Helping the mental health of school children

Mike from Trees for Cities delves into the research showing the difference that food growing can make to the mental health of children and young people.

Garden Organic at Wimbledon Chase Primary School

Mental health and well being are topics that have gained increased attention over the past few years, particularly in relation to children. Perhaps it’s due to the rise in mental health problems among young people.

According to researchers, the proportion of children and young people reporting mental health issues has grown six times in England in just two decades.

The Mental Health Foundation recommend a number of ways to help keep our schoolchildren healthy. Suggestions include ‘eating a balanced diet and getting regular exercise’, ‘having time and freedom to play, indoors and outdoors’, and ‘going to a school that looks after the well being of all its pupils’.

All of these factors of course resonate with what we at Edible Playgrounds and, the Food Growing Schools: London partnership, aim to achieve: using food growing to help develop healthy habits in children and get them excited about fruit and vegetables.

And there’s a large body of evidence to suggest the simple act of gardening will do wonders for a person’s health, both mental and physical. Research shows that gardeners on the whole have higher self-esteem and fewer depressive feelings and fatigue that their non-gardening counterparts. Reductions in anxiety, stress and blood pressure have all been linked to regularly working in the garden.

Gardening gives us a sense of responsibility and purpose and as such, encourages feelings of self-worth. It is also fantastic exercise, releasing dopamine, serotonin and endorphins that make us feel good. And the mindful nature of it allows us to focus on the task at hand, living in the present moment rather than being distracted by potentially anxious or uncomfortable thoughts.

There are even microbes found in soil that act as natural antidepressants. Mycobacterium vaccae occurs naturally in the soil around us and has been shown to increase levels of serotonin and decrease anxiety. How incredible is that!

Gardening doesn’t have to be an extracurricular activity at school. It can be a really useful teaching resource to help provide lessons across numerous different subjects – Maths, Science, English, Art; the possibilities are as great as teachers’ imaginations. And the feedback we’ve heard from teachers is often that an outdoor teaching resource helps them input an extra level of creativity and spark into their lesson plans.

If you don’t have the space or know-how, you can start small: a few pots on a sunny windowsill, some seeds, soil and water can be all you need to begin your gardening journey. And your ambitions and knowledge can grow as your seedlings start to sprout.

If you are keen to discuss possibilities of creating an Edible Playground at a school, contact the author of this article: mike@treesforcities.org.

Three easy ways to grow a school garden this winter

Check out these ideas for winter growing from Chris Collins, FGSL resident food growing expert and Head of Organic Horticulture at Garden Organic

With the impact of the winter, the prospect of the festive season and the annual school Play, gardening might not be on everybody’s mind. However, we can still have fun with it, whether that’s now or when we come back in the New Year.

Here are three activity ideas that are great for a rainy day and getting kids thinking about gardening over the winter months.

  1. Homemade festive decorations

Investigate: What berries are on the plants at this time of year? What different types of foliage do they have? What twig shapes can you find?

Make a winter collage – Collect interesting natural objects from the garden and in true Blue Peter style, get the tape and sticky back plastic out and arrange your collection and see what festive picture you can come up with!

 

 

 

 

Make your own wreath – arrange what you find into an attractive arrangement like this.

  1. Make a Terrarium

If being outside, getting cold and wet is not your thing, then bring your gardening inside. There are not many places warmer than a rain forest, so why not bring one to your classroom by making a Terrarium? These really look amazing and are small worlds all of their own.

You will need:

An old fish tank : Are there any parents who keep tropical fish,that have an old tank that they can donate? Could you ask at a local pet shop or pick one up in a charity shop?

 

Gravel: Once you have the tank, put in a few centimetres of gravel, this will act as a water table.

Soil: Then add some soil, undulate it so as to create a small landscape.

Moss: Cover the soil in some moss.

Optional: Stones and small rocks – to really get that tropical garden effect.

Plants: Now, you’re ready to plant. Begonias, Pipers and Orchids will all look great. If you’re not sure what they are, do some research about rainforest plants to find out more, in fact creating a tropical terrarium gives you a great opportunity to learn about rainforests, where they grow and how we protect them.

Top tip: Many houseplants can grow roots in water, so ask the class if they have any growing at home as you may be able to take cuttings.

