An expanding initiative is encouraging school children across Yorkshire to grow their own vegetables in a bid to promote healthy eating. Chris Burn reports.
The importance of children having five portions of fruit or vegetables each day is well-understood, but sadly the reality of many young people’s diets is rather different.
Research suggests nine out of ten children do not regularly hit their five-a-day target, despite the World Health Organisation and the NHS being at pains to point out that doing so can lower the risk of serious health problems, such as heart disease, stroke and some cancers, later in life.
But in an attempt to tackle the problem, an initiative called the Big Grow is now back for its third year, offering around 500,000 children across the country to chance to grow their own cress, spinach and peas in the school classroom and – for the first time – at home.
Organised by drinks brand Innocent and supported by Sainsbury’s, hundreds of thousands of free seed packs are being handed out to schools, while parents can now sign up online for home growing kits.
One of the local schools taking part in the initiative for a second year is Southfield Primary School in Armthorpe, Doncaster.
It is being done as part of the school’s Thrive programme, to support the emotional and social development of pupils, especially ones who have gone through difficult life events.
Bridget Burkill, a Thrive practitioner at Southfield Primary School, says the scheme has been well-received by parents and children – many of whom have never grown vegetables before.
“Some children never have a chance to see vegetables or grow vegetables,” she says. “So this is brilliant.
“The children plant them, watch them grow and nurture them. Once they have grown, you can pick and try them. It is a lovely thing to have.
“It is a way of trying new things for them as well.
“The parents love it as the children can take some of the produce home. It was really successful last year and that is why I did it again this year.
Bridget has been working at the school, which has its own allotment, for 12 years and says there is growing awareness about the importance of healthy eating.
“There is more awareness now in adults and children aren’t as frightened in trying new things as much.”
The theory behind the scheme is that by growing vegetables themselves, children are much more likely to eat and enjoy fruit and vegetables and continue with healthy eating habits for the rest of their lives.
In the fast-moving age of the internet, it is also hoped that growing their own food will teach pupils who participate in the scheme the value of patience, as well as giving them an understanding of where their food comes from.
Another school taking part in the scheme is Horsenden Primary in Middlesex. Teacher Hannah Wright says: “We know that not everyone is able to grow at home and we know how hard it can be to include food education into the school day.
“We had a vegetable patch plotted out, but due to lack of resources it’s never managed to progress. Since taking part last year, we have been able to turn this around, and I now have a class that’s engaged and enthusiastic about healthy eating. I encourage every school to get involved.”
Bara Hrdlickova, senior brand manager at Innocent, says: “It’s so important to us that we are inspiring young people to eat healthily in every way possible. Following the huge success in schools last year, it’s great we’re now helping so many kids and parents to experience the brilliance of growing at home whether they live in rural or urban areas.
“We hope that the campaign will continue to grow, with our ultimate goal being to get as many children in the country involved as possible.”