Growing Food at Lincoln St Faith’s

The National Food Strategy is the UK’s first comprehensive review of the food system in over 75 years.

It was commissioned by the government and lays out concrete proposals for how our food system needs to be reformed to meet health, nature and climate targets.

Interestingly, it has a lot to say about schools.

Food for Life

The report specifically recommends taking a whole school approach to food. The Food for Life Programme provides such a framework, and is in action in a number of schools across Lincolnshire

Food for Life takes an holistic approach to good food. It makes connections with local food culture and community, and includes the adults’ responsibility for sourcing healthy, local food and fostering a healthy food culture in school.

It also recognises that getting children involved in growing food themselves has a particular propensity for capturing their imagination, and sparking an interest in fresh fruit and vegetables that supermarkets could never ignite!

Over and over again, when I speak to those leading on school-based growing projects, they are fired up by their children’s enthusiasm and engagement.

Washingborough logo

One Lincolnshire school – a Food for Life Gold award winning school – is famous for deeply embedding healthy food in school life. You can listen to their school garden teacher, Emma Keyworth, talking about food in school here. Watch out for more about Washingborough Academy in the Autumn, but in the meantime, I recommend following the school if you use Twitter, which will give you a glimpse of what goes on day to day.

“Schools should be encouraged to adopt a “whole- school approach” to food. This means integrating food into the life of the school: the dining hall should be treated as the hub of the school, where children and teachers eat together; lunch treated as part of the school day; the cooks as important staff members; and food as part of a rounded education.2 The Government should require all schools to work with accreditation schemes – such as Food for Life – to improve school food and education using this whole school approach.”

The National Food Strategy, 2021

St Faith’s Infants

St Faiths Infants School in Lincoln is ahead of the game, having already signed up to the Food for Life scheme. Last week I spoke with a couple of Year 1 teachers, Mrs Smith and Mrs Walton, who have exciting plans for developing the school’s outdoor environment for food growing.

They are developing the science curriculum so that children have the opportunity to grow different plants in different year groups, providing a diversity of crops at any one time. 

But it’s not just for science – they want a playground of food!

A Playground of Food

“During lockdown the children have been outside more than usual,” the teachers explain to me. “And what we’ve found is that he children are enthusiastic – they want to learn about growing food. We put on a gardening club and they’re all going ‘Can I come?’”

So now they want not only to put the raised beds into action, but are looking for planters to go on the playground too, where the children can all get involved in watering, weeding and observing the plants grow.

Mrs Walton and Mrs Smith – who are gardeners themselves – are keen to get more people involved. They have found that teaching assistants, who previously insisted that they knew nothing about gardening, have become interested to learn new skills.

They have seen how it engages the children, and that’s what they want!

The teachers acknowledge that it helps to have people on the leadership team who are doing it themselves, not just telling people what to do. Both of them are Key Stage Leaders, so they are in a good position to influence these developments.

What else does the National Food Strategy have to say about schools?

Free School Meals & HAF

It recommends expanding the eligibility of free school meals and the Healthy Start scheme; continued government funding for HAF (Holiday Activities & Food) for school children; and strengthening government procurement rules so that money is spent on healthier and more sustainable food.

Eat & Learn

TastEd logo

The recommended Eat & Learn initiative for schools includes expanding food sensory education in the early years (though we’ve seen the amazing benefits of the TastEd programme right across the primary school age range), as well as the (re)introduction of Food A-level and food related training supported by bursaries.

OFSTED

If the recommendations are acted upon by the government, we will see school food activities fully funded, and OFSTED putting the same value on Food as it does other areas of the curriculum.

But we can start creating more opportunities for good food in school right away. 

If you are interested in connecting with a network of teachers and educators in Lincolnshire who are involved in growing food and healthy eating in schools, please get in touch. Laura@lincolnshirefoodpartnership.org

What the new #NationalFoodStrategy says about schools, and a #playground of food @StFaithsTweets

HMP North Sea Camp

Farming to re-build lives

The Oswin Project & New futures Network at HMP North Sea Camp

Did you know that prison leavers who get a job after release are up to 9 percentage points less likely to reoffend?

Helping people to secure work after leaving prison is therefore one of the most effective ways to reduce re-offending rates. 

Employers in Lincolnshire have an opportunity to prevent crime in our communities, and enable serving prisoners and prison leavers who made mistakes in the past to transform and rebuild their lives. 

Farms need people

What has this to do with food?

