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.
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 Foundationrecommend 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 Playgroundsand, the Food Growing Schools: Londonpartnership, 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: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Food Growing Schools London teams up with other organisations and councils in boroughs across London to get more schools engaged in growing.
October’s food growing forum held after school hours and hosted at St Andrew’s (Barnsbury) Primary School was a great success. 16 teachers from across Camden and Islington participated in the informative and inspiring session by sharing tips and resources from their food growing journey and initiatives.
Nick Ives, Engagement Officer for Food Growing Schools London (FGSL) writes:
“One of the best things about my role is working with fellow food growing enthusiasts – Marjon Willers, a Specialist Dietitian from the School Improvement Service of Islington is certainly one of those! We connected in the summer term and agreed to hold some food growing forums for teachers after school in the Autumn and Spring terms. Marjon agreed to find a host school and invite participants, my colleague Lisa Grant and I agreed to facilitate the session.
Our hosts Jacqui and King, from St Andrew’s (Barnsbury) Primary School generously welcomed 16 teachers and ourselves for the after school session which lasted an hour and a half.
To make best use of time we structured the session into four phases and encouraged constructive dialogue throughout:
a brief introduction from each participant and an expression of what they wanted to get out of the session
a demonstration from Lisa of the key features of the redesigned FGSL website
a tour from King and Jacqui of the school growing spaces
brief plenary to pull ideas together and agree some actions.
Some participants were new to growing, others more experienced. We had plenty of useful discussions, in which we shared relevant experiences and ideas, as well as sign posting to helpful resources and expertise. Some hoped to find out what to grow through the winter, others wanted to know how to make the best use of limited concrete growing spaces. As facilitators we made sure that every participant had a chance to get their questions addressed.
We encouraged everyone to keep in contact with us at Food Growing Schools: London – firstly to let us know what further support we can offer via our online survey and secondly to sign up for our regular FGSL Newsletter. We look forward to all meeting up again in the spring to share our growing stories some more.
This is what participants were kind enough to say about our forum:
‘Well organized, informal and practical. Plenty of ideas to take forward’
‘I have lots of cross curricular ideas now. More ideas for how to involve children in gardening’
‘Found out what to plant in Winter’
‘It’s great to see how another school is using its space and what they are growing’
Get in touch
Would schools in your borough benefit from a session of sharing and discussion like this one? Find out more, get involved and organise a session in your borough, simply email email@example.com or call 02476217747.
‘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 Primaryfood 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
What better way to show off the school’s new-found gardening skills than to Grow Your Own Picnic to share with pupils, parents and the local community.
The FREE Grow Your Own Picnic Pack from Food Growing Schools: London is jammed full of advice, tips and activities to help you plan and grow crops and then turn them into delicious home-made dips, sandwiches, salads and other delights to create a summer picnic feast.
The pack also includes advice for linking with your local community to generate support for your growing activities and to share the spoils of success at the end of the summer term.
So what are you waiting for? Download the Grow Your Own Picnic pack now and start to harvest the benefits of school food growing.
Our Food Growing Schools: London (FGSL) survey has shown that many schools are looking for support to get growing, through training, resources and class activities. Our free, fun and engaging FGSL assembly is bringing inspiration to schools with groups of any age and size across the Capital.
Our assemblies: the results?
So far, over 2,000 pupils have welcomed an assembly – learning why slugs have noses and tomatoes are carnivores! And of course about the benefits of growing your own food, and how you can Grow Your Own Business and build a career as a result. Schools are telling us that they’ve really benefited from the whole school talking about food growing all together.
North Ealing Primary learnt that they can successfully grow produce on their fully concreted grounds. And so can you. You don’t need a designated space, you can use window sill planters and create vertical gardens or even grow on the roof! We’ve seen lots of schools doing this – like John Ruskin Primary in Southwark.
Since our assembly at Manorfield Primary School in Tower Hamlets, all 711 children have sampled tasters of different fruit and vegetables to give input to a planting plan, and the school are working with Trees for Cities to develop a fully functioning Edible Playground.
