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

New mural celebrates food growing at Fleet Primary

Fleet Primary School in Camden won our autumn mural competition and we worked with Alessandra Tortone  to bring the pupils sketches to life as a backdrop for Fleet’s new growing space this spring!

The two days of painting were quite chilly (we even had to reschedule because of snow) but the pupils had a great time pitching in, mixing paints and bringing colour to their school ground.

Big thanks to Alessandra and to Garden Organic for making this possible.

Take a look at this photo gallery below:

Discover more Food Growing Schools competitions here.

See more of Alessandra Tortone’s work here.

Join us for the Lewisham teachers forum on 24 April

Food Growing teachers forum at Kilmorie Primary school, 24 April, 4.00-5.30

All primary schools in Lewisham are invited to this free training event on food growing at school.

The session will cover a range of topics:  linking food growing to the curriculum, exploring whole school/environment benefits, how to get started and how to further develop food growing at school.

There will be a Q&A tour of Kilmorie’s extensive growing beds led by the school gardener and all attendees will be given a resource pack to take home.

This promises to be an inspiring session for those keen on developing their growing activity or just thinking about how to set it up.

The session is free to attend, please register your interest with Nick Ives, nives@gardenorganic.org.uk, or call 07454519749 to hear more details.

Bexley food growing and mental health workshop a success

Food Growing Schools: London teamed up with The London Borough of Bexley’s Public Health Team to highlight the positive impact food growing can have on young peoples mental health and to get more schools to get involved.

We shared details about this session in January, to see more read Promoting healthy lifestyles and mental wellbeing in schools.

The food growing forum was held after school on 29 January at Bexley Civic Council Offices and was a great success.

Ten staff members from various Bexley Primary and Secondary Schools participated in an informative session that considered how school food growing activities can support the mental health needs of pupils.

Lisa Grant, Engagement Officer for Food Growing Schools: London (FGSL) writes:

“The Public Health Team in Bexley and I met with in November last year to discuss the idea we had of a jointly run forum/workshop. We wanted to share information about dealing with the struggles that school-life can throw-up by discussing outdoor learning or food growing as a positive outlet for pupils with mental health challenges.  We were thrilled to be able to come together to run this session which was met with positive reviews.”

Pascale, from Bexley Public Health team,  has a background in promoting positive initiatives for dealing with mental health issues. She shared information around the Five Ways to Wellbeing – something she is promoting through assemblies in schools in Bexley..

Lisa from Food growing Schools; London knew that many of the people attending were new to food growing and worked at schools where the outdoor growing space was overgrown or non-existent.  She presented ideas on how to infuse outdoor learning activities linked to promoting mental health initiatives into the school day.The session included attendees making their own paper pot, filling it with compost and sowing a broad bean seed.  This activity was an example of what school staff could engage in with their pupils in a mindful way.

We encouraged everyone to keep in contact with us at Food Growing Schools: London in order for us to let them know what further support we could offer via our online survey. On top of that, we encouraged everyone to sign-up for our regular FGSL Newsletter which includes lots of helpful information including fun competitions and training available throughout London.

Matchfunds for Trees for Cities Edible Playgrounds

Trees for Cities and Bulb, the UK renewable energy supplier, are looking for London schools interested in transforming their playgrounds into food growing spaces and building their capacity to teach through gardening.

The Edible Playgrounds project includes designing and building a bespoke, vibrant and functional teaching garden alongside teacher training, curriculum mapping and other support to build teacher’s confidence and skills to teach outside.

See more about the programme here www.edibleplaygrounds.org

Matchfunding

Through the Bulb partnership Trees for Cities is excited to offer generous matchfunds towards all projects.

Get in touch with Trees for Cities to find out more.

Please contact carys@treesforcities.org or complete an expression of interest form www.edibleplaygrounds.org/early-expression-of-interest

 

Could your school be a food growing Training Hub?

Capital Growth are recruiting Training Hubs for 2018, to host food-growing training, Big Dig and Urban Harvest events.

Feedback from 2017 hubs has shown this was a great opportunity to “share knowledge”, “be part of a London wide network” and reach out to “people new to the garden”.

Find out more and download the application form at http://www.capitalgrowth.org/london_grows/.

Deadline:  Monday 15 Jan

 

Kick start a food-growing enterprise with Roots to Work

What is Roots to Work?

Capital Growth have a packed line-up for Roots to Work – an annual conference for people interested in kick-starting or developing a food-growing enterprise or career, with workshops, speakers and networking opportunities.

The event also includes the launch of the Urban Farming Toolkit with our partners, Growing Communities, plus one-to-one advice, as well as our amazing panel of key speakers and a choice of four unique workshops to get you started, or alternatively, take you to the next level.  Book NOW to guarantee your choice of workshop. Full line-up below.

Clare who joined Roots to Work 2016 and is currently training with OrganicLea said:

“the conference was so inspiring and useful that I ended up applying for a traineeship with the Castle Garden”

Programme

Speakers followed by panel Q&A

  • Lessons Learnt from Peri-Urban Farming. Alice Holden, Growing Communities- Author of ‘Do Grow’ and head farmer at Growing Communities Dagenham Farm
  • New approaches to developing livelihoods for Urban Farmers: Brian Kelly, Organiclea
  • Transitioning from volunteering to making a living: Sara Barnes – Growing Communities Patchwork Farmer and Organiclea trainee
  • Freelancing: Getting your own business growing. Hannah Schlotter of hannahgrows.com

Morning Workshops

  • Advanced growing to sell: An in-depth look at key crops, with a discussion of the advantages and disadvantages they present. This workshop will also explore the topics of management, planning, productivity and value. Joris Gunawardena (Sutton Community Farm)
  • How to get your urban farm started (based on the Urban Farming Toolkit) – Sophie Verhagen,  Head Grower Growing Communities Patchwork Farms

Afternoon Workshops

  • Growing the sector: how can we work together to address barriers for urban food growing enterprise. Nat Mady/Natalie Szarek – Community Food Growers Network (CFGN)
  • Diversifying income: Securing and diversifying income for community gardens: Julie Riehl – Capital Growth, Sustain

Plus Zooming in on the Future

  • Book a 15 minute 1:2:1 for advice on getting your career started from Amber Alferoff – Federation of City Farms and Community Gardens

Book NOW to guarantee your choice of workshop

Food growing – access for all

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

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