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.

Local School Nature Grants – back for second year

Second year of Local School Nature Grants Scheme

What do birdboxes, seeds, den making kits and nature experts all have in common?  They are all available free to schools as part of the Local School Nature Grants Programme, supported by players of People’s Postcode Lottery.

The grants provide £500 of nature equipment and 2 hours of training to schools in England, Scotland and Wales.  The packages are customisable, enabling schools to choose from a menu of items which best suit their learners and their setting.

For example, schools looking to start growing food or develop their school gardens can select Garden Organic‘s Get Growing kit to receive seeds, growing cards, a term time garden planner and more.

Nature Grants, Garden Organic’s Get Growing kit available to select.

Launched on 21 March 2018, this second phase of the scheme builds on the huge success of phase one, which bought benefit to  300 schools and over 20,000 pupils in 2017.

The project is funded by Postcode Local Trust, which receives funding from players of People’s Postcode Lottery.

To apply for a grant visit Learning Through Landscapes’ website.

Find out more information about Postcode Local Trust and People’s Postcode Lottery.

 

 

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!

Value your school grown produce

Once you’ve got your food growing underway, why not celebrate your efforts by finding out the value of all that you’ve grown?

How much does your garden grow? Use the Harvest-ometer to find out!
How much does your garden grow? Use the Harvest-ometer to find out!

Food Growing Schools: London partner Capital Growth have developed a simple tool to track what your school grows in kilograms and pounds. It also produces graphs, perfect for motivating volunteers and pupils, and showcasing your work to the school and parents!

During the first two seasons of the Harvest-ometer over 189 growing spaces grew enough food to contribute to a whopping 502,000 meals, weighing over 40 tonnes and valued at £288k.  Capital Growth also found an estimated £2.4m of food is being grown each year across their network, which includes community growing spaces, as well as schools.

Harvest-ometer facts

Salads, squash, courgettes and potatoes are the most popular crops being grown in London.

The average yield per Square metre is just less than £3.50 per square meter.

How can schools and growing spaces get involved?

To use the Harvest-ometer sign in or sign up to the Capital Growth member’s area and click on ‘The Harvest-ometer Challenge.’

If you have any questions, big or small, just get in touch with maddie@sustainweb.org

Need help to get growing? Join a Capital Growth training session and check out the FGSL Resources.

Access Jamie Oliver’s Kitchen Garden Project exclusively through Food for Life

We’re delighted to let you know that Food for Life has formally teamed up with Jamie Oliver’s Kitchen Garden Project to give all Food for Life schools and nurseries EXCLUSIVE ACCESS to their beautiful food education and growing resources.

Get involved: Jamie Oliver and Food For Life's Kitchen Garden Project
Get involved: Jamie Oliver and Food For Life’s Kitchen Garden Project

The partnership means that the Kitchen Garden Project digital resources will be available to all schools who sign up to the Food for Life Membership or Awards Packages.

The resources include delicious Jamie Oliver recipes for children, lesson plans, helpful teaching notes, growing units, curriculum-linked activities and nutrition information, all tailored to primary school-level cooking lessons and activities for garden-based learning.

A single subscription to both food education programmes means that you will have even more flexibility and support around practical cooking, growing and food-based learning.  Schools who have already been working with Food for Life and the Kitchen Garden Project have told us how well the resources complement each other.  We hope you think so too!

Find out more and see a sample of the resources

Grow Your Own Picnic

Time to Grow Your Own Picnic!
Time to Grow Your Own Picnic!

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.

New Year. New Resolutions!

It’s all getting a bit festive. Lights, Christmas trees, the smell of mince pies! But before we know it frosty mornings will soon turn to sunny, spring days. So, start 2017 with a New Year resolution! A school garden fit for growing healthy food, learning skills and sharing knowledge, whatever the size or space.

FGSL Spring into Growing 2017Spring into Growing 2017 – Plan it. Build it. Grow it!

Join Food Growing Schools: London and schools all across London for Spring into Growing 2017, from January to March 2017. With our expert guidance, 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.

A healthy start to the new year

But why grow? London schools are starting to see the incredible benefits of growing food in schools – benefits to health, education, the community, the environment and even the local economy. It’s a no brainer! Discover what they are here: Why Grow? 

Free food growing resources for schools

We’ve gathered together some really useful school activity sheets and growing guides to help your school, under the following themes:

Have a look at our Spring into Growing 2017 resources to get stuck in.

Gardening as a tool for teaching curriculum subjects

Food growing is also a great tool for learning, across a wide range of curriculum subjects – including Design, Engineering and Technology, Maths, Science and so much more. So growing food provides new ideas, to add inspiration to teaching and learning in 2017. Check out our Resources for ideas, tips, growing tools and activity sheets.

School food growing doesn’t have to cost the earth.

School gardens don’t have to be expensive. They can be constructed using reclaimed and recycled materials. With the help of parents, teachers and the local community it’s great fun collecting together all the materials, tools and knowledge you need to get started, together. Here are some ideas for working with your local community.

Planning your school activities for 2017?

Join in with Spring into Growing 2017 – Plan it. Build it. Grow it!