Set up your school garden from scratch
Our Spring into Growing activities this term are perfect for helping your school set up a garden from scratch. Learn the secrets to planning and constructing your school garden, working with recycled materials and nature, and developing a productive growing space, with the help of your local community. Plan it. Build it. Grow it! Check out this information from the Royal Horticultural Society too, and an abundance of other FGSL resources for inspiration.
After a food growing assembly for your school?
They are popular! Join the waiting list – simply email firstname.lastname@example.org to express your interest, stating whether you’re a primary or secondary and your borough.
Be one of only 10 London primary schools to win a copy of ‘Grow’, a fantastic new illustrated book helping children to get inspired to grow food, and a visit from the author!
Plus, the first 100 schools to enter will also win an exclusive, limited-edition activity pack. It includes games such as Worms and Ladders, Compost Bingo, seeds and stickers! FGSL have teamed up with Ben Raskin and Leaping Hare Press for this exciting prize draw. This prize draw launches on Tuesday 17 January 2017.
About Grow – the book
In Grow, a beautifully illustrated guide to growing by Ben Raskin, Head of Horticulture at the Soil Association, you’ll get all the inspiration and knowledge you need to get out there and start planting.
Have you ever wondered how plants work? Or why we eat the fruit of one plant, but the leaves of another? What’s the big deal about growing things – and how do we decide what we need to grow in the space we have? Discover the whole life cycle of food, from sowing and saving to planning and planting, and – most exciting of all – harvesting the food you’ve grown. Ben Raskin’s books Growand Compost come complete with some fantastic activity ideas to get children excited about growing food.
To enter: answer a few simple questions on Survey Monkey and make sure you have completed the FGSL survey. Deadline to enter: 5pm, Thursday 9 February 2017. More details here: Competitions.
*This prize draw is open to all London primary schools who have completed our FGSL survey only.
Spring into Growing – help to get growing this term at your school
At Food Growing Schools: London (FGSL) we encourage and inspire schools to start growing their own food, no matter how big or how small a space you have. As Engagement Officers, my colleague Paul and I can support you in getting started. We can give you advice on the phone, run a workshop at your school, or share resources.
A great way to get started this term is to join us for Spring into Growing 2017 – Plan it. Build it. Grow it! With our expert guidance, learn the secrets to planning and constructing your own school garden, work with recycled materials and nature in order to develop a productive growing space; all with the help of your local community.
Which Engagement Officer works where in London?
Lisa Grant – I cover these boroughs – Barking & Dagenham, Bexley, Brent, Bromley, Greenwich, Haringey, Havering, Lewisham, Newham, Redbridge and Tower Hamlets.
Paul Sadler covers these boroughs – Barnet, Camden, City of London, Croydon, Enfield, Harrow, Hillingdon, Islington, Lambeth, Southwark, Sutton, Waltham Forest and Westminster.
An example school growing food – Smithy Street Primary School in Tower Hamlets
I met with the Early Years and Foundation Stage Phase Leader, Christine Hopes, at Smithy Street Primary School in Tower Hamlets towards the end of 2016. She had the intention of starting to grow with her team of teachers and their students, in a small dedicated space outside in the playground. Christine and I spoke about what she wanted me to cover in a bespoke workshop, and we looked at their growing space to see what was possible. Here is some advice on how to get started:
Top tips for getting started
1. Where – Decide on an outdoor area where you would like to start growing food. Does it get lots of sunlight?
2. Who – Decide on who is going to take a lead in this. Is it a gardening club at lunchtime or after school? Is it a phase group? It is a parent volunteer or a member of school staff?
3. What – Do some research. Is there a local farm or a local community organisation that could support you in starting to grow your own food? Have you filled out our online FGSL survey so we can help you get started?
4. How – Get in touch with either Paul or myself after checking which boroughs we cover. We can have a conversation by email or by phone in the first instance to get going with this great adventure in growing food.