Fewer EU workers and the Covid-19 pandemic have left a gaping hole in the number of agricultural land workers.

HMP North Sea Camp – a men’s open prison on the Lincolnshire coast – provides training and work experience to prisoners, including agricultural, horticultural and other food-related work. 

The Oswin project and New Futures Network seek to connect employers with prisoners and prison leavers who are fully trained and experienced in horticultural work and farming.

ROTL (Released On Temporary License) enables prisoners to go out to work on day release, for a full working week where needed.

The prison governor was quick to assert that this is not an opportunity for farms to exploit cheap labour.

The scheme involves strict procedures, including risk assessments and careful recruitment for the right person to the right job, as well as interviews and openness with the existing workforce.

HMP North Sea Camp open prison

I attended a recent open day at HMP North Sea Camp where we heard officers speaking enthusiastically about the men working on their schemes. 

We heard prisoners tell us about their experience of the training – from birthing lambs, to training in environmental conservation – and their determination to make a fresh start and provide stability for their families. 

One phrase stuck in my mind:

“Prison isn’t broken, society is broken!” 

Lance Harris, National Sector Lead, New Futures Network, elaborated.

“Lots of things are wrong in society – it is so easy for youngsters to get in with “the wrong crowd,” or for any of us, in the wrong circumstances, to make a terrible mistake.” 

“People are often mistaken about prison leavers: what happens here is brilliant!”

How employers can help prevent re-offending

There are three ways that farm employers and other businesses can help:

  • Out-sourcing work to be done within open prisons such as HMP North Sea Camp, for example businesses that want to re-shore work back to Britain, or don’t have sufficient capacity.
  • ROTL – offer work opportunities to fully trained and experienced day release prisoners, who travel from HMP North Sea Camp, with additional support and involvement from Oswin and New Futures Network. 
  • Employing prison leavers in sustainable jobs on release. 

This presents a particular opportunity for Lincolnshire employers in the food and farming sector to contribute powerfully to the future of prison leavers as well as increasing the safety of our communities in the future.

Find out more

New Futures Network is the specialist part of Her Majesty’s Prison and Probation Service (HMPPS), which brokers partnerships between businesses and prisons. These partnerships result in work opportunities for serving prisoners and jobs for prison leavers. 

To find out more about employing prisoners and prison leavers, including in food and farming, please visit https://newfuturesnetwork.gov.uk/ or contact: 

If you would like to tell us about your experience of employing a prisoner or ex-offender on your farm or food business – or if you’ve been a prisoner and found a future in food – we’d love to hear from you.

EcoSerenity Project CIC

A Community Farm Project for Better Mental Health

How would you respond, if your day to day work brought you regularly in contact with people at the farthest ebb of their mental health, maybe even on the precipice of suicide?

Andy, in his work at a local landmark, deals regularly with emotionally distressed individuals.  

His response – the creation of EcoSerenity Project CIC – is designed to meet the hard realities that he comes into contact with, in a way that is as kind, creative and down-to-earth as I can imagine. 

EcoSerenity CIC

Last year, Andy set up – in his spare time, and on a voluntary basis – EcoSerenity CIC, which includes Barton Community Farm and woodland. 

Visitors and volunteers are welcome to relax and unwind in the peaceful woodland area, or spend time looking after animals, growing food or socialising with other people in the small cafe. 

The project has come a long way in a year, from a completely overgrown site to a small farm that is clearly taking shape.

So far, there are:

  • four pigs, a flock of chickens and a clutch of bantam chicks;
  • a large vegetable garden
  • a large area recently cleared and soon to become a pond to accommodate ducks with more foraging space for the pigs;
  • a woodland walk, pathed with neat dead-hedges, leading to a pleasant, shady chill-out space;
  • a low-cost cafe stocked through FareShare, complete with ice-cream counter, with adjoining workshop space;
  • a small but smart visitor welcome building. 

A farmer for the day

“We recognised the local need for affordable food, including cake and treat food,” Andy explains to me, but his real vision is for families to become “farmers for the day”.

“People get to see the origins of their food, so often hidden from us.

Parents need to take time away from the usual stresses of family life – here they can spend time together, outdoors, with the animals, learning new skills together.

They get to tend the veg, feed the pigs and collect the eggs.

They’ll have the food parcel at the end of the day, but more importantly, the shared bonding time.”

