School food growing – the resourceful way

We have blogged about lack of space being one of the main barriers schools face when starting on their food growing journey, but lack of materials and resources was also a challenge mentioned in our schools survey.

Setting up a new garden area doesn’t need to cost a fortune and the benefits of food growing are clear.

Charlton Park Academy pupils started with just a couple of grow bags to try some easy crops, and trug buckets which can be easily moved around.

Rhyl Primary School applied for a small grant to get them started with two raised beds in the school car park, but they also do a lot of their growing in containers. Outdoor Learning and Food Education Lead, Tom Moggach, believes a school garden doesn’t need to cost much to set up and that any spare resources should instead be focused on embedding food growing across the school to maximize the impact.

Recipe for Success

  1. Assess what you already have in school, and what you can re-use or re-purpose – you’ll be surprised what you can grow in, from old wellies to large tubs from the school caterers.
  2. Ask parents, grandparents, carers and the local community to donate old containers, tools or left over compost that they no longer need, check your local Freecycle and Gumtree sites or contact a tool bank like Tools Shed
  3. Join a seed swap with other local schools and learn how to seed save
  4. Ask parents and the local community to sponsor specific elements of your garden, so they know what they’re buying with their donation – a fruit tree, a raised bed or even a poly-tunnel!

Developing a whole school approach

Photo credit: Edible Playgrounds/Trees for Cities

If you’ve been following our recent blogs you may have plans for food growing, whether that is allocating some space for food growing, gathering resources, or planning food growing into the curriculum.

Wherever you are on your food-growing journey is very exciting, but the maximum benefits come from instigating a whole school approach to food education.

Essentially this is where understanding about all aspects of food (including growing and healthy eating) has senior management support, is throughout the curriculum and in the school development plan.  It is for all pupils and at all times of the day and even influences the wider community.

It may not be easy but it is definitely worth aiming for and we have some school stories to inspire you!

Rhyl Primary School has won numerous awards for the outdoor learning activities but started with just two small raised beds.  All pupils have regular weekly sessions in the garden and outdoor classroom and the school has plans to build a teaching kitchen giving access to community organisations and families, as well as to be used during the school day.

At John Ruskin Primary adopting a whole school approach has increased take up of school dinners and understanding of where food comes from.  Pupils have developed their social and team skills as well as the more practical gardening skills.

Tim Baker, Headteacher at Charlton Manor Primary is so convinced of the wider benefits of food growing that he is helping other local schools and community projects to grow, sharing allotment space and time with the school’s gardener and the school hosts a parent and child growing club.

Recipe for Success:

  1. Getting support from teachers and building their knowledge is key to getting food growing embedded into the school’s ethos.  There are lots of training events and workshops whether you’re a complete beginner or wanting to take your growing activities to the next level
  2. The Soil Association Food for Life Schools Award is designed to support schools to develop a healthy food culture
  3. The RHS School Gardening Awards help schools to work through five different levels, turning their garden into a valuable learning resource for the whole school and the local community

Food growing – access for all

Photo credit: Charlton Park Academy

The beauty of food growing in schools is that it is an activity all pupils can engage in and benefit from. One school for pupils with a range of special educational needs is proving just that.

Many pupils at Charlton Park Academy had limited access to outside space and little understanding of where food comes from.  Bryher Pennells, Culture Curriculum Lead, decided to introduce food growing to the school.

They used raised beds and trugs enabling access for all pupils including those in wheelchairs. Plants are chosen for different reasons; fruit trees and hanging baskets entice pupils to look up, and herbs are great for the sensory gardens encouraging touch, taste and smell.

Pupils benefit in lots of different ways too, some trying food they wouldn’t normally eat and others expanding their learning through photography and cooking.  The post-16 student enterprise which uses produce from the garden to make food to sell and share is helping some pupils develop transferable skills for life.

Recipe for Success

  1. Health and safety is obviously really important, Bryher uses organic compost which is refreshed every year and pupils use their hands to plant so no heavy tools are required
  2. Success can be key – try using some plug plants as well as growing from seed, so progress is more easily tracked
  3. Choose a range of crops, different textures, colours and smells – use the growing cards from Garden Organic to help work out what to plant and when

Council support for food growing

Harvesting radishes
Harvesting the radishes together

In June 2014 two pilot boroughs, Croydon and Lambeth, were awarded Food Flagship status by the Mayor of London for two years to engage schools, local businesses and the wider community around healthy eating. From school food growing and education around healthy diets to learning how to cook nutritious foods, both boroughs have made huge leaps towards making healthy food the norm for everyone. 57 schools in Croydon have increased levels of food growing – a fantastic way to encourage the next generation of healthy eaters!

Check out these short films for Croydon and Lambeth to find out more.

But you don’t have to be based in Croydon or Lambeth to get support.  The Food Growing Schools: London Interim Report launched in October 2016 found that 25 of the 33 London boroughs now promote food growing in schools.

