Several years ago I helped to run a campaign for The Independent on Sunday to get more schoolchildren into gardening, called “Let Children Grow”. I spoke to a headmaster of a school in Grimsby who told me how some of his pupils would turn up with jam sandwiches in their packed lunch, and had difficulty recognising some basic vegetables. Of course, this story was echoed elsewhere around the country, but the school became the campaign’s beacon for encouraging classroom gardening.
We teamed up with the RHS School Gardening campaign by getting them to send packets of seeds and advice leaflets to schools who signed up. Matching the thrill of growing your own to the eager-to-learn excitement of children is one of the great joys of life. So I am excited at the news of a new campaign to get kids growing vegetables at school – it is run by the not-for-profit organisation Grow It Yourself, in association with innocent drinks, and is being spearheaded by the TV chef Lorraine Pascale.
The aim of innocent’s Sow & Grow campaign is to get children excited about all aspects of gardening – the fun stuff that kids like, such as getting their hands dirty, or putting a pea seed into a cup full of soil and, a week later, after some watering, watching the first shoot break through. This simple miracle of nature, the transformation from dry seed to green shoot, has inspired generations of young people. As Michael Kelly, the founder of Grow It Yourself says, children who grow their own food are more likely to eat fruit and veg, show higher levels of knowledge around nutrition and are more likely to continue healthy eating habits throughout their lives.
The campaign hopes to reach more than 100,000 school pupils in more than 3,000 UK schools over the next few months. Lorraine told me that her love of food – that we have seen in her recipe books and TV series – comes from growing up on a farm in Devon, watching how vegetables grew from seeds into a crop that could be cooked to eat. Now she is a parent herself, her daughter Ella helps her to grow a variety of delicious veg.
She says: “As a mum, I know how difficult it can be to get kids to eat their all-important portions of fruit and veg. For me, one of the best ways to get kids excited about the healthy stuff is to get them involved in making their own food – and that starts with growing their own. My daughter Ella and I have enjoyed growing lots of different types of veg over the years, and I’m absolutely positive it has played an important part in her healthy outlook to nutrition which is why I’m so excited to be part of innocent’s Sow & Grow campaign this spring.”
Lorraine recommends simple, quick-growing crops like peas, cress and spinach. She has created several recipes for the Sow & Grow campaign. Here is Lorraine’s Lemony Chicken Pasta:
350g wholewheat pasta
1tbsp olive oil
3 large chicken breasts, cut into bite-sized chunks
leaves from 3 sprigs of flat leaf parsley
3 handfuls of spinach
finely grated zest of 1 lemon
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
for the pesto
100g kale, hard stalks removed
1 garlic clove
25g Parmesan, finely grated
25g fresh vegetable or chicken stock
1tbsp extra virgin olive oil
pinch of salt and freshly ground black pepper
fresh basil leaves to top it off
how to make it
1.Bring a large pan of salted water to the boil and cook the pasta for as long as the packet tells you to.
2.As the pasta cooks, heat the oil in a large frying pan over a medium-high heat. Toss the chicken in a medium bowl with the parsley and salt & pepper. Cook the chicken for about eight minutes stirring regularly, until it’s golden and completely cooked through.
3.In the meantime, make the pesto. Whizz all of the ingredients together in a food processor or blender to make a rough paste. Season it and put it to one side.
4.Once the pasta is cooked, drain it, return it to the pan and cover it to keep it warm.
5.Once the chicken is cooked, tip it on top of the pasta along with the pesto. Add the lemon zest and spinach and stir everything together. Add more salt & pepper if you like and then pop it onto your plates. Garnish with some ripped basil, if you fancy it.
I am definitely going to try this recipe with my own daughter, who is five. She is fussy about some fruit and veg – she can devour an artichoke but refuses to eat the sweetest strawberry or apple – I know that it can be hard to persuade children to eat their greens (and reds, blues, yellows and oranges). But I also know that teachers and classmates are great role models, and my daughter is more likely to eat something healthy if her teacher tells her to, or if she sees her friends doing it.
School gardening projects do not need large plots of land to grow veg – my own daughter’s school, in south London, has limited outdoor space. But veg can grow in the smallest places – peas in cups, as shown in the pictures above, that can then be taken home. Schools with no gardens can use wooden crates or pots to grow veg like lettuce, strawberries and French beans.
It often takes the drive of one teacher who can oversee the seed-sowing, organising compost delivery and keeping up with the watering in hot spells. There is also a bit of planning needed – there’s not much point in growing crops that will be harvested in the middle of the summer holidays, so tomatoes and courgettes aren’t great choices, but peas, broad beans and lettuce, which will be ready before mid-July, are ideal. Seeds that are easy for small hands to hold and plant are also recommended – again, peas and broad beans are the stars here.
Of course, teachers at schools with decent gardening spaces, perhaps with a few raised beds, can grow fruit and veg that crop later in the year – providing there’s someone to water over the summer. Then the children can return in September to harvest pumpkins, runner beans and blackberries.
Innocent has run the Sow & Grow campaign in Ireland with Grow It Yourself for the past four years, and has provided 20,000 children with everything they need to grow their own fruit and veg in classrooms.
British schools can apply for a free growing kit of seeds, information packs and lesson plans. Pupils can upload their photos and growing diaries to be in with the chance to win monthly prizes from innocent and see their classroom crowned as Sow & Grow champions.
Teachers can go online to www.sowandgrow.innocentdrinks.co.uk to register for their free growing packs.