Sowing the seeds

Sponsored: Owen Hurley, head of food operations at CH&CO Independent, looks at the positive impact growing your own can have in schools

Children are inquisitive, it’s one of their many wonderful characteristics – and a fantastic ally for us when it comes to inspiring our pupils to try new foods and eat a varied, delicious and intrinsically nutritious diet.

Young children, in particular, take a multisensory approach to the world. They like to see, touch, smell, hear and taste things – whether they’re meant to or not!

For a long time now we’ve harnessed this natural curiosity to tempt even the fussiest of eater to widen their food repertoire and encourage positive eating habits. Giving children the opportunity and time to explore different ingredients increases understanding and their appeal.

Vegetables and fruits are a great example of this. By allowing children to literally get to grips with the raw ingredient, through the cooking process to being part of a finished dish, whilst learning about the impact on our physical and mental wellbeing, you can turn a perceived villain into a superhero.

The life cycle of vegetables and fruits obviously starts long before they land in our kitchens. The growing process offers a valuable opportunity to really engage pupils and change their opinions and relationships with food.

Letting them get their hands dirty (literally!) through the planting, nurturing and harvesting stages increases their investment in and understanding of the food they’re eating. And the wonderful flavour of homegrown produce is, as we all know, second to none and with nutrient loss minimal compared to shop-bought products, it’s also highly nutritious.

Being involved in the whole process, from seed to plate, gives pupils a different perspective and respect for food. It teaches them where it comes from, how to grow and care for it, and how to be more responsible with it. We know that sustainability is important to young people and this is a great way to support sustainability goals and extend the conversation around food miles and food waste.

Being involved in the whole process gives pupils a different perspective and respect for food

The mental health benefits of growing for all ages cannot be ignored either. Spending even a small amount of time working with nature to create something is an accessible mindful practice for all and a great way to relieve everyday stresses and to encourage communication.

It also creates an uplifting sense of pride and achievement to have played a part in creating nutritious, delicious food that can be shared with the school community.

In one of our schools, the chef manager has collaborated with our school partner to embrace the positivity of growing our own. He’s been instrumental in the installation of raised beds, and with the help of pupils and teachers, vegetables and herbs are, as we speak, being nurtured and grown.

Once ready to harvest, the children can look forward to tasting sessions and cookery classes as a celebration of their achievements. But you don’t need a fully-fledged allotment to reap the benefits of growing vegetables in schools.

From window boxes, pots and hanging baskets to vegetable plots, everyone will enjoy the fruits of their labour (pun intended) in the shape of delicious, nutritious produce, a positive impact on mental wellbeing and a greater understanding of where food comes from, that together will create a lifelong love of great food.

How to get started

● This time of year, growing can start indoors with the planting of seeds such as potatoes, carrots, broccoli, onions and salads.
● For those looking to dip their toes, you can start small with radish and cress;
these are super easy to grow and they grow quickly, which is great for maintaining pupils’ interest – especially younger pupils.
● Herb planters are also a great addition; the likes of rosemary, chives and thyme need very little care but with such wonderful aromas, they really do add to the multisensory experience.
● Hanging baskets are a great way to grow produce such as tomatoes or strawberries. They look amazing, don’t take up too much space and pupils can take them home in the summer holidays so that nothing goes to waste.


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