Andy Douce, founder of EcoSerenity CIC

Caring for the Environment

There is also attention given to environmental aspects – for example, the shop encourages people to use less plastic by selling pop in glass bottles that can be returned. Sweets and cakes are sold in cardboard boxes. 

Plans are also afoot for a refill shop, in collaboration with Slow Circular Earth, where people can bring their own containers to fill with food and cleaning products, further reducing the need for disposable plastics and encouraging people to be more thoughtful and less wasteful of packaging. 

They are also growing Christmas trees, so that – instead of buying a 10 year old tree and throwing it away after a decorated few weeks at Christmas – people can hire their tree, and the project will collect it after Christmas, and return it to the ground within a special container, until next year.

The journey so far

How has so much been achieved in just one year? As is so often the case, there are many things that have contributed to the development of the project: 

The land is leased by a supportive landowner, who just “got” Andy’s vision, and loved the sound of the project.

Invaluable practical advice and an excellent sounding board is available from two local farmers.

There have been generous donations from local businesses, FareShare, and local residents via an online raffle and other fundraising.

There are already 15 regular volunteers who help out.

And it is clear that as the founder, Andy, has personally given a huge amount to the project in terms of time, resources, dedication and imagination.

Everyone is welcome to come to relax and/or get involved, whether that is helping run the cafe and shop, tending the gardens or looking after the animals.

If you would like to offer your support, there are a couple of ways that would really help to drive this project forwards:

  • Volunteers with practical skills, whether that’s business or admin, or electrical, plumbing, or construction
  • Donations – which would, for example, enable them to hire a digger to dig a pond or install fences professionally
  • Keep in touch and share the journey – facebook.com/ecoserenityproject

ecoserenityproject.co.uk

Animal husbandry, sustainability and positive mental health project in Barton on Humber – Check out EcoSerenity Project CIC

Food and Health in Primary School

Conversation with a Learning Mentor

Normally when I visit a food place, I prepare for a blog, take snaps, make notes, but today I put my smartphone down to listen up.

Kirsty Ollerenshaw is a teaching mentor and a mother.

Gunthorpe Primary School’s solar dome learning space

When I first “met” her, on an online Incredible Edible event, she was asking questions about restoring abandoned raised beds at Gunthorpe Primary School in Peterborough, where she had just started working.

I sighed inwardly, in gloomy recognition of the abandoned school garden situation, as the participants exchanged helpful tips and words of encouragement. 

So when I arrived at the school this morning, I knew with my own eyes that Kirsty’s determination had shone right through that daunting circumstance.

But as we sat down to talk in the solar dome, the stories behind her passion and dedication took precedence over guided tours.

Family, food & learning

Kirsty spoke of her own family’s food journey with a child with autism, and how the family’s diet had changed radically – and for the better – as they realised the profound impact that food had on his behaviour and experience of life.

We talked about how our own children’s health and happiness matter most to us as parents – how we pack them off to school in the morning, and maybe they will be academic, and maybe they’ll be sporty, maybe they’ll be arty, or maybe not.

Gunthorpe Primary School – children’s salad veg box

But if they’re happy and healthy, everything else can all follow.

We talked about why it might be that schools are twice as likely to be rated OFSTED outstanding following their participation in the Soil Association’s Food for Life programme:

Perhaps inspectors (like any of us) are in a better mood when they’re surrounded by healthy plants and cared-for growing environments.

Perhaps the type of school leadership who choose to join the Food for Life scheme are already pretty on it.

And maybe eating more fresh fruit and veg is really good for children’s health, attention, concentration, behaviour and … they just get more out of their education.

Opportunities to grow in school

The scale of the multiple problems we face – from the obesity epidemic and addiction to cheap, processed food, to schools’ tight budgets, ingrained habits and heavy workloads – can seem daunting, and Kirsty is clear-eyed about those realities.

But she is also very alert to the opportunities available at a school with a decent playing field, a supportive leadership, and the legacy of a former teacher with a passion for growing, in the form of raised beds, conveniently installed water butts and a small polytunnel. 

The polytunnel, she points out, is not within the school fence, so it is perfectly sited for a community growing space: families can continue, during the summer holidays, to weed, water and – hallelujah! – harvest the fruits of their term-time labours. (Summer holiday wasted harvests and six weeks of neglect are behind many a school garden falling to ruin).

It is obvious to me how much Kirsty and the children have done since she arrived just months ago – the raised beds are topped up with fresh compost, the compost bays are stacked high with green waste, flowers and food crops of every kind are growing healthily, and the peas are looking ready to pick.

