The Green House founder Betty Gearen

The Green House founder Betty Gearen

Best described as a cottage-industry business, The Green House aims to educate the community about sustainability and environmental issues through experiential learning and hands-on activities.

Founder Betty Gearen, who started the company in 2004, hosts classes at her home and participates in outreach programs with organizations such as Institute for Human Services, Windward Community College and various after-school programs. Classes include programming for both children and adults.

One of the most popular activities for keiki is the butterfly class, which normally is offered once in the spring and once in the fall.

“We (didn’t) do one this fall because we didn’t have butterflies, so we’re probably going to do two in the spring,” Gearen explains.

Keiki who participate are able to taste fresh nectar, as well as learn how to plant flowers so they’ll be able to create their own butterfly gardens. They also learn about the types of butterflies that are endangered and their ecological importance. As an added bonus, each keiki who participates takes home their very own caterpillars.

“Then they can let them go at their house, so we get butterflies out in the population,” Gearen adds.

Since its inception, The Green House has served more than 6,500 youths in 40 schools throughout the island. The center also partnered with Kokua Hawaii Foundation to launch an educational garden component in its farm-to-school initiative AINA In Schools.

There also are classes for adults, and Gearen says the gardening class is the one that draws in the crowd.

“We do a series where we start with composting and go all the way up to harvesting,” she says. “We have classes that (discuss) making your own soil, and some of the ways you can use what you grow.

“We give people ideas, like sweet potato leaves. Most people don’t know that you can eat those, so if you use sweet potato as a ground cover, you can use it for your salad or sauté it like spinach … We try to address things that are easy to grow, rather than something that needs a lot of tending,” she adds.

Starting in the new year, The Green House will be working on an early-learning initiative, which is slated to take place at its 224 Pakohana St. location.

“We also want to start a creative reuse center,” Gearen says. “That would be a place where everybody turns in their recyclables, and then we show them how to do creative things with them. That’s our ultimate goal.”

While a complete list of upcoming classes is available online at thegreenhouseha-, Gearen adds that all past events also are available for viewing.

“People often see past events and ask if we could do them again,” she notes, “and we’re open to suggestions.”