Comment: Contest engages next generation horticulturalists

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It was fabulous to see so many happy faces at the Great Yorkshire Show for the prize giving of the Young Growers of the Year award.

It’s now five years since the schools veg box competition began and it’s been a tremendous success. The competition at this year’s show was better than ever and the children at the award ceremony smiled and cheered their success of growing vegetables in a year when conditions haven’t been easy.

The aim is to encourage primary and junior school children to eat ‘five a day’ and learn the horticultural science needed to grow food.

Schools are provided with a pallet sized box, filled with compost, some advice and seeds and plants. As well as compost provided by Bulrush, NFU members gave strawberries and fruit bushes, and with the support of Stocksbridge Technology Centre and the Great Yorkshire Show, over 20 new schools entered the competition.

The success of the contest was obvious in the first year when, at one of the first schools to receive a box, a young pupil who was helping to carry a small bag of compost into the school said she didn’t like vegetables and was only helping because her friend was in the school’s Gardening Club.

Just three months later while collecting the box to take it to the Show, the same little girl came up to tell us that she had eaten the peas and lettuce and had now joined the Gardening Club.

Since then, that school like many others, use the box to teach maths, writing, science, art and cook the vegetables in their own kitchens. The whole school gets the benefit with parents taking an interest in horticulture.

The children produce a diary by writing and drawing pictures and with photographs of them working on the box to show the results of their hard work.

The diaries are judged and the top ten are awarded prizes. This year the ‘Best Diary Competition’ was won by Carlton Miniott Primary School.

The children who helped grow the plants in the 15 best looking boxes are invited to come to the Show with the results of their hard work where they are judged to find the best school to be crowned ‘Young Growers of the Year’.

Also the school that shows best biodiversity used in the box, is invited to visit Stocksbridge Technology Centre near Selby.

What a pity that some North Yorkshire schools, who had earned a place in the final, were denied the chance to take their children to the Show by local education authorities who said that allowing children to come to the Great Yorkshire Show was not educational and they shouldn’t be allowed a day off school to go to the Show.

The importance of the horticultural industry to Britain has to be understood for the future of fresh food supplies from local growers, and the industry needs more science graduates - perhaps some of these young growers will be the future of the industry.

There is a real need for young blood. In 2013 the UK was only 55 per cent self-sufficient in fresh vegetables, down from 71 per cent in 2000.

The winners of this year’s biodiversity award was Birkwood Primary School in Cudworth and the Young Growers of the Year award was won by Ingleton Primary School. Congratulations to all those who got involved and good luck for next year.

Mike Prest, a lifelong horticulturalist and NFU member.