When children grow some of their own food they develop “Food Empathy”: a deeper connection with food, which is proven to lead to a healthier life.
I absolutely love this time of the year, not least because spring is finally here and we can now start to sow some seeds, but also because this is the time of the year when we kick off our national school’s growing campaign. For the last 6 years we’ve been working with our friends at innocent to get children growing as a way to re-establish their connection with food. This year’s Sow & Grow campaign is the biggest we’ve ever done with over 250,000 children in total taking part in Ireland and the UK. In Ireland alone, 45,000 children will take part in 1,500 schools over the coming months. They will sow seeds in special Sow & Grow cups in an in-classroom exercise with their teacher. Because the sowing is done in cups (that can be taken home afterwards), any school can take part regardless of whether they have a school garden or not, and regardless of whether the teacher has any food-growing expertise.
As part of the launch this year we’re revealing statistics from a household survey carried out by Behaviour & Attitudes Ireland. The results show food-growing moving in to the mainstream. We were thrilled to hear that 99% of those surveyed believe it is valuable for kids to learn how to grow their own food at school and also that 47% of those surveyed have grown some food at home in the previous 12 months. Though the scale of Sow & Grow is immense this year, these survey results show that parents want more food-growing to happen at school. One of the most important steps our Government could take to get children healthy is to put food on the curriculum – this research shows that parents want this to happen and understand how beneficial it would be.
Research shows us that when children grow some of their own food they develop what we call “Food Empathy”: a deeper connection with food, which is proven to lead to a healthier life. Food empathetic children have better diets, eat more fruit and vegetables and have a better understanding of food and nutrition. At a time when Ireland still has among the highest rates of childhood obesity in the EU, establishing a deeper connection with food is more important than ever.
On a smaller scale we’re also working with a number of schools in Waterford on an Eat Together social eating programme. We deliver a 2-course hot dinner and the children take a full 45 minutes to eat together using proper plates, bowls and cutlery. It’s a world away from the normally wolfed-down sandwich – instead the children enjoy a delicious, nutritious dinner in a sociable way experiencing new tastes with their peers. Research from last term’s programme shows us that the children were more likely to try new foods at home as a result, and that 100% of parents wanted the programme to continue. These are small, but important steps to put food back at the centre of education, where it belongs.