  1. Crazy Containers

If you’re looking for a simpler project, try making some Crazy Containers. This is just a twist on a pot plant, only we’re going to incorporate some art and imagination too!

You will need:

A discarded bottle or plastic container: You can use any old discarded things for a pot. An old watering can, washing up bottle, plastic milk carton or water bottle will do the trick. Make sure it has drainage holes in its base as the soil needs to drain.

 

Paints / craft materials: Now for the fun bit; get decorating, paint faces or use old materials to stick on to create ears, eyes, nose and hair!

Soil and seeds: Finally, plant your plant. It could be as simple as sowing some grass seed or planting something edible like a herb. These might make great Christmas gifts for a little brother or sister.

Teaching tip: grab some seed catalogues for the class to have a look through. Talk about all the different vegetables that we can grow and eat – and incorporate some geography by thinking about the different countries they come from: https://www.organiccatalogue.com/

Soil is the most important thing in the garden, so make sure you keep it healthy over the winter. If you’re not using your beds at the moment, sow some green manures into the soil. A big packet of mustard seed is perfect, as sown thickly it will protect your soil over the winter and come spring time you can dig the plants in, giving a great feed and helping its structure.

Wishing everyone a happy festive break and happy gardening in 2019!

Chris Collins, Head of Organic Horticulture, Garden Organic

Help us bring ‘The Lost Words’ to London school kids

Robert Macfarlane and Jackie Morris got together to create this book, ‘The Lost Words: a spell-book’, published in 2017, in response to lots of nature words being dropped from the latest edition of the Oxford Junior Dictionary. The words included acorn, adder, bluebell, buttercup, dandelion, fern, heron, kingfisherlark, newt, otter, wren and willow. The words taking their places in the new edition included attachment, block-graph, blog, broadband, bullet-point, celebrity, chatroom, committee, cut-and-paste, MP3 player and voice-mail. To many, this signalled the widening gap between children and the natural world. 

The aim is to get a copy of this book to all London schools in order to try to close this gap. In the words of the Guardian, it is ‘a cultural phenomenon’, and what Chris Packham has called ‘a revolution’. Communities and individuals have raised over £60,000 to achieve this, starting with a campaign for the whole of Scotland (more than 2500 primary schools). Now, copies of the book are being delivered by bicycle (one man cycling 400 miles back and forth across Dorset), by sea kayak to outlying island schools, or in the company of barn and tawny owls (brought into schools by the Suffolk Wildlife Trust). 

Tress for Cities have set up a crowdfunder page which has already helped deliver ‘The Lost Words’ to schools in Haringey, Lambeth and Wandsworth. Now, we want to bring the magical book to the rest of London’s maintained primary and special schools. If you want to support this, please visit the link below:

www.crowdfunder.co.uk/the-lost-words-london

Supporting the Science Curriculum with Food Growing

Food Growing Schools: London encourages schools to use the school garden and food growing activities to deliver the curriculum because of the many benefits, including increased attainment for pupils engaging in  learning in this way (discover the benefits of school food growing here).

Why focus on the science curriculum?
Click the image to read our case study.

In particular, science is an aspect of the curriculum that links well on a number of levels to food growing activities.

See our case study Incorporating food growing into the science curriculum for insight and advice from teachers and our team.

FGSL Engagement Officer, Nick Ives, has worked with teachers and school staff across London, helping host teachers’ forums and twilight sessions to share ideas and practical steps for best practice.

He writes:

“Increasingly, I’ve found that schools respond very positively to using food growing activities to deliver Science. Food growing lends itself well to many of the processes and concepts involved in Science.

This is also backed up by research carried out by the RHS Campaign for school gardening revealing that 70% of the participating schools surveyed used food growing to deliver Science.

I always kick off a training session with teachers or pupils by asking: what are the five key things we need to get anything to grow?

Even the most unconfident growers will get the first four – Seeds, Soil, Water, Sun! Each of these four ideas make excellent jumping off places to deliver Science. The fifth being YOU ie the gardeners to pull all these together!

