Turkey twizzlers have gone, but playground wheat fields are back. These primaries place soil health and growing school dinners at the core of the curriculum.
The Friday afternoon queue is building in the playground of Greenside primary school in Shepherd’s Bush, west London. Members of the community are lining up to buy freshly baked focaccia, sourdough loaves and cinnamon buns from the school’s microbakery. Around the corner lies its newly planted 4 by 6 metre ‘field’ of wheat.
“Children will be the custodians of our planet,” says headteacher Robin Yeats, discussing the decision to place soil education and regenerative agriculture at the centre of this academic year’s teaching. “If we can show them they can make a difference in our little garden, children will realise what they can do on a bigger scale.”
Feedback, the campaign charity, believes that food production has the single greatest impact on the environment. This is why you should be so for GreensideIt is a great idea to have the kids grow vegetables and incorporate food education in their lessons. A recent trip to the local market to recreate an Indian family dinner based on a film seen by Year 3 – each term begins with watching a film – incorporated maths in the form of budgeting and English, via recipe writing.
“The kitchen became an integrated learning space,” says deputy headteacher Georgina Webber, who led Greenside’s transition to cooking its own, exclusively vegetarian, school meals. The prohibitive cost for good quality meat was a major driver. “And being a multicultural school, vegetarian meals are a great leveller,” adds Yeats.
With other state schools like Mandeville primary school, east London. Bealings primary school in Suffolk, Greenside will be well placed when the Department for Education’s new sustainability and climate change strategy comes into play in 2025. The government wants every educational setting to appoint a sustainability lead to “own” a climate action plan.
In Wales, a new school curriculum will be rolled out from September, stating that children and young people will “show their commitment to the sustainability of the planet”.
Jessie Kidd is the education officer at Cae Ta CSA, a community-supported agricultural project on the Gower peninsula, Wales. She welcomes the move. Cae Tan helps primary school pupils in high-deprivation areas learn how to grow vegetables, tomatoes, onions and flowers. They winnow the wheat and grind it to flour. Then they celebrate by baking pizzas for the entire school in a wood fired oven.
“Children ask me: ‘Why is there so much meat on [our] school menu if it is high in carbon emissions?’” says Kidd. “‘Why do we eat food with bad chemicals?’”. These are questions children should be asking.
After a day on the farm, one teacher told her: “We have a pupil who only eats chicken nuggets. He ate raw onion, tomatoes, beetroot, green beans, and tomatoes today. It was extraordinary.”
Nicole Pisani, cofounder of Chefs in Schools says that half of the 58 schools working with the school food transformation charity have joined in the past two years.
It’s a sign, she notes, that more schools want to be part of this bubbling food movement. “If [food education]It is taught alongside another subject, it would only be a phase. Integration is the key,” Pisani says. “But it boils down to senior leadership: you have to want to do it.”
Schools that are going green
School lunches are prepared at Mandeville’s primary school, which is also home to The Hackney School of Food. “My advice is: don’t pitch it as ‘healthy’,” says executive headteacher Louise Nichols, pointing to early opposition from parents who were concerned about hungry children and pupils suspicious of meals they didn’t recognise.
So when the school wanted fresh fish from Devon it decided to make them look like standard fish fingers. They were a hit with the children. After a while, they stopped being made like fingers by the kitchen. They then dropped the breadcrumbs. “The children now eat fish that look like fish,” says Nichols.
Image: David Holifield
Bealings also hired Grow Cook Eat as its caterer, in April. The company uses mostly local and organic ingredients. Recently, the children spent a day learning about regenerative agriculture in the fields behind Grange Farm Shop. “Local companies want to support us – it’s not always as expensive as you think,” says headteacher Duncan Bathgate. “It’s important to look after our corner of the planet and eating is part of that.”
Image: Gabriel Jimenez
Main image: Greenside primary school
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