During the workshop, with another local school called Redlands Primary School, I worked with the staff to look at what plants were possible to grow at this time of year, and what small steps could be taken to start growing successfully in a manageable way. The two schools worked together to plan how they were going to start growing and I facilitated discussions about this.
Get growing in your school this Spring
If you wish to start growing and would like support from our team, please complete our online survey FGSL survey to tell us what support you need. Then, check out our online resources this term: Spring into Growing 2017 – Sow it. Grow it. Build it!
This includes information on:
• How to: Plan your school garden
• How to: Construct your garden
• How to: Work with nature in your garden
• How to: Get help from your local community
• Competitions and giveaways
Today sees the launch of the Good Food For London 2016 report, produced by our friends at Sustain through their London Food Link project. The report takes an intriguing look at various aspects of ‘good food’, from community food growing and school food standards, to animal welfare, sustainable fish, fair pay and fair trade – and at the boroughs that are making strides to improve food culture in London. Good Food For London is supported by the GLA and partner organisations, including Food Growing Schools: London.
London boroughs are ranked in a league table according to their action on 11 ‘good food’ measures. Scores range from 95 to 15 per cent. The fantastic news is that 30 out of 33 London boroughs are doing more to improve the food available to their residents, workers and school pupils compared to 2015. For a broad look at ‘good food’ in London’s boroughs you can read the full Good Food for London 2016 report here.
Good food in London’s schools
So what does the Good Food For London 2016 report say about progress in schools? There are four key measures related to schools listed below:
Community Food Growing (Green map and list above)
The GFFL 2016 report for this measure shows that there is 1) increasing local authority commitment to food growing in communities, 2) inclusion of food growing in the Local Plan for more boroughs, and 3) borough support for school food growing through our Food Growing Schools: London (FGSL) programme. To achieve this measure at least 75% of local schools should be registered with FGSL by completing our short FGSL survey.
FGSL’s work with councils, council officers and communications representatives is really starting to make a difference. According to our own FGSL interim report launched at City Hall in October 2016, now 25 out of 33 boroughs are promoting food growing in schools compared to 15 in 2015. Almost 1,400 schools have signed up for support from FGSL so far, 87% of schools that have completed our FGSL survey have said they are involved in food growing, of which 79% cent of pupils involved have improved behaviour and attainment as a result, and 1,000 people have received training from FGSL to date. Amazing!
Food For Life Catering Mark (listed in red on chart)
The Soil Association Food For Life Catering Mark helps organisations – from schools to nurseries to museums and staff restaurants – ensure they serve traceable, sustainable, healthier food. For this measure, the GFFL 2016 report shows that in 21 boroughs, the majority of schools are now serving Silver or Gold catering mark meals and many expanded catering mark meals to nurseries. This is remarkable especially considering in 2011 no boroughs were serving Gold catering mark meals and only eight were serving Silver in the majority of schools. But the work is far from done. This leaves out almost one third of borough where the majority of schools don’t serve meals with the accreditation. Food for Life is one of six FGSL partners.
Changing food culture in schools
From September 2015 the new OFSTED inspection framework has an increased focus on healthy eating and knowledge of how to eat healthily. The GFFL 2016 report also measures changes in food culture in schools by looking at progress in two evidenced-based programmes: Food for Life and Healthy Schools London. The report shows that 22 boroughs are making ‘some progress’ and only seven are making ‘good progress’ in engaging with these school programmes.
Food Flagships two years on – Croydon and Lambeth
In June 2014, the Mayor of London launched the Food Flagship programme in two pilot boroughs: Croydon and Lambeth, encouraging the wider community to make healthy eating normal. Lots has been achieved, and Food Growing Schools: London has supported these initiatives by doing food growing activities and training in in both boroughs, and supporting with a Schools Marketplace, four school Edible Playgrounds (with Trees for Cities) and Master Gardener community growing (with Garden Organic) in Croydon.
FGSL – continued support for London boroughs
The full Good Food For London 2016 report shows that great strides have been made to improve food culture in London, and FGSL is a big part of this. But we want to do even more with schools. Find out more about FGSL Support including.
