Why Farm Links and Growing?
School Food Matters wants every child to understand where their food comes from. What better way to do this than introduce the child to the farmer? We can link your school with a local farmer to personalize the food chain; meet the farmer, see the crop in the field and then enjoy eating lovely fresh produce at school – farm gate to school plate.
Not every school can get out onto a farm, but every school can have a go at growing food. School Food Matters is currently campaigning, alongside Sustain and other partners, to make “Every School a Food Growing School”.
Here are some reasons why.
A few years ago, HRH Prince of Wales said that research published by the Year of Food and Farming (1) was "pretty terrifying stuff". The research showed that:
- 1 in 5 children never visit the countryside - that means that more than one million children across the country have absolutely no contact with the land
- 20% of children say they have never picked and then eaten fruit
- 1 in 4 children across England have never visited a farmer's market or shop
- Children without any experience of rural life are twice as likely to admit they don't know where their food comes from.
There is a very real connection between the opportunities children have to interact with the countryside or grow their own food, and their appreciation of the food chain.
- Children without rural experiences are twice as likely to admit they don't know where food like rhubarb or spinach comes from. Many of the children studied in more depth (1) could only suggest that their food came from shop shelves or city centres, rather than tracking back through the food chain.
- Hands-on experiences make children more likely to want to eat a wider variety of foods (2). A recent study carried out by the University of California (3) found that combined fruit and vegetable intake was one and a half servings per day greater in schools with a food growing curriculum. Other studies have shown that children who are given a taste of growing vegetables develop positive appetites for their produce - in some cases, becoming a third more likely to ask for food like courgettes or peas.
- Countryside experiences can also create positive results at home. Children who are often exposed to the countryside or growing food are more likely to be regular helpers in the kitchen (1).
- School gardens can promote bio-diversity, teach sustainable waste management techniques such as composting and inspire good environmental habits, both at school and at home (3).
- Growing food in schools can also help develop enterprise skills, generate income for local communities, forge partnerships with local residents and encourage pupils to become active and independent learners (3).
- Research conducted for the Royal Horticultural Society found that teachers positively highlighted the increased range of teaching methods afforded by outdoor food-growing activities. It also found that involving pupils in gardening activities resulted in greater scientific knowledge and understanding, better use of scientific techniques, enhanced literacy and numeracy and the use of a wider vocabulary across all areas of the curriculum (3).
Some good news! In 2011, research conducted with 2,500 school children across England, Scotland and Wales suggests that on-going encouragement to get involved in food growing is starting to bear fruit. Up to 8 out of 10 primary age children, and 6 out of 10 secondary age children have experienced growing food at home, school, with friends or relations. This is up from 5 out of 10, and 4 out of 10 respectively, 5 years ago (4).
(1) The Year of Food and Farming: July 2007
(2) Evaluation of the Stephanie Alexander Kitchen Garden Program: University of Melbourne October 2009
(3) Every School a Food Growing School: Sustain Report November 2010
(4) Benchmarking the views of children aged 7-15 on food, farming and countryside issues: Research for Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board and FACE May 2011