A quick brainstorm of possible links to the first four will include, plant growth, seed germination, rocks weathering to different soil types, decomposition of organic matter vs plastics, insect pollination, habitats eg compost heap invertebrates, predators and prey, movement of planets ie Earth’s seasons, water cycle – to name a few! Of course growing organically increases one’s chances of exploring associated biodiversity – little compares to witnessing the joy of watching ladybird larvae munching aphids or seeing ants fight off ladybirds because they want to protect their honeydew producing aphid farms!

All great stuff to observe and discuss.

If you fancy linking the science of growing to supermarkets and eating habits, a simple investigation is to buy a range of lentils, peas and beans and try a germination test on them – you’ll surprise yourself!”

For more of our case studies about food growing in schools, visit this page.

Watch this RHS Campaign for school gardening video below celebrating 10 years and mentioning the top subjects that are taught in the school garden.

Food Growing Schools: City strategies for food system sustainability

Can every city be a food growing city?

How can lessons learned from Food Growing Schools: London’s project successes be applied to supporting the development of more sustainable food systems?

Food Growing Schools: London project elevators from the University of the West of England and University of Cardiff have assessed our work since the project was launched and have used their findings to examine how cities can support innovative strategies to respond to new challenges in food systems.

This article in the journal Sustainability discusses and explores some key points in the winder context, as the abstract outlines:

“Cities have emerged as leaders in food system innovation and transformation, but their potential can be limited by the absence of supportive governance arrangements.

This study examined the value of Food Growing Schools London (FGSL) as a programme seeking city-wide change through focusing on one dimension of the food system. Mixed methods case study research sought to identify high-level success factors and challenges.

Findings demonstrate FGSL’s success in promoting food growing by connecting and amplifying formerly isolated activities. Schools valued the programme’s expertise and networking opportunities, whilst strategic engagement facilitated new partnerships linking food growing to other policy priorities.

Challenges included food growing’s marginality amongst priorities that direct school and borough activity. Progress depended on support from
individual local actors so varied across the city. London-wide progress was limited by the absence of policy levers at the city level.

Experience from FGSL highlights how city food strategies remain
constrained by national policy contexts, but suggests they may gain traction through focusing on well-delineated, straightforward activities that hold public appeal.

Sustainability outcomes might then be extended through a staged approach using this as a platform from which to address other
food issues.”

Continue reading the full article here.

Author information

Hannah Pitt, Sustainable Places Institute, Cardiff University, Cardiff CF10 3BA,Wales, UK

Mat Jones, Bristol Centre for Public Health and Wellbeing, University of the West of England, Bristol BS16 1QY, UK; matthew.jones@uwe.ac.uk

Emma Weitkamp, Science Communication Unit, University of the West of England, Bristol BS16 1QY, UK; emma.weitkamp@uwe.ac.uk

Warren Street Primary wins Garden Site voucher prize

This term pupils at Warren Street Primary, winners of our summer Grow Your Own Picnic competition, gratefully accepted a £500 voucher prize donated by Garden Site, to put towards their school food growing efforts.

Warren Street Primary – a food growing school in Bromley

“We grow vegetables in the school garden and when we have a good harvest, we sell the food to the school kitchen as well as to parents after school,” said Tom Bateson, Sustainability Leader at Warren Street Primary.

“This means that we can return the money back into the Eco budget to grow more plants the following year.”

But Mr. Bateson explained,”the door on our current greenhouse has broken and is too dangerous for children to go into now, so we’ll be unable to grow plants over the winter.”

“Now thanks to this prize, we’re looking to get a brand new greenhouse and some other items  from Garden Site to allow the pupils to keep growing food and to support outdoor learning all year round.”

  • See the benefits of food growing and outdoor learning for schools, pupils and the wider community here.
About the prize donated by Garden Site
Members of the Garden Site team who arranged the gift voucher for the competition prize.

GardenSite, one of the UK’s leading online garden retailers teamed up with FGSL during the summer term to offer a generous prize of a £500 voucher, which can be used to purchase gardening items from their range of around 10,000 products.

Whether it be a new greenhouse or shed for the school grounds or even a selection of garden planters perfect for growing a wide variety of fruit and veg, the £500 can be spent on a huge variety of products to help maximise the school’s growing potential.

Growing your own, all year round

If you’re in need of inspiration on what to grow, GardenSite have a handy guide on What to Grow In Your Greenhouse which covers the entire year.