Congratulations to former Blue Peter gardener Chris Collins, and keen supporter of Food Growing Schools: London (FGSL), who has become the new Head of Organic Horticulture for Garden Organic, FGSL’s lead partner. Garden Organic asked Chris to tell us how he became a successful gardener.
A CV most gardeners can only dream of
Chris has a CV most gardeners can only dream of, taking in two Royal Botanic Gardens and the green space at ‘The Queen’s church’ Westminster Abbey. With a long TV history, Chris has popped up on everything from Blue Peter – where he ran the iconic London garden for nine years and then created a new one at the BBC’s MediaCityUK studio in Salford – to Gardeners’ World, This Morning, Children in Need, Garden Invaders and Turf Wars.
A familiar face to many schools gardeners
Chris is a familiar face to many schools, supporting a wide range of school food growing projects in London and across the UK – and taking selfies wherever he goes! Chris has supported many FGSL projects including our FGSL Schools Marketplace at City Hall, Growathon and numerous schools competitions, the School Food Matters Young Marketeers project at Borough Market and Edible Playground projects as a patron with Trees for Cities – to name but a few. FGSL look forward to working with Chris even more closely to achieve our dream to get every school in London growing food.
Inspiration for young gardeners
Chris trained at the Royal Botanical Garden in Edinburgh before working on diverse projects all over the globe, including Africa’s oldest botanical gardens in Cameroon and a stint in Japan teaching British gardening techniques. Chris returned to the UK in 1998 and his career blossomed further at Kew and Westminster Abbey. He is also an RHS Chelsea Flower Show medal-winner!
Garden Organic asked Chris some questions about his career and this is what he said:
How did your career begin? “I come from quite a rough background and when I left school I got an apprenticeship on the Brighton Parks. I planted an elm tree in my first week and I knew straightaway that this was what I wanted to do with my career. That tree’s now 45 feet tall. Gardening has given me a fantastic life and I owe it so much. I don’t know whether it’s fair to say gardening saved my life, as you never know what path you might have taken, but it certainly lit things up for me, and still does.”
What was it like running the nation’s most watched garden? “There were so many hilarious moments looking after the Blue Peter garden. I’ve worked with Scooby Doo and Buddhist monks. I’ve been eaten by a giant plant. For a feature on composting, we made little Daleks with Doctor Who Christopher Eccleston. There was always something fun going on and I had the chance to direct what we were doing. The greatest thing was that it was really successful at reaching children. My endgame? Is always to spread the message about horticulture.”
What’s the best way to inspire the next generation to grow their own? “I’m a big fan of gardening being taught in schools. The key thing is to have someone come in once a week to drive the project and share their enthusiasm. Get some raised beds, sow some fruit and veg, nurture them week by week, let them see the growing cycle. This is how you teach kids properly about growing.”
Top tips for anyone getting started? “My advice is to start small, at home, even if you only have a balcony or a few pots on a patio. Make it a family project to see what you can grow, whether it’s crops or flowers or a combination. Going out and about to I’m a big fan of gardening being taught in schools. The key thing is to have someone come in once a week to drive the project and share their enthusiasm. Get some raised beds, sow some fruit and veg, nurture them visit places for inspiration makes it more fun.”
Congratulations to Chris on his new role as Head Gardener with Garden Organic. FGSL look forward to working with him even more closely to achieve our dream to get every school in London growing food!
From strawberry jam to tomato ketchup, and the great British apple to winter salad bags – young entrepreneurs from 10 London schools shared their food growing skills with the public at City Hall on Thursday 13 October 2016. They represent the increasing number of London students experiencing the huge benefits of food growing since the launch of Food Growing Schools: London (FGSL) in 2013.
On Thursday 13 October 2016 during a unique FGSL Celebration Event, students showcased their school-grown produce at the sixth FGSL Schools Marketplace, run in partnership with Capital Growth, and took to the stage in the prestigious London’s Living Room.
