Over the last 40 years, the range of foods that we consume has broadened massively to encompass a whole range of cultures.
There is already a wealth of non-traditional crops grown on allotments in the UK, but they’re in danger of disappearing as the skills to grow them are not being passed onto younger generations.
That’s why Garden Organic was delighted to receive funds from the Big Lottery Local Food Fund* to run a fantastic project called Sowing New Seeds – enabling gardeners, allotment holders, schools and community groups in the Midlands to grow exotic crops, not traditionally grown in the UK.
We have collected seeds and knowledge from many countries including Jamaica, India, Bangladesh, Guyana, China, Pakistan, Japan, Zimababwe, Ethiopa and many more.
How to get your free pack
We have a limited number of Exotic Crop Packs to share with schools, available on a first come, first served basis this Autumn!
All we ask in return is that you make a small donation to Garden Organic, if you are able to, to cover the postage cost. This will help us continue delivering projects like this and giving a few pounds could not be simpler using this online donation form.
We have gathered knowledge and made it available to people through a range of free resources, including growing factsheets, simple growing cards, cooking videos and some great games for schools and children
We have supported groups within the Midlands and beyond to grow exotic crops
*We’re also hugely gratefully to the Brooke Trust, Cadbury Trust, Grimmet Trust, Sheldon Trust, Oram Foundation and the Open Gate Foundation who has gave financial support.
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?
In particular, science is an aspect of the curriculum that links well on a number of levels to food growing activities.
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.
“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.
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: London have been collecting feedback from schools using an online survey since the project began in 2013. One area of challenge identified is schools are looking for ways to raise funds in order to start or revive a school garden.
Nick Ives, Engagement Officer for Food Growing Schools: London (FGSL) shares some ideas and tips:
“There is little doubt that if you ask a school head teacher what their number one concern in running a school in this age of austerity – they will tell you finance to support activity at school. This short guide is intended to consolidate some ideas on how this might be achieved to support food growing activities at school.
What follows are some simple practical steps that will enable a school to respond expediently when an opportunity arises.
Create an extensive list of absolutely anything that you could possibly need.
If possible get as many people in the school to contribute: teachers, governors, parents and other staff to contribute. Eg one 20 meter hose with with spray attachment; 20 metres of timber to make x many raised beds; 200 litres organic soil for raised beds; 2 digging forks, 15 hand trowels, 15 hand digging forks, 2 rain water harvesting buts with attachments to downpipes, 2 watering cans, one 2 metre metal frame to cover a raised bed or plastic 15 square meters of netting for cabbage patch etc.
Not only will you have a ready-made list of items to wheel out at short notice, you might also get an idea of where the expertise and enthusiasm for this resides within your school community.
Evidence of pupil engagement
Whoever might fund your growing activity at school, they will always want to see that the pupils are involved in some way. Just like OFSTED they would like to seek evidence of how pupils will be impacted in a beneficial ways. Perhaps children did some curriculum linked work on the ideal kitchen garden and produced some appealing images and designs? Perhaps the pupil school council discussions revealed that many children live in flats with no outside space to grow anything? Perhaps pupils germinated broadbeans in science and expressed interest in growing these on? Build up evidence of pupil engagement, again it can then be wheeled out swiftly when required.
Consider every conversation as an opportunity
Certainly school leaders have learned to make the best of opportunities, having the opportunist mindset and an integrated request set up will facilitate this more. Now that a list of needs exists and how these items might benefit pupils – share them as much as possible! Consider everyone one talks to as a possible stakeholder! Do they work for a company that supports charitable giving? The School Funding Network is an excellent way to go about this. Parents who work for large corporations may unwittingly be allowed to apply for help from an associated charitable arm. Ask them to find out and empower them to help the school. Most schools have a Parent Teacher/Staff Association, if not why not?!
When the school is entering in to any new contract for services with an organization, might this organization be prepared to help in other areas? This is especially true for school catering contracts.
Applying for grants and funds
No matter who or what they are, they will always want to see a clear statement of need. The list is the first place to start. Then they will require some evidence of how the pupils will benefit. They will all have some sets of criteria that their fund will help with. Always identify the key words they use, public access? Community engagement? Impact upon pupils? Underline these and use them in the language that one uses to request their funds. An application that shows an integrated approach always looks more credible, so are as many stakeholders in the school community mentioned? They are looking for a good fit. Think of it as an exam and make it easy for them to say yes!
There are a number of grants and funds that have associated deadlines, others not. If you miss this deadline chances are there’s one next year, put it in the diary. Some funds have a specific geographical reach eg Veolia and Biifa and The Heathrow Community Fund so are often open. On more local scales there are often funds linked to local parishes that disburse funds in quiet ways. Ask locally – council members, church or community leaders may know.
Some applications require evidence of match funding, so this will require a careful consideration of all possible and potential stakeholders. Do not be afraid of approaching an organization which hasn’t advertised it has funds to give.”
For a list of competitions and funding opportunities, please click here.
RHS Campaign for School Gardening launches I Can Grow!
This project is a chance for young people to discover and explore the benefits of gardening, not only to them, but also to their local community and the wider world.
I Can Grow is designed to empower young people, allowing them to create a campaign, using plants, to shout about the environmental and social issues they believe in.