  • See Garden Organic’s month by month guide for what to do in your garden here.

Thanks to all the schools that participated in our competition – we wish you a fantastic year.

Happy gardening!

 

Grow a School Garden – Autumn planting

Grow a School Garden – Oct/Nov 2018

Termly blog by Chris Collins on How to Create and Grow a School Garden

During the end of the summer months, though days are shorter, there is still plenty to keep us busy in our gardens.

Summer crops can be removed and dug into the compost bin and soil dug over and made ready for a fresh crop of plants for both winter and next spring.

What to plant now

Broad beans are a great crop to get in now, as the soil is still reasonably warm.

Quicker crops like Spinach, winter mix salad leaves and Chard can all be sown in open ground and can be grazed through the late winter months.

It may be worth investing a small amount of money in a roll of fleece from the local garden centre, this can be pinned down over your newly sown seeds and will protect them on cold nights and give them a strong start.

Any ground or raised beds you don’t plan to use over winter should be sown with a green manure. A mustard crop, sown thickly on empty ground can prevent weeds colonising your ground   and can be dug into the soil, in spring to keep your soil healthy.

The onset of the dark months is no barrier to growing fresh food – don’t miss out on those beautiful autumn days.

Planting bulbs
Colourful bulbs in spring (click image to enlarge).

The autumn is also the time of year to plant bulbs. These are the Jack-in-a-box of the plant world, staying low below the ground they are spring loaded to appear in the spring when the soil warms up.

For food plant some Garlic now but for colour there is an array of beautiful plants for your school to enjoy.

Set aside a piece of ground in a border, raised bed or even large pot. Plant a mix of bulbs to flower next year , Snowdrop (Jan, Feb) Crocus (Feb, March) Daffodil (March / April), Tulip (April / May) Allium (May).

You can get a run of three to four months of colour from bulbs and mixing the types really gives an amazing display.

There is further good news as bulb are pretty cheap to buy.

When it comes to planting and looking after bulbs there are two main rules, plant them the depth of a trowel’s head (up to the handle) and make sure you leave the foliage at least 6 weeks after they have stopped flowering. One final tip is, bulbs like Daffodil and Crocus can be naturalised, meaning they can be planted out permanently in a lawn or around the base of trees, where they will flower year after year.

  • See more advice from Garden Organic about sourcing and planting organic bulbs here.
How to grow a Willow wall
Taking willow cuttings (click image to enlarge).

A great winter project is to produce your own Willow wall. It’s worth finding out if any schools in your area are already growing Willow. If so, see if you can get some cuttings. These cuttings will need to be taken by a teacher.

They are last years growth on the plant, strong shoots (see photo) that have grown and ripened over the summer. Cut them at about 20 cm length with a straight cut below a node, this is a swelling on the wood were leaves will grow.  At the other end of the cutting cut a sloped cut above a node, this way you’ll remember which way up your cutting goes.

Now it’s time to get the children involved. Bundle up the cuttings in groups of 20, bind them together with twine. Dig a trench 15cm deep on a north facing wall and fill it with 5 cm of sand. Bury the bundles in the trench and put back the soil. You should now have 5cm of Willow cuttings sticking out the ground, you can now forget all about these cuttings until next spring when you can dig them up, they will have rooted and you can plant your own Willow wall. I recommend 5 to 10 bundles to get you going. The other advantage of taking these cuttings is there is plenty of curriculum involved – biology and maths for a starter.

Making leaf mould compost
Making leaf mould in autumn (click to enlarge image).

A further project for the autumn is to make some leaf mould. Don’t waste the great bonanza that is falling leaves.

A quick bit of construction involving four wooden stakes and some chicken wire makes a square cage. Get the children to collect any leaves in the school grounds and fill this ‘cage’ with leaves.

In a couple of seasons, you will have the perfect seed sowing compost. This uses a natural gift from Mother Nature, saves money and is great exercise!

  • Find out about making leaf mould and how to use it on the Garden Organic website here.
Helping wildlife

Finally, remember our small friends the birds at this time of year, put out food and water to help them out, they are an important part of the garden.

Happy gardening everyone.

