Date of release: Friday, January 31, 2014

Food growing in schoolsGrowing food in schools makes an 'incredible difference' to children's lives, a research project at the University of Greenwich has found.

Funded by the National Lottery, the Maintenance and Sustenance project aims to deliver an in-depth snapshot of how growing takes place, show models of this that have worked well and to link up schools to share best practice. After the project's launch in April last year, surveys sent out to schools are now beginning to clarify the positive impact of food growing but also schools’ needs and challenges to maintain food growing activities.

Food-growing schools produced a wide range of produce, from strawberries to aubergines and garlic, while around a third used the produce for school lunches.

Of the schools which have responded, 85 per cent used food-growing as part of the science curriculum, while over 80% wanted more support for growing food, particularly funding support. Almost the same percentage wanted to create community networks and local relationships for food growing, supporting sustainability and aiming for financial independence.

“These results are really exciting,” says the project’s leader, Dr Jennifer Patterson, of the Natural Learning and Environments Centre in the university's Faculty of Education and Health, “but the stories on the ground also demonstrate the need for empirical research because growing food is making an incredible difference to children’s lives. There is evidence of new pedagogy as depending on how food growing takes place. It can be used across the curriculum to increase their engagement and attainment.”

One former Greenwich student, now teaching in a local special school, agrees. "The school grounds were neglected, but are now more accessible, usable and manageable. Teachers are able to expand on the curriculum work already planned about growing food, plant development, biodiversity, etc. The scheme has also developed interest from pupils and staff in growing food, with benefits to self-esteem, motivation, healthy eating and living." The next step, she adds, is to create a wildflower area.

The Maintenance and Sustenance project is focussing at present on the Boroughs of Southwark and Royal Greenwich, mainly primary schools, but intends to branch out. As Dr Patterson says: "We now hope to hear more from schools who are not growing food about the challenges they face. Many schools, especially in the city, also simply do not feel they have the space or time to grow food, but the links between childhood obesity rates, disadvantage and nutritional understanding show that practices around growing food in schools should be a high priority.”

The next stage of the project will involve detailed case studies as well as free workshop and focus group events in schools in Greenwich (6th February 2014) and in Southwark (13 February 2014) from 4pm to 6pm. There are still free spaces for practitioners; to attend, contact Dr Jennifer Patterson on naturallearning@gre.ac.uk.

Story by Public Relations