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Michelle Obama tours organic farm in Waianae

By Susan Essoyan

LAST UPDATED: 2:34 a.m. HST, Nov 13, 2011

College interns who help run one of the island's largest organic farms guided first lady Michelle Obama through fields of budding salad greens Saturday, then sat down to swap stories with her about their efforts to improve the health of their communities.

Wearing a sleeveless navy dress, Obama traded hugs and laughs with the students, immediately disarming them.

"She was so outgoing, just the easiest person to talk to," said Ku'uleilani Samson, one of the young co-managers at the farm, who completed an internship and earned an associate's degree. "She made you feel totally comfortable." 

The nonprofit MA'O Organic Farms, on 24 acres of Lualualei Valley, is devoted to raising healthy crops for local consumption while also growing a new generation of leaders in touch with the land and their heritage.

"I've heard about all that's going on here for years and years," Obama told the students. "I jumped at the opportunity to come and not just see for myself but also allow the world to see what you all are doing."

"As you know, I planted a little garden in my backyard," she added, referring to the White House Kitchen Garden.

MA'O's mission dovetails with Obama's nationwide "Let's Move" campaign, which aims to raise a healthier generation of children through better nutrition and exercise.

The diversified farm grows 35 fruits and vegetables that wind up in the top restaurants on the island as well as on home kitchen tables. But its mission is broader, to send more local students to college, develop leaders and promote food self-sufficiency in Hawaii.

"I came here because of the college opportunities," Maisha Abbott, a 20-year-old student at Leeward Community College, told the first lady. "I realized it's bigger than just going to school. It's about changing our community."

The Kauhale Youth Leadership Training Program recruits high school graduates to intern at the farm, working 20 hours a week while attending community college fulltime. They earn full tuition waivers as well as a monthly stipend.

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