Chris Collins

Head of Organic Horticulture. Garden Organic

 

Celebrate autumn in the garden with these pumpkin recipe ideas

Has your school grown pumpkins this year?

Pumpkins are lots of fun for pupils to grow and see who can grow the biggest one, to carve for Halloween or to save seeds for next year.

While pumpkins are a popular decoration in the autumn season, they can also provide the basic ingredients for many fun recipes pupils can enjoy cooking the school kitchen!

The flesh of a pumpkin can be baked into a loaf and the abundance of seeds found inside can be roasted with herbs to add flavour.

Download this pdf with recipes for a delicious pumpkin loaf and sweet and savoury roasted pumpkin seeds – many thanks to Garden Organic’s Growth team for trying, testing and adapting these recipes to perfection!

More about pumpkins…

Grow On, Film It! Trees for Cities video competition announced

LIGHTS, CAMERA, ACTION!

Competition: Trees for Cities are calling all schools to make a short film about food growing in your playground/open space. Win amazing prizes for your school:

  • £200 gardening voucher for the 1st prize;
  • £100 gardening voucher for 2nd;
  • £50 gardening voucher for 3rd.

They’ll also send out spring seed packs to all entrants, so there’s plenty of incentive for schools to get on board!

Along with energy company Bulb, Trees for Cities are launching a Grow On, Film It competition for schools to show us the effects food growing has on the pupils and staff.

It doesn’t matter whether you’re growing a few herbs in a small window box or a feast’s worth of different fruits and vegetables in multiple raised beds, we want to see how you do it.

Be as imaginative and creative as you can! Here are a few ideas to get you started:

  • Say a poem about the garden
  • Tell the story from seed to plate
  • Show us how school life has changed since growing at school
  • Show us how the growing can be incorporated into the curriculum
  • Let us know about your gardening skills and why your plants grow so well
  • Share how the gardening encourages a deeper connection to nature

You might decide to add songs, graphics, comedy – it’s totally up to you, though ensure you keep the films under 3 minutes long. Points will be awarded for imagination, so get those thinking caps on. We can’t wait to see what you produce!

DEADLINE:

The deadline for submissions is Monday 1 October 2018, so please ensure you have your submissions in before then.

You can find all the competition details, how to enter, tips and tricks on the Trees for Cities web page.

Here’s last year’s winning entry for some inspiration!

 

Three London schools launch new Edible Playgrounds

Food Growing Schools: London partner Trees for Cities have recently celebrated Edible Playground launch events at three London primary schools.

Olga Primary in Tower Hamlets, St Anne’s in Lambeth and Gallions in Newham all opened their gardens to guests as they cut the ribbon on their new outdoor growing space.

A number of dignitaries attended, including local ward councillors, members of the senior leadership teams of neighbouring schools, members of Healthy Schools London and even Mayor Christopher Wellbelove from Lambeth Council.

Mayor Christopher Wellbelove at St Anne’s with Trees for Cities staff.

There were speeches, guided tours of the garden space and performances from the children. A particular highlight was a hearing a Year 3 child from Olga Primary describe a salad dish made from tomatoes and basil from the Edible Playground: “Have you ever thought of growing your own juicy, ripe tomatoes? It is a feeling like no other, it is seriously the best feeling ever”.

Olga pupils in their cooking outfits showing their crops.

Each of the schools serves a higher than average percentage of pupils whose first language is not English and each has a higher percentage of pupils who are eligible for free school meals, indicating a higher level of deprivation that the national average.

It is urban schools like this, with little access to nature, that make ideal partners for the Edible Playgrounds programme. The Edible Playgrounds give the children a chance to learn about growing and eating healthy fruit and veg, and to connect with nature in a way that would be very difficult for them otherwise.

Growing themed bunting made by the pupils.

And the impacts on the lives of the children at these schools is tangible. Linda Ewers, Head Teacher at Olga Primary, said: “A bare playground has been transformed,” and “Our children are involved in the whole cycle of growing food – they are interested in what is growing and in the other life that can be found in the garden”.

Gallions’ Edible Playground thriving despite the summer heatwave.

If you are interested in learning more about the Edible Playground programme, and the generous match fund opportunities currently available, head to the Trees for Cities website or get in touch at info@edibleplaygrounds.org.