The Tri-borough (Westminster, Hammersmith and Fulham and Kensington and Chelsea) is a great example of boroughs coming together to support school food growing projects through the Healthy Schools London programme.

Queen Elizabeth II Jubilee School, a special school in the City of Wesminster, has been supported by their Healthy Schools Coordinator to plan and develop a garden area accessible to pupils of all abilities. A whole school approach has included staff training and integrating growing across the curriculum.  The school is now working towards gaining their Silver Healthy Schools Award.

Recipe for Success – Councils
1. Councils can support schools by promoting the benefits of growing and helping create an environment that makes it easier to get started. Find out where to start and download the free FGSL toolkit to help.
2. The benefits can be felt across the community – from health and education to the local economy, find out more about how encouraging food growing can benefit your borough.

Recipe for Success – Schools
1. Contact your Healthy Schools Coordinator to ask for help with your school food growing activities
2. Build support for food growing with teachers and the management team – share FGSL research on the benefits of food growing
3. Get growing this term with the Free FGSL Grow Your Own Picnic resources and involve the local community in your school garden and celebrations

Making the most of a small space

Growing in a small plot
Growing in a small space

The hats and gloves have been packed away and the sun has been making an appearance across the country.  With the warmer and lighter days comes the opportunity to pull on your wellies and start growing food at your school this year.

We know it might seem a bit daunting at first so we have put together a series of blogs to help you spring over the hurdles and get started.

Our schools survey showed that around 30% of schools consider lack of space to be one of the biggest hurdles to food growing that they face. So, first things first – where can we grow?

If you happen to have a nice sunny spot on your school playing field then great, start digging! But if not, don’t give up.  Lots of food can be grown in containers of all shapes and sizes on the ground, on windowsills or hanging down.

John Ruskin Primary School in Southwark have limited outdoor space so all of their growing is in trugs and raised beds built on the playground, and with help from Walworth Garden Farm, they have also started growing food on the roof of the school.

They have lost a bit of playground area but the children play around the beds which makes the space more dynamic. Now they’re thinking of how to make opportunities to grow upwards, using archways and trellis to get the most out of every square foot.

Suzy Gregory, Co-Deputy Headteacher suggests getting a planter as big as you can afford, and just start growing.  Plant something easy like lettuce, potatoes or tomatoes and give it a grow!

Recipe for Success

  1. Look at your space with new eyes and think creatively, use these resources to help choose crops that do well in small spaces
  1. Small manageable spaces can produce lots of different types of crops, this resource form Garden Organic helps you get the most out of a 120x120cm space
  1. If you want to gain as much growing area as possible consider your school roof but make sure you seek advice from professionals first

Put food growing on your curriculum

Looking after the seedlings
Looking after the seedlings

‘Lack of time in the curriculum’ came in the top three of barriers to food growing faced by schools in our schools survey. Schools have to achieve so much but instead of being an add-on, food growing can actually help to deliver the curriculum and has been known to increase attainment levels too.

Growing a few spuds or some tomatoes is fun and relatively easy, but it’s when food growing is linked to the curriculum, and ideally across the whole school, that the real magic happens.

At Charlton Manor Primary food growing is incorporated across all subjects and lessons are planned with a gardener and chef to revolve around the garden. Headteacher Tim Baker is convinced this ‘learning through doing’ approach has helped children to make sense of the curriculum as well as encouraging them to lead healthier lives. The school has reported better concentration and behaviour, and increases in attendance and attainment as a result of their whole school approach to food growing.

It’s not just the obvious subjects. FGSL partner Trees for Cities surveyed the 50 schools they have helped and while all Headteachers said that they used their edible playgrounds for Maths and Science lessons, schools were using the garden for other subjects too. English and Art were high on the list with 92%, followed by Design and Technology (76%), Geography (30%), Languages (23%), RE and ICT (15%) and History (7%).

Chisenhale School has made their garden a learning place for the whole school with classes across all subjects being held in their outdoor classroom. Children have also sold the produce, linking food growing to curriculum areas like marketing and enterprise. Parent gardener Cassie Liversidge has seen children who struggle to concentrate in the classroom, building confidence and skills through the garden.

Top ideas for curriculum-linked activities

  • Science – learning about growing plants, wild habitats and lifecycles
  • English – using the garden as inspiration for creative writing
  • Design Technology – constructing wildlife habitats like hedgehog boxes and bird feeders
  • Maths – counting birds and other wildlife, measuring beans or sunflowers
  • Geography – growing different foods from around the world
  • History – Foraging with stone age man, growing herbs for victorian remedies
  • Cooking and nutrition – using organic produce from the garden

Recipe for Success

  1. Build support for food growing with teachers and the management team – share FGSL research on the benefits of food growing.
  2. Take advantage of the huge amount of free resources available online to help link food growing to the curriculum. Start with the Termly Packs from FGSL and growing resources from FGSL Partners including these from the RHS Campaign for School Gardening.

Enterprise Food Garden Award winners

Nightingale Primary, Hackney - case study

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