Gunthorpe Primary School’s garden peas

Kirsty is modest:

“Rough, rough, good enough!” she says with a laugh. It’s the kind of motto to start making things possible in the face of problems that seem un-scaleable.

 “That’s a saying I learned in New Zealand and I’m glad I did because now I live by it! I used to spend a lot of time on little details with teaching, but the kids really don’t care about that. But they do care about this -” she gestures around her.

“Sometimes the children learn about plants in the classroom, they draw diagrams in their books, but they’re not out here in the garden, or in the polytunnel. Sometimes it’s as if we’re not putting two and two together.”

Enthusiasm is contagious!

I ask Kirsty what is the best thing about what she has done so far – there’s plenty to choose from, and she is quick to answer: 

“The children’s engagement. It makes me certain that we’re onto something here.”

“They love it when they get to take plants home with them. We did this experiment, planting several sorts of bean, and they kept on wanting to come back and talk about which ones grew the fastest or the biggest. 

“If one of the children asks to take something home from the polytunnel, I try and make sure they can.”

If you’re a teacher, a parent or you are involved with your local school in Lincolnshire, and you’d like to be part of a movement for better food in schools, please get in touch; or if you are already part of a school healthy food network or community, we are keen to hear about it.

The Inkpot – a permaculture farm in Lincolnshire

How does permaculture address the big challenges of our times – from the climate and ecological crises, to the health and wellbeing of individuals and communities?

Hannah Thorogood – a permaculture designer and senior UK Permaculture teacher – farms 100 acres (without a tractor).

Her land and farming practices embody a mindset of abundance – one that many of us are aspiring to and wondering how to realise.

Farming the future

The Inkpot Farm near Sleaford is a model for post-fossil fuel farming.

It is designed for carbon sequestration and long term resilience, as well as producing nourishing food and sustaining livelihoods today. 

It weaves together principles of permaculture, agroecology, pasture for life and regenerative farming.

Fundamental to these ideas, is the rebuilding of the health and fertility of soil, depleted over decades by intensive farming methods. 

The Inkpot is on a North-facing slope of heavy clay soil  – aspects that make it less attractive to most farmers.

The grazing of the cows and sheep are managed through mob grazing – a small area is grazed at a time, and the animals are moved on each day while the pasture recovers over several months; turkeys are moved on weekly under young trees. 

Lincolnshire Red cows – and a moveable fence

It’s an efficient, low input system, that improves soil and animal health, and sequesters carbon.

The grazers are outdoors all year round, and their diets do not need supplementing with grain.

In the past decade, there has been a marked increase in clover and diversity of grasses – and life in the soil.

Lincoln Reds are already known to be docile cows, but the mob grazing makes them even more gentle and easy to handle: they are used to being moved from one area to the next each day, which sometimes involves a trailer-ride to take them to pastures new – it makes them willing to hurry into the trailer!

Mob grazing: the daily journey to pastures new

The daily moving makes it easy to keep an eye on them and notice if any are lame, for example.

The turkeys graze under the strip of young trees that edge the field. They love the berries! Hannah trims and maintains the trees in the area after the turkeys have cleared it of the summer’s growth: it doesn’t all have to be done on one go; it is like farming only a few square metres each day. 

The many-purposed permaculture Edge

The trees not only provide forage for turkeys, but also a shelter belt, protecting the organic certified farm from strong winds and spray drift – pesticides and artificial fertilisers blowing across from neighbouring farms.

And it is a wildlife corridor, connecting existing, more mature copses at either end of the field.

Most of the sheep graze in a field of solar panels.

Hannah’s 14 year old daughter tells me about how she sheared a sheep last week, a task done by hand.

“Electric shears are like a cross between a razor and a chainsaw! Hand shearing is slower, but much calmer – more peaceful for the sheep and the shearer!”

Hannah Thorogood, permaculture farmer

The Impact of Covid

The Inkpot became much quieter during the pandemic. Normally it’s very open-door, but Hannah has had to close it to visitors and has not been able to host courses on the site. 

Normally there is an intern and other volunteers: the internship arrangements have only recently resumed, but they are not currently able to take on new volunteers. 

Instead, Hannah has become much more active on Facebook and Instagram, which works very well. It enables people to follow the continual changes and cycles of events – for example the recent birthing of lambs and hatching of chicks, as well as learning about the multitude of ways that permaculture principles are applied across the system and over time. It’s a good way to build a picture, by adding information incrementally.

