Tuesday, 22 September 2009

Garden Organic For Schools

We made it. We're still alive. It's the fourth week of school. Two hours a day so far. Time to start exploring the 'Garden Organic for Schools initiative'. Before we delve into how it is relevant to the National Curriculum - let's start with how it came about. See this link:

As readers may remember - Garden Organic and their wonderful staff have accompanied us (in spirit) on our family's 'Organic Food Journey' since my daughter was born. I breastfed my daughter - so she had a great start in life. When she was six months old - I attended a 'Garden Organic For All' training weekend in Ryton, near Coventry. I'll never forget the help and support I experienced there, it really helped set our family up for life. (I have particularly fond memories of the first class restaurant and the chocolate bread and butter pudding - they really pampered us). The 'Organic Food for All' programme has ended now, I think but it existed to reach out to people with limited resources to help them get growing.

Anyone reading this blog who looks at our allotment plot now might get the impression we've been growing food organically all our lives. Not so people. Four years ago, when my daughter was born I was on a very fast learning curve. On the training course Garden Organic taught us about crop rotation and tested us on the main vegetable families - in the fog of new parenthood, I recall my embarrassment as I didn't know any of them properly. Four years on, things are different and I feel a lot more confident about how to grow organic food. So there is hope for all you newbies! Writing this blog has helped too.

Our school choice was heavily influenced by access issues and the fact that the building is close to our allotment site. Some of the parents (and staff) we meet at the school gate are fellow plot holders. So, hello folks. I know that some of you subscribe to the posts on this blog, I'm always really glad to know that someone is actually reading this stuff! And thanks for all your hard work in our allotment community.

Allotments and growing spaces are sometimes hard to come by round here and lots of households don't have any access to them. People think our city is quite rich - but the recession affects the leafy-laned schools too - there are two main industries here: finance and retail - and both of these industries have been hit hard. There are masses of two-up-two-down houses in our district which only have a courtyard and no growing space. Tourism is all very well - but tourist facilities often benefit only large companies based elsewhere and not the local council-tax payers who actually live here.

Our school used to have an allotment on our site, but recently I understand they've had to give it up. I was told by a fellow plot holder that although the allotment was just across the road from the school - they couldn't spare the time away from the curriculum to ship all the children over there and back again. Just shows what sort of target-driven pressures they must be under these days (see: A Parent's Guide to the Early Years Foundation Stage) http://www.parentsguidetoeyfs.wordpress.com/

All things are connected. At any rate, we have a school garden - that's a start.

The baseline is: although our school has a food policy - we feel they have not yet made the connection between growing and eating. We're due to start school meals next week - but as far as we know - although the food is fairly balanced - none of it is organically grown or locally produced. Our parental assessment tells us there's definitely room for improvement there.

There would be plenty of scope for a community composting initiative. Let's hope they're reading this.

And then there is Climate Change. As a family - we started measuring our household carbon emissions years ago and our child will grow up with an awareness of social and environmental responsibility - with the knowledge that although the situation is critical, there are things that can be done. NOW. See: The Carbon Trust site for ways in which schools and small and medium-sized enterprises can save energy and money.

But it all comes down to a question of listening doesn't it? I'd like to say our allotment was a gift. But it wasn't. It was completely derelict when we took it on. Due to my other half's disability I've done all the heavy manual work on it single-handedly for years. That's getting easier now the soil is better but it was really tough at first and without the support of Garden Organic I'm sure I would have given up a long time ago. I've seen people throw in the towel because they made mistakes, underestimating the work involved or didn't know anything about labour saving techniques.

I've also seen newbies give up because our council doesn't seem to know much about horticulture. They cleared the plots opposite ours with bulldozers - removing all the top soil and not realising what they were doing. These plots were plagued with flooding problems for years.

It's very clear to me that local authorities (and schools) should be making growing easier for people. There should be proper access and consultation (not just lip service) for people with disabilities to empower and enable. And the council should adhere to the statutory equal opportunities policy. If they want people to live healthily - combat food insecurity and cut carbon emissions - then they have to make it easier for people to 'grow their own'.

I was once criticised by someone who reckoned that instead of 'complaining' about conditions in society - I should just 'get on with it'. As our allotment - and the rest of our decades of voluntary activities - (including our contributions to the local committees we are a part of) show: the truth of that is: we've been 'getting on with it' all along...

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