At Gosberton House Academy, all children get to grow vegetables from seed, cook every week, and eat the things that they have grown on the site.
I know full well that plenty of children get little more experience of growing food than germinating a broad bean in a yoghurt pot!
So I had to go and have a look…
I will share with you on the tour that I was taken on by vice principal, Paul Squire.
And it made me want to be a child again!
Growing Food at School
The Gosberton House Acedemy site is very green and verdant, the atmosphere calm and also intriguing.
The school is masterful at creating autism friendly spaces, but I reckon this is good for everyone!
You may not be able to tell from the photos that I visited on a wild, blustery day – and the Lincolnshire fens are more windswept than elsewhere in the county! – but the outdoor environment is incredibly pleasant – sheltered by the many trees, rainbow ribbons billowing lightly around the playground.
And food-growing – amid an abundance of nature and play equipment – is evident all over the place!
Apple trees are dotted through play areas and surround the playing field, the blossoms confetti-ing the grass.
We pass quirky little beds bursting with strawberry plants by the foot paths, and copses smelling strongly of wild garlic. Do the children get to have a nibble? I ask.
The answer is yes! The children are taught to distinguish between different plants, edible and potentially poisonous.
“The children need to be able to identify plants so they can make good decisions in real life,” Mr Squire explains.
“They are going to come across them, it doesn’t help them if we never let them see anything that could be harmful.”
Children don’t need to be protected from or afraid of harmful plants, they need to be confident in how to recognise them.
A child-sized allotment
Each class has an allotment plot, carefully portioned into neat rows and sections with string, where the children grow a variety of vegetables.
There’s also a hot composter, where the children can tip their garden waste and snack food leftovers, and see the full cycle of how they break down, and feed the soil the following year.
Biodiversity thrives alongside all the food, and the children are in the thick of it!
They get to watch the birds in the wood from a bird hide, and are helped to identify them.
They are fully involved in digging a little wildlife pond, and in time will watch it become inhabited by frogs and other pond life.
The site is rich in habitats. There are logs (or are they stepping stones, or seats for small people?) with whole populations of minibeasts hiding below!
The thing that really blows me away about Gosberton House, is that there’s not just one token apple tree, one little veg plot (and that’s not to discredit anyone making a small start with food growing) – it’s everywhere, and in lots of different ways!
There’s a keyhole bed, for standing up gardening, with integrated composting in the centre, where multiple plants are intercropped in one small space.
Even the outdoor shelter has window boxes filled with herbs and flowers!
Indoors, there’s a child-scale kitchen, with a timetable on the door that includes each small group in a weekly slot: every child uses the kitchen every week!
Why is food growing, harvesting and cooking important to you as a school?
“We’re all about preparing the children for life, and for lifelong learning,” Mr Squire explains. “The children get to learn about risk. They get to climb trees. We’re preparing them for the future.”
“It creates opportunities for building community.”
The school runs Dads & lads n lasses, Mums & lads n lasses groups in the forest school, where parents get to spend time with their children in a shared environment.
The children come from all over Lincolnshire, so there isn’t a typical school community, located in the families’ neighbourhood. The parents get to talk to each other, and talk about their children.
“The buzz is amazing!”
And it ties into health and well being – “we want children to grow up being healthy and knowing how to look after themselves and each other.”
How does school embed this so effectively?
This is a question that really interests me. I mean, plenty schools do recognise the value of good food, but school food growing projects are notoriously short lived; classroom cooking activities are frequently unhealthy – iced biscuits are ubiquitous! The seed-to-plate journey is hard for schools and teachers to sustain, on top of their already colossal workload.
“It’s a mindset. If you view it as important it becomes embedded.”
Mr Squire shows me the curriculum overview, organised into termly themes.
Food is woven right through it. There are ways to incorporate it into all the themes, and all the subjects, science and writing, observation drawing and maths. It keeps it all grounded in the real world.
And the curriculum cycle is designed so that the growing projects are not dropped at the end of a theme.
A growing project that starts in one term, is picked up again the next term, but in a different way, and then again the next term and the next year.
The head teacher is committed, and that makes a massive difference.
“And it is really a small amount of time, relative to the enormous benefits to the children!”
Does it make a difference that it is a special school?
Mr Squire has taught in both special schools and mainstream.
“No, not really,” he tells me. “The pressures are slightly different, but equally demanding. How you do things depends on your priorities.”
“It’s about well-being. There’s a place for technology and so forth, but children need time to be outside. We’re not an exams factory.”
If you’d like to find out more about food in schools, you might like to take a look at:
Webinar recordings about food in schools, from our Incredible Edible in Lincolnshire series, including a primary school, a secondary school and the TastEd approach.
Recent blog – Can Kids Keep Bees? about Wyberton Primary Academy.
I’ve got a few more awesome schools to visit this summer, and you might like receive future blog posts direct to your inbox, via our newsletter.
If you work in a school, check out the Soil Association’s Food for Life awards – an excellent programme for embedding good food in schools. There are a few of the criteria that we may be able to help you with, so feel free to get in touch.
Finally, if your school is doing amazing things with food, I’d love to hear from you, include you on a map of foodie schools, and pay you a visit if you would welcome that. Send me an email – firstname.lastname@example.org
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