could have been further along.
While many teachers statewide asked for the curriculum, it took me 6 years to rewrite the curriculum to a point where I felt confident about letting it out to the world. I just didn't think I had enough knowledge to share and kept trying to learn more. During those 6 years I became the field trip teacher and caretaker of the canoe plants at Limahuli Gardens, obtained my Masters in Science in Nutrition at the National University of Natural Medicine and was the Farm to Preschool representative on the Hawai'i Farm to School Hui and the National Farm to School Network.I learned a ton about farm to school best practices, Hawaiian plants and using food clinically as medicine. While I know my book has improved because of my new knowledge, I wish I would have shared the old version so the Farm to Preschool movement in Hawai'i could have been further along - and therefore more children would be healthier.
I also wish someone would have told me to team up more and share the responsibility. While I had many partners in my Farm to Keiki endeavors throughout the years, I never had any co-workers. Doing so much by myself and often leading me to burnout. I struggled with never feeling like I had a team to bounce ideas off of and help make things happen! Going forward, I want to share more responsibility and not try to do it all myself as much. Along the way I realized the value in trusting other people and their beautiful skills. Even if it is different from what I would have done, it still can carry on the impact that needs to happen while delivering freedom for me to do the next task.
My book release! LINKHERE . You can view the book for FREE or order your own printed copy. I'll be doing a statewide Farm to Keiki book tour and offering free trainings to preschool teachers around the state in 2019.
Moving forward, I am shifting my energy into opening my own practice as a nutritionist and inspiring people of all ages to use food as medicine. I'm excited to see private clients, lead fun hands-on cooking workshops (like medicinal cocktails... get ready!), teach how to grow/prep/cook local foods, and lead group nutrition challenges. While I'm trained to use food as medicine to help prevent and treat diseases, I really want to focus on putting nature back in our food, and in our lives. I am thankful that after the years of traveling, learning and working in education that I can be here on my home island making an impact for our community and future generations.