Pineapple, banana, noni, papaya, grapefruit, avocado, Tiare, Chinese cabbage, Tahitian lime, vanilla, passion fruit, and the list goes on….
These are some of the fruits, flowers, and vegetables that we learned about on our class trip to the Lycée Agricole Opunohu aka “the ag school” which offers a 2-year post high school program in various agricultural specialties focusing on crops grown in French Polynesia (see the fun video tour on their website which is of course in French). Any visitor can purchase delicious ice cream and jams and other products made with fruits grown at the school or go on self led walking tours to learn about the crops.
We had a special treat however in getting a special tour from 8 of the advanced students at the school. As part of their English exam, they each gave a report on a different fruit, flower, or vegetable as we walked through the property. I found it interesting that there is no need to use any pesticides on the
crops because they were introduced by early Polynesians and the islands here are so isolated that their associated “pests” (the insects that like to eat them as much as we do) have not made it here to infect the crops. Also, since it rains regularly, there is almost no irrigation system in place since watering is so infrequently needed. However, they did have a clever recirculating water system in the green house used for raising Chinese cabbage that retained nutrients and gave a consistent level of moisture to the new and maturing plants (see photo).
After the tour, we joined the students and the rest of the school (about 200 students total) for a lunch of beet and corn salad, meatballs with rice, and pineapple in the cafeteria. Most of the students at the school are from far reaching islands throughout French Polynesia, so they board at the school during the week and stay with host families on Moorea or Tahiti on the weekends.
From my small glimpse into life at the school, it really does seem like a great place to get a hands on education in sustainable agriculture. And it seems like the kind of education that will be especially relevant and profitable for many of the young people going back to far away islands (and I think I heard they offer courses for adults too).
Over the last 24 years the Berkeley course has been taught here, many of the student projects use the ag school as a resource if not a study site, so it was nice to get such a great orientation early on. And even if none of the students end up having projects there, they have a link through the deliveries of fruits and vegetables they receive from the school, which last week resulted in a huge daikon pancake feast! Many of the students had never heard of daikons until the loads that were delivered, so I’m sure they will continue to learn about local produce and get creative about cooking with it as the weeks go on. I hope there will not only be a one-way exchange of produce but also a cultural and educational exchange that will continue over the course of our time here.