The event was opened by Joanne McCartney AM, Deputy Mayor for London, and Deputy Mayor for Education and Childcare, for the Greater London Authority. It included the launch of the FGSL Interim Report(October 2016), showing the wide ranging benefits of food growing. There was also FGSL’s very own Junior Gardener’s Question Time, chaired by former Blue Peter Gardener Chris Collins – with food growing questions answered by children from schools across London.
When he attended the last Schools Marketplace at City Hall, the Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, said: “ I’m really pleased to host the Schools Marketplace in City Hall. I want to help Londoners to have access to better food, and lead healthier lifestyles, so it’s great to see these young people growing their own grub and developing entrepreneurial skills.”
Students from schools in Croydon, Ealing, Greenwich, Haringey, Kensington and Chelsea, Lambeth, Lewisham, Richmond and Southwark took part, and won prizes as part of the *Schools Marketplace Competition.
*Schools Marketplace participants and competition prize winners:
Athelney Primary School, Lewisham
Charlton Park Academy, Greenwich
Dormers Wells High School, Ealing
Elmwood Primary School, Croydon
*Holy Trinity C of E Primary School, Lewisham: Winners – ‘Best Dressed Stall’
*Kelvin Grove Primary School, Lewisham: Winners – ‘People’s Choice’
Mark Dale-Emberton, Principle at Charlton Park Academy, Greenwich said: “Working with Food Growing Schools: London has helped us re-evaluate and reenergise the staff and students. We have looked afresh at our curriculum and how we can use the food that we grow to improve our meals, health and general wellbeing.”
Since their launch in 2013, Food Growing Schools: London have seen an amazing 25 out of 33 London boroughs step up to promote food growing in schools. The Benefits of Food Growing are impressive and far reaching – showing a positive impact on children’s physical and mental health, environment and education, and the local community and economy. Nearly 80% of schools engaged with FGSL have reported improved behaviour or attainment in students as a result of food growing, and one in four schools now use food growing as a teaching tool linked to curriculum activities. The FGSL report, containing the outcomes of an independent project evaluation by University of the West England, celebrates the successes of this innovative London-wide partnership, led by Garden Organic. The project is supported by the Mayor of London and the Big Lottery Fund.
James Campbell, Chief Executive, Garden Organic said: “I am deeply proud of what we have achieved so far — *87% of London schools are now growing food and considerably more pupils, parents, community members and businesses are involved.”
Speakers at the celebration event included Chris Collins (former Blue Peter Gardener, Broadcaster and Head of Horticulture at Garden Organic), James Campbell (CEO Garden Organic), Judy Orme (Professor of Public Health and Sustainability) and Mat Jones (Associate Professor of Public Health, University of West England).
Chris Collins,Broadcaster and Head of Horticulture at Garden Organic said: “I’m lucky to be out and about meeting students all the time, and it’s been amazing to see the difference Food Growing Schools: London is having in our London schools. The food growing support, resources and expertise the partnership provides is fantastic. Every school should take advantage and get involved!”
Whether you are already growing food in your school, you wish to get started, or you represent an organisation who can help, Food Growing Schools: London is open to all to Get Involved.
Spokespeople – Chris Collins (Broadcaster and Head of Horticulture at Garden Organic) and James Campbell (CEO Garden Organic)
Food Growing Schools: London is an ambitious Lottery funded project, supported by the Mayor of London that aims to get every London school growing their own food. Garden Organic as the lead organisation is working together with partners, Capital Growth, the Soil Association’s Food For Life project, the Royal Horticultural Society (RHS), School Food Matters and Trees for Cities. The Schools Marketplace, organised with FGSL partner Capital Growth, took place as part of Grow Your Own Business 2016. #GYOBusiness
FGSL Interim Project Report (October 2016)*
An independent project evaluation by University of the West England (Bristol), summarising the progress of the programme in its third year, assessing the impacts of FGSL for participants and wider stakeholders, focusing on schools and those supporting school food growing. To download the full report visit: Our Achievements
*Figures based on evaluation surveys with lead school teachers in September 2013 (n=504) and July 2016 (n=241). The independent FGSL project evaluation was carried out by research teams from the University of the West England and Cardiff University.