by Project Leader Michelle (Dig Merton)
This spring term, Sustainable Merton has had the opportunity to work with six schools in the east of the borough, to start them off with growing food at school.
Over ninety students from Beecholme, Lonesome Park, William Morris, Stanford, Gorringe Park and Cricket Green School have taken part in the pilot scheme to date, each one of them showing a keen interest to get their hands dirty!
During the sessions, students sowed salad leaves and planted garlic and beans. They also took part in vegetable identification and tasting sessions, where they were encouraged to identify what part of the plant they were eating (root, leaf, stem or fruit), whether that fruit or vegetable could be grown in England, and how long they thought it would take to grow. The best comparison was between avocados, which take 10 years to grow from seed to fruit and radishes, which take a month. When asked how long they thought it took to grow radishes from seed, answers ranged from twenty six hours to seven months! All the students were fascinated with the fact that they would be teenagers by the time the avocado would be ready to eat. Every single student made an effort to try the vegetables on offer, not one of them abstained in the end.
A great deal of emphasis was put on the life cycle of plants and the importance of composting and healthy soil. The children learned that different plant families take different nutrients out of the soil. We discussed how nutrient rich soil is necessary for healthy crops, and how to achieve this through crop rotation and composting.
We also covered the benefits of composting food waste at home using Merton’s food waste service. The children clearly identified that composting at school would mean waste would only travel a few metres, rather than miles, to be composted. They understood that home compost would help feed their plants and when looking at some in class, we also discussed what can be composted and compared it to what can go into Merton’s brown bin. About 80% of children said they used the food waste service at home. The concept of using manure as a fertiliser was greeted with initial disgust, however, by the end of the session, some of the children asked to handle it! Everyone was keen to make use of the school composter better.
The holistic nature of gardening was also emphasised through introducing bird boxes and feeders to each school. The students eagerly monitored bird feed levels and topped the food up when it was running low.
The scheme culminated in a cooking session where the students were given the opportunity to make homemade coleslaw and try the salad leaves they grew from seed. This session allowed the students to gain basic grating and mixing skills, as well as food hygiene skills.
The project was funded by Public Health (Merton Council) and served as an excellent opportunity to gage just how keen and enthusiastic students are to grow and cook their own food. What better way for children in the borough to understand where their food comes from and how much energy goes into producing it, than by growing it from seed to plate!