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.

Volunteer Opportunities in Lincoln: Van Drivers

FareShare Midlands works throughout the region to fight hunger and tackle food waste. The economic fallout from the pandemic has exacerbated food poverty across our region. As a result, our operations have significantly increased to meet this need.

Van Driver

FareShare is looking for more people to join existing volunteer team as a van driver and help get food out to where it’s needed most.

A standard driving licence is all you need to help get good food to children’s clubs, homeless hostels and refuges in your area.

We’ve got the vans; we just need you! 

What will I be doing?

  • You will be the vital link between FareShare and the charities, getting the food to where it’s needed
  • You will be collecting good surplus food from Coop stores across the region to be sorted and distributed to Charites server those in need.
  • You’ll be the friendly face of FareShare interacting with the charities, making sure they get the food they need

Requirements:

  • A standard driving licence
  • Confident to drive a medium-sized van (experience is preferable)
  • Good at map reading and able to use a Sat Nav system
  • Positive, friendly and personable, interacting well with different people
  • Able to perform physical tasks including lifting and loading

Benefits:

  • Active and sociable role, building relationships directly with the charities FareShare supports
  • Gain a variety of skills such as route planning, organising and communication skills
  • You will directly ensure that good quality food is not wasted and gets into the hands of the people who need it
  • Reasonable travel expenses

To apply, please contact Jessica:

COVID Response

Whilst COVID presents considerable challenges to our operations, Fareshare is taking every effort to ensure all volunteers and staff are safe. As a result, Fareshare have implemented a set of protocols at our Birmingham hub. These include; temperature checks on arrival, wearing face masks/visors at all times, washing/sanitising hands regularly and social distancing. Fareshare have also introduced working ‘bubbles’ for volunteer and staff teams as well as reduced the amount of people on-site at any one time.

Let us keep you posted…


News, events & inspiration from Lincolnshire’s good food community

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The All Party Parliamentary Group on the National Food Strategy

The APPG on the National Food Strategy, chaired by Jo Gideon, MP for Stoke on Trent, had its fourth meeting on  25th May to consider the way in which part 2 of the National Food Strategy might embrace the development of urban food systems, the support for rural communities, and how ‘good food’ jobs might be developed.

The LFP was there.  

It was acknowledged that food systems needed to change radically and fundamentally not just to feed the nation (we should import less food) but to tackle food poverty, food obesity, food waste and zero carbon/methane.  

The farming population needs to increase, and the trend of larger farms and farm amalgamations reversed.

Living  wages need to be universal in the food industry, with state intervention if  necessary to ensure this.

Mental health amongst the farming industry in  particular, needs to be tackled.  

Supply chains need to be shortened and biodiversity actions intensified,  but there also needs to be a greater connection between the food  economy and food citizenship: food policy is not just about supporting  production, but about how the nation uses food in pursuit of physical and  mental health. 

Needless to say, the LFP will be working to support these changes. 

Food from the Other Side of the World?

The Tariff-free trade deal with Australia being offered at the end of May, split Cabinet over food. Environment Secretary George Eustice was concerned that  because of scale of livestock farming in the Antipodes, UK farmers could be undercut.  

Whilst these differences have been patched up in Westminster, the National  Farmers Union is concerned that hundreds of UK livestock farmers will go out of  business as a result of the deal. The Scottish and Welsh governments want  protection for farmers and Northern Ireland remains opposed to the proposed  deal.  

Sustain, the alliance for a better systems of food, farming and fishing, however, concerns about the environmental, animal welfare and food standards under which Australian meat is produced. Any lowering of UK standards may open further deals with the likes of Brazil and the USA. In all three places, antibiotic use, hormone and meat chlorination are all permitted, they say.  

But with LPFs policy monitoring, two other issues seem pertinent. A raft of reports in the past 3 years, from the United Nations Food and Agriculture Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, all offer two ‘food’  headlines for improving both human health planetary health. These are, firstly to  eat less meat and secondly, to reduce food miles.  

Importing meat from the other side of the world doesn’t sit well with either of these  pieces of expert advice. 

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