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Gardening with Hannah Genders

Growing healthy options

Posted on October 22 2012 at 11:56:56 0 comments

Jay, Ben and Matthew with chicks

Hannah Genders works with local schoolchildren to promote the joys of producing your own food.

There are a lot of initiatives around at the moment to try and get our children to lead a more healthy lifestyle – encouraging them to eat better, be outside more and interact with each other and with adults rather than a computer screen.

I believe that gardening and particularly growing your own food can help address some of these issues, and it’s why I am always keen to help a project that seeks to engage in this.

One local project which I’ve been involved in is at Church Hill Middle School in Redditch. The school was constructed in the 1970s and had a number of central courtyards, which were not accessed as they were overgrown and dangerous with broken slabs and an old pond.

With the determination of the staff to try and get the children engaged in an enriched learning programme where they could grow some produce and learn about food first-hand by keeping some hens, we set to work to make some changes.

The design work was done in the summer so that all the building work could be completed over the summer holidays ready for the start of term.

The hens’ enclosure is at one end of the main courtyard space and on the day the hens arrived, the whole school stopped, with children lining the corridors to have a look.

Each class has its own hen and they are all different breeds so are easily identified. They are also named by the children, things like Tikka for the orange one and Pebbles for the multicoloured one.

This term they managed to incubate 36 eggs and this gave the science lessons added excitement when the chicks popped out. The “hen club” now has 60 very enthusiastic members, with children lining up at lunchtime to cuddle a hen.

The vegetable-growing part of the project has just started, and recently I spent a day in the school planting up the raised beds we had built with each of the classes.

The hands-on experience of handling soil, planting vegetables and generally getting dirty is very foreign to some children – several didn’t know what a leek was and had never seen one, whilst others who have clearly had some input from a grandparent or parent with an allotment were able to show all the rest what to do.

The courtyard now has eight vegetable beds all planted up for the winter and three fruit beds for strawberries, currants and raspberries. Once the garden starts to produce, the picking and cooking will become part of the lessons.

Any extra vegetables and fruit will be sold at the school entrance as part of a business project to undercut the local supermarket.

To accommodate the hens and vegetable project we had to remove an old pond. This was found to be full of newts, so as part of a wildlife project we have now rebuilt it in another courtyard, along with a hibernacula for the newts to hibernate in over winter.

We also planted up a flower border to attract bees and butterflies. I asked one child why we need bees in a garden, and his answer was great: “Because they suck up the yellow stuff, Miss.” I couldn’t have said it better myself.

Having had such a great time with the children on this project, I’m sure it will go from strength to strength.

I would encourage all gardeners with lots of experience and a little time on their hands to get involved, either with their own children or grandchildren or volunteering in a local school and helping the next generation to grow up with healthy options.

Church Hill Middle School could do with some gardening tools, so if you have any spare trowels, small forks or spades please contact Sue Rejoni on 01527 585580.

This school is part of the BT School Gardens project: for more information see http://www.btschoolgardens.com


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