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:

-       self-sufficient

-       sustainable

-       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

Wind turbines

Hydro-turbines (should a school be near a stream or river)

Energy-saving (LED) light bulbs

Solar dehydrators

Solar water heaters

Heat exchangers

 

Bio-resources

Small-scale Anaerobic digestion

Organic waste recycling and online measurement

Composting toilets

Compost heaps

Recycling bins

Bio-diesel reactor

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

Roof-top gardens

Herb gardens

Bee hives (supplying honey and vital pollinators)

Keeping livestock (chickens = free eggs, ducks eat slugs)

Working with the seasons

Crop rotation

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

 

Air quality

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

Plant-based 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

 

Mindfulness

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.

 

Twitter: @VegSchoolMeals

Website: www.vegschoolmeals.co.uk