Make school food-growing and self-sufficiency a dedicated national curriculum subject
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All schools have space for growing food (such as vegetables, herbs, salad and fruit). With innovative techniques such as vertical gardening, even the edges of a playground can become an allotment. The more space available the larger the potential impact on education, children’s health and school finances. Smaller schools (with no fields/green space) may seem unlikely gardens, but walls, raised beds, roofs and planters can make a huge difference.
By growing their own food, schools have the ability to become more:
- environmentally friendly
But why stop at growing food?
Schools also have space for renewable energy generation, bio-resources and much more. Schools can not only save money they can begin to generate income while children learn valuable life-skills that can be taken home to encourage home and community food growing. Through knowledge sharing and with the support of local authorities (to find growing spaces) we could initiate a reduction in food poverty at a local level.
Short-term Government investment could create long-term sustainability but instead of investment we see:
- underfunding - 91% of UK schools have faced funding cuts
- a lack of resources
- unsustainable deficits
We need to future-proof our schools and ensure that they are as self-sustaining and as productive as possible.
Some schools are already growing their own food through self-financed schemes, community funding and grants. We are seeing school allotments, raised beds, polytunnels and planters, solar panels and wind turbines. Every child at every school should have an equal opportunity to experience and learn about growing, renewable energy and sustainability at school.
It’s time for change. It’s time for the Government to appoint an Eco-Schools Minister. It’s time for investment, it’s time for equality, it’s time to let schools flourish and take back control, but they can’t do it on their own.
In Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s 2001 River Cottage Cookbook – he talks about a ‘food acquisition continuum’. At one end we have complete dependency (on external suppliers for example), at the the other end is self-sufficiency:
“Any move from dependency to self-sufficiency (however small) was a step in the right direction”.
With its benefits to health, finances and the environment he is absolutely right. The majority of schools are dependent for both food and energy. The only benefits are to the outsourced suppliers who profit while both maintained schools and academies slide into debt.
It is unlikely that any school would become 100% self-sufficient in food production, but rather than buy produce through large supply chains, school produce could be supplemented through Government subsidised UK farms, thus reducing the journey from farm to fork.
There are 32,113 schools across the UK with approximately 27 square miles of roof space, that’s roughly the size of Southampton. Imagine 27 square miles of solar panels, plus wind turbines, anaerobic digesters and rainwater harvesting. Schools can THRIVE, not just survive.
Renewable energy and energy-efficiency, bio-resources, food production, food preparation and food science, rainwater harvesting and filtration, air purification, selling produce and mindfulness, amazing subject areas that would be beneficial to everyone. Broken down further, we can see the depth of learning and the opportunities, it is an exciting way forward for all schools.
Renewable Energy and Energy-efficiency
App controlled energy measurement, monitoring and control
Transparent solar roofing (Rooftop greenhouses and rain harvesting)
Transparent solar windows
Hydro-turbines (should a school be near a stream or river)
Energy-saving (LED) light bulbs
Solar water heaters
Small-scale Anaerobic digestion
Organic waste recycling and online measurement
Parents encouraged to bring organic waste to school
Food production - Growing
Low energy, fossil-fuel free farming
Permaculture - working with nature, encouraging bio-diversity
Organic growing and soil-health
Polytunnels, allotments, raised beds, planters, greenhouses
Vertical gardening, edible playgrounds
Aquaponic growing and fish keeping
Fruit trees and bushes
Bee hives (supplying honey and vital pollinators)
Keeping livestock (chickens = free eggs, ducks eat slugs)
Working with the seasons
The circular economy
Food preparation and science
Food for health and food as medicine:
- vitamins, minerals, phytochemicals
- diet and nutrition
- disease prevention
Food safety - storage and hygiene
Food preservation - pickling, fermenting, canning, bottling, drying, freezing
Food preparation - basics of cookery
Making yoghurt, sourdough, kimchi, sauerkraut, cheese, pickles and more
Menu design and combining flavours
Sight, sound and taste, food as a feast for the senses
Harvesting - from honey to tomatoes
Reducing food miles
Adding value to produce for market
School meals from around the world - from French onion soup to okonomiyaki
Education in all the food groups and farm visits
Rain-water harvesting and filtration
Gravity-fed irrigation system - app controlled
Solar powered watering system - app controlled
Underground cisterns to harvest rainwater
Rainwater used for watering plants and flushing toilets
Spray-head taps fitted to reduce water consumption
Indoor air purification - an indoor plant system to remove volatile organic chemicals (VOC's)
Selling produce, saving money, making money
Weekly school farmers market (school playgrounds are perfect market spaces)
School e-commerce website
School café with earth oven (open before and after school)
Bee related products
Food products from jams to fresh bread
Summer after school real-fruit ice-lolly stall
UK-wide school seed bank
Sell potted seedlings/young plants
Organic, recycled pots (no plastic)
Commerce (how to add value), planning, advertising, design, printing etc
Improve mental health and wellbeing
Increase life satisfaction, happiness and feelings of self-worth
Sensory gardens and renewable energy powered water fountains
Peaceful, reflective spaces, open at weekends to the community
More outdoor learning
Support and prevention strategies to help tackle anxiety, depression, self-harm and eating disorders and to reduce stress due to pressure to succeed, body image and exams
As a subject area of the national curriculum, it would be down to the Government to invest in schools, technology and teaching staff so that they are at the cutting edge of a sustainable future:
- growing minds
- building healthy futures
- teaching valuable life-skills
- helping children embrace the outdoors
Growing food at school and learning about self-sufficiency and sustainability is so important, it is engaging & unforgettable, an essential subject for the national curriculum.
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