The Inkpot’s organic vegetable garden

Where does our food come from?

The food scarcity shock at the start of lockdown has woken up a lot of people to the fragility of the current food system, and increased awareness around where food comes from, including meat choices. 

Demand for local food has increased dramatically, which has increased farmers’ confidence to sell direct.

Direct selling can be more complex and uncertain, in the longer term it is more stable.

Where a supermarket has the power to drop a massive order, local customers are more loyal, and they’re more willing to accept adjustments in price.

Local solidarity & support

Local foodbanks have sprung up in local villages in response to increased need, and the school’s support – led by dinner ladies and teaching assistants – for children receiving free school meals during the pandemic has been immensely thoughtful and imaginative! 

The Inkpot has a long standing arrangement with a foodbank, whereby customers can buy a turkey to donate as well as buying one for themselves at Christmas. Last year, this led to 30-odd organic turkeys being gifted to families in the local community. 

The rise in empathy

The pandemic has also led to an increase in empathy. For example, people getting into growing their own has meant not only that they realise how enjoyable it is, but also they discover that it’s quite difficult, and that has led to a greater respect for the work of farmers and growers!

Also really noticeable over recent years is that farmers are more interested and less judgemental of different ways of doing things.

Especially at events like the Oxford Real Farming Conference and Groundswell, all kinds of farmers will be in a (sometimes virtual) room together – large scale farmers and smallholders, organic or “conventional” farmers, talking and listening to each other. 

Connection and respect in the local community has been, and continues to be, very important to Hannah.

Farmers find different ways of doing things, and have to make hard and complex choices.

We can respect each other.

Making a living on a small farm

Those with an interest in farming will be well aware of the scale of problems faced by new entrants – especially gaining access to land and making a decent living from a small scale farm. 

As a nation we have become very used to cheap food – we spend much less of our incomes on food compared to previous generations.

Most farms rely heavily on subsidies to remain profitable, and there is a government sponsored drive towards automation and AI.

“We need to value food more. One time I calculated that raising turkeys paid me 11p an hour!” 

Hannah Thorogood, Permaculture farmer

How is it possible to live, and why do you persist with it? – I ask.

For a start, the income from turkey meat is not the turkeys’ only use on the farm; they are integrated into a wider system of fertility building – for example, the turkey bedding contributes to highly effective compost-making for the veg garden, and during the day adult birds’  manure the soil during mob grazing.  

Hannah is quick to acknowledge the privileges that make it possible for her to farm in this way – including being able-bodied, educated, white, and having been able to buy a plot of land without a mortgage. These advantages are easily taken for granted.

The long view

The reciprocal roof of the field shelter at the Inkpot

Hannah describes to me how she feels called to work on the land – perhaps like a spiritual vocation. 

“We’re like the church of England: asset rich but cash poor!” she laughs! And regenerative agriculture is all about “cathedral thinking” – taking the long view, and knowing that the designers will never see their work complete. 

But it’s designed as much for the 8th generation as it is for ourselves, anyway. 

One of the first tasks when Hannah acquired the site was to plant trees – a work of hope for the future instead of instant rewards – although already the young trees are big enough already to provide pleasant shade for our lunch table.

Young trees around the edge of the farm

It’s also possible because the life-style costs less: if you don’t exhaust yourself with stressful work, there is no need to escape the grind for holidays and leisure breaks.

If you get out into nature every day, there’s not much need for a National Trust pass.

If you lead an active life, there is no use for a gym membership.

If you spend very little time around shops and online, there is much less opportunity to be marketed to, and much fewer expensive, market-generated desires that need satisfying. 

Living simply on the land is hard work and skilled, but also joyous and deeply satisfying, it is healthy on every level.

Living better on a smaller income is also the direction of travel that we need for a liveable future on this planet: the carbon savings we may be able to make through renewable energy are quickly swallowed up if we use them to increase consumption, and it’s vital that we learn to live better with less stuff! 

Find out more

Hannah teaches permaculture through the internationally recognised Permaculture Design Course and Permaculture Diplomas.

Inkpot produce includes meat, eggs, wool, sheepskins and honey, but good luck with getting hold of any, most of it is already spoken for by regular customers!

You can follow the Inkpot on Facebook and Instagram until such time as they are able to accept visitors and new volunteers and join up with the Lincolnshire Permaculture facebook group.

%d bloggers like this: