Cranbrook Primary’s kitchen garden project is revolutionising how their pupils look at nutrition, teaching them about the natural world and giving them time to enjoy the outdoors, so how do they do it? Judith Caustin explains

How has Cranbrook Primary’s garden developed over the last few years? Tracey Johnson, our forest school leader, started Gardening club about 12 years ago. Since then, the garden has slowly evolved and it even won an award with Cranbrook in Bloom for best school garden. A new poly tunnel was added three years ago and with the generous help of a financial donation from Wealden Times, the school garden has developed a lot over the last two years. When the founder of Wealden Times, Julie Simpson, visited the school, she saw the potential in changing the grassed areas for a more useable pathway. Gardenscape provided the bark donation, and Wealden Country Landcraft resurfaced the area, also supplying and fitting two new raised beds to complement our original four. Now the garden is much more safely accessable all year round so the kitchen staff and classes can make use of any produce available, especially salad leaves and herbs. 

How did you get involved? As the school cook, I am passionate about where our food comes from, how it is produced, eating well and food milage. I recognised this as a place where children can start to develop the same passion. Three years ago, the volunteer vacancy for gardening club became vacant, I was already running cooking club at the time and could see the benefit of the two clubs working together. ‘Fork to plate’ began. 

How have the children reacted? They enjoy being out in the fresh air, come rain or shine and are really proud of anything they grow.They love our homemade wormery and feeding the worms scraps from the school kitchen. 

Do parents get involved too? Two parents, Kate Reader and Debbie Bell, volunteer every Monday to run gardening club and Kelly Charge runs cooking club every week with me. Their families often visit the school out of hours to maintain the garden, water the plants, prune apple trees, lay vegetable beds and much much more.Our PTA also got a community grant from The Co-op which helped provide cooking and gardening equipment to get us started. 

How have you been developing a fork-to-plate culture? It is a slow work in progress, but fast and convenient is beginning to lose its attraction in favour of the homegrown and tastier, often mis-shaped fruits and vegetables. Children are much more likely to try a new food if they have been involved in its growth or production. I serve food from the garden alongside lunch in the school hall. We had a food trial at school only last week and the children who made the ‘green goddess muffins’ (spinach and cheese) were saying ‘yuk I’m not eating that’ at first, but were soon tucking in once the muffins came out warm from the oven!

How have you kept things going over the past year? It was the garden that helped us! Cranbrook Primary was open throughout lockdown for Keyworker families and it was a key part of school life. The children helped harvest potatoes and broad beans which they then had for lunch on the same day. The financial donation from Wealden Times helped as we couldn’t sell our produce during the pandemic, and Bumbles Plant Centre’s delivery service enabled us to buy more seeds, plants and flowers.

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