Schools and Gardening

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Market vegetables. Photo © richardoyork @ Flickr
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We all know by now the benefits of eating fruit and vegetables as part of a balanced healthy diet, but trying to persuade the population top increase their intake is quite a task. The latest Nation Diet and Nutrition Survey (Bates B et al, National Diet and Nutrition Survey), shows that only eight per cent of children aged 11-18 and 27% of adults aged 19-64 years are meeting the 5-a-day recommendation for fruit and vegetable intake with an average consumption of 2.8 portions per day for children aged 11-18.

With surveys suggesting that young people think strawberries grow inside the fridge and cheese grows on plants, we need to support young people’s understanding of food.

Research shows that hand-on experiences make children more likely to eat a wider variety of foods and have a better recognition of taste and type. So, bringing together gardening and healthy eating seems such a great idea.

  • Children become more aware of issues of health and nutrition and are making healthier choices. Getting a taste of growing vegetables develop positive appetites for their produce – i becoming a third more likely to ask for food like courgettes or peas.
  • Research conducted for the Royal Horticultural Society found that teachers positively highlighted the increased range of teaching methods afforded by outdoor food-growing activities. It also found that involving pupils in gardening activities resulted in greater scientific knowledge and understanding , better use of scientific techniques, enhanced literacy and numeracy and the use of a wider vocabulary across all areas of the curriculum.
  • The opportunity to grow fresh food on site and develop teamwork and entrepreneurship skills, as well as friendships, and there is a strong case for supporting growing projects in schools.
  • Food makes up a huge proportion of what schools throw away. By reducing food waste as much as possible, composting can help reduce what schools throw into landfill

Support for Schools

Schools are busy places, and with so much going on it can be hard to find people available to give growing projects the ongoing attention they need. Some get around this by employing a full-time gardener or integrating gardening duties into the school caretaker’s role. This can help during the summer holidays when students and teachers are on leave.

Volunteers: their contribution is always valuable in school project work

Engaging grandparents and local residents in their activities.

School staff buy-in for growing projects: the best way to do that is to highlight the benefits of growing, both for the wellbeing of young people and for the way it supports the curriculum – everything from maths and science to art, geography and history.

Cost: school gardens can be a low-cost activity. Maybe parents and carers could offer spare seeds, seedlings, pots and tools at home that they are happy to donate to the school project.

Support from Charities

Over the last few years, in my spare time I have had much pleasure in supporting School Food Matters, a West London charity whose mission is “to ensure that every child enjoys fresh sustainable food at school and understands where their food comes from”. It campaigns for fresh sustainable food in schools and promotes food education through cooking, growing and visits to farms. “Our growing/enterprise projects often link schools with a local farm to personalize the food chain; meet the farmer, see the crop in the field and then enjoy eating lovely fresh produce at school – farm gate to school plate”

Photo © Skånska Matupplevelser

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