How it works…
First, sign up for a free inspiration pack (register on the RHS Campaign for School Gardening website) which will contain a project guide and great resources to get your class or group thinking about and eventually sharing their campaign.
This project is designed to be led by your young people as much as possible so, using the resources, encourage them to think how they could use plants to solve a problem or support a cause that means something to them.
They will be asked to try and link their cause to one or more of these themes…
The Project Learning Garden team have been busy recruiting and training schools in Merton, Bexley and Southwark while gearing up for the first growing season of the project in London.
Project Learning Garden provides starter kits to schools with everything they need to start or refresh a food growing garden and use it as an outdoor classroom. Project Learning Garden provides schools with hands-on training, curriculum linked resources, raised beds and gardening tools, a fully equipped mobile cooking cart and ongoing support and guidance.
Despite the snow in March, they held two training sessions to meet with teachers and other school staff to start to work on planning how to link a school garden to their curriculum. The sessions covered curriculum, organic gardening, basic cooking skills and working with groups outside. The team running the workshop were joined by former Blue Peter gardener Chris Collins and Master Gardeners in Southwark.
The schools will soon be receiving their ‘kits’ which include a selection of cooking and gardening items as well as raised beds and lots of activities and resources to deliver the curriculum.
Schools also have access to a range of lesson plans and activities which link to environmental themes and subjects across the curriculum.
Delegates at the training session were enthusiastic and went away feeling positive about the whole day and being involved in the project. One delegate said:
‘I really enjoyed the day and found it useful and very helpful’
‘It was good to be reminded how important the soil is in or garden – easy to forget!’
To find out more about PLG visit the Garden Organic websitehere.
Garden Organic, the UK’s national charity for organic growing & the Captain Planet Foundation (CPF) a charitable organisation based in Atlanta, USA, are working in partnership to bring their successful Project Learning Garden programme to the UK.
Seeds of Change®, who donate 1% of sales to research and promotion of biodiversity and sustainable organic practices, are generously funding this pilot project, making this new partnership possible.
Monthly blog by Chris Collins on How to Create and Grow a School Garden
Gardening in the winter
It’s tempting to stay in the warmth of the classroom – it’s not looking too cosy outside at the moment. A garden still needs the attention though, even in these dormant months and there are plenty of ways we can still tie the garden to the learning curriculum.
Getting ready for spring
A job that children never tire of is digging over the soil.
In many ways, January and February are great months to get head of the game. Any areas of soil or raised beds can be turned over and any unwanted plants removed. Give it a real thorough dig over, making sure the soil is broken into a nice fine texture and give it a rake to get it even.
This is great physical exercise for the pupils and it’s also an opportunity to teach them about soil – the gardener’s most important asset.
It also ties in nicely with making sure you’re ready to start composting come spring, if you are not already. Composting, of course, is the way we keep our soil healthy.
If you’re without a compost bin, why not get the children to design one? Maybe by applying a theme?
We built a Dalekcompost on Blue Peter in one episode and this was a great way to make the subject more interesting. It would also make for a good art lesson.
Personally, my preferred way of composting is to have an open bin. By that I mean having something that is easily accessible.
Build an open bin compost
Get four wooden posts, dig four holes and set the posts in at a depth of 20cm.
Add some quick drying concrete at the base of the posts.
After the posts set in, attach chicken wire to three sides of the posts leaving the front open.
Now it is easy to fill your compost area and you can also turn the contents easily.
You’ll find it can be great for wildlife too! What will the pupils find in it? Maybe a slowworm, or at the very least some earthworms and centipedes.
Tips for raised beds
I will add one more note about soil and it’s something I’ve observed on my travels to many schools over the years and that is raised beds that do not contain enough soil.
Make sure your beds or containers are properly topped up. Soil should be filled right up to at least 5cm from the top of a raised bed. Giving plant roots room to grow will be important to success.
Planning for spring growing
So, what to do on a dank wet February day when it’s the gardening club? Well, in many ways this can be an exciting time!
The spring will soon be here and it’s time to decide what you want to grow. How do you want your garden area to look? It’s an interesting math’s lesson on looking how tall or wide certain plants might get when planning your area and your growing space.
To take this a step further, let’s apply this to a project. We can do this by making what I often refer to as a pizza wheel.
You can make one of these from recycled materials like bricks or pebbles.
Make a circle, using a pin at the centre of your area and string to mark the circle. The length of the string dictates the size of your pizza wheel is up to you.
Once you have your circle you can then divide it into sections or slices. This up to you but it does not need to be big, in fact you could even do it in a pot.
Now, as a class or a gardening club, pick a recipe for a meal then grow some of the contents of that recipe in your pizza wheel slices. For example, it could be something as simple as a salad and therefore you could grow a mix of lettuce, rocket, radish, tomatoes or cucumbers.
Well hope you find some ideas in the Grow A School Garden Blog and that you’ll join me next month.
If you have any questions or even ideas that you may want to contribute please do get in touch.
The RHS Campaign for School Gardening are on the lookout for the most inspirational young gardeners, educators and gardening teams in the UK.
You can read about last year’s finalists and winners here.
Prizes for finalists and winners in 2018 include a stunning Gabriel Ash greenhouse worth £3,425, Gabriel Ash Coldframes, £500 in vouchers, garden tools and unique opportunities to work with RHS and TV gardeners.