Our School Farm project aims to teach children how to grow their own fruit and vegetables, and tie that in with the school curriculum, subsequently developing their personal and practical skills in relation to the natural world. In this interview, our Canal View Primary School Farm Leaders, Julie and Georgia, give an in-depth insight into how they go about delivering this objective, their goals for the role and farm, and the benefits of the project for the children – giving us plenty of anecdotes along the way!
What does your role involve as School Farm Leaders?
Julie: The overarching task is creating a space and activities for the ninety children that come out to the School Farm each week, so that they have an experience that connects them to farming and nature, and have an opportunity to be outdoors as part of their learning. As part of that we have to resource the site, plan what is going to go where, and how all of those children will use the space in a way that allows each child to do something meaningful and hands-on. That involves a lot of planning, so we meet the teachers and one another and create resources to support what we are doing. We also build resource kits that can, for example, be made up of the essential equipment needed to do the activities for that given session, whether that be playful exploring, or independent bug collecting using a magnifying glass and bug collector. We also write lesson plans and conduct both risk-assessments and health & safety assessments, and maintain the site.
Georgia: We also create supplementary activities for the teachers so that while we are not there the children are receiving a holistic experience. The lesson plans themselves are designed around different themes and skills, and we also record all the skills we feel the children have learned in a session or across a term. We also did a survey at the end of the last term to track progress, and we hope to continue with that, as it is a useful measurement of how the School Farm is going. Ultimately, and especially over the pandemic, we are creating an important space where the children can get their hands dirty in a time where there is an understandable emphasis on sanitising. It is nice for them to come out into a space where that is taken care of by us, leaving them free to relax and enjoy themselves. Another big part of our role as well, and what Edible Estates wants, is to work with the school and let them guide what they want for the farm, so that the children and teachers feel confident going and using the space even when we are not there.
What does a typical day in the role look like?
Georgia: The School Farm runs over twelve hours a week, with two sessions per day over Tuesday and Wednesday. We arrive at 8:30am, set-up and do some site maintenance. The first session starts at 9:15am and runs for 45 minutes. Previously, when the session ran for an hour we would do two activities with the children, but that is now one activity across the 45 minutes. There is then an hour between sessions, which we use to clean the tools and supplies in accordance with COVID-19 regulations and do some more maintenance, and often Julie and I will give feedback to each other about the session as well. The second session then runs between 11-11:45am, followed by another tool-cleaning session and general tidy-up, which can take anywhere between 30 minutes and 1 hour 30 minutes depending on the maintenance needed. When we started in the role the farm had not been maintained due to school closures over lockdowns (and it will likely be a similar situation due to the long summer break), and that meant there were a lot of deep-rooted perennial weeds that the children are not capable of tackling, so we have to do that. We also do some project development ourselves in the afternoons when we go home.
Julie: During a session we will have between 20-25 children on the site, as well as their teacher and sometimes a pupil support assistant, and within each class there are a few children who have additional support needs, who may feel anxious about change and what they will be doing. As a way to ground the session therefore, we start off with everyone together, and have a reassuring five minute introduction, where we do the same thing every week. We sit in a circle, and have a visual on a board for them to look at, to see what we will be doing.
What made you want to work at Edible Estates?
Georgia: I saw the role advertised and felt that I would like to get involved with a role like that, especially as it would mean coming back to the neighbourhood I grew up in. I really liked the ethos around developing the School Farm, and I liked that at Edible Estates it would be part of a bigger charity, with lots of staff working on various different projects. It is nice that now I find I will bump into staff in my free time as well. Sometimes we will also go to a community meal after work and meet more people too, so I like that what we are doing is part of a bigger hub, and in the future I would like more structured collaboration and the chance to pool those networks, as we all work together as part of the whole food system.
Julie: I believe really strongly in the power of gardening to both improve people’s health and wellbeing, and develop community resiliance and community skills, and that is what Edible Estates is all about. My background is in education so I am used to working with children, and I often feel quite saddened when I hear about reports of children’s disconnection with nature and the small proportion of their lives spent outdoors, and subsequently feel really passionate about the importance of doing this work with them, and with my skills that is something I can bring to Edible Estates. So the fact that the role is child-focused and has the themes of health and wellbeing at its core was a big draw for me.
What do you hope to achieve in the role?
Georgia: I really want to establish the School Farm, and work collaboratively with staff members, both those within the school and those working on other Edible Estates projects, in a way that allows the children to have a full experience and see the food system through from preparation and growing, to harvesting and having something to eat at the end of that process. Understanding the environment, and sharing and working together is also a fundamental part of that. I hope to work with the children to help them intuitively know and understand where their food comes from, instead of that just being theory they learn in a classroom, and with that I want to foster their interest in the outdoors and show them how they can incorporate that interest into their lives as they grow up.
Julie: It is wonderful because Georgia and I have the same goals, but different backgrounds in terms of skills and training, which means we each bring different knowledge and experience to the role with the same goals in mind. My goal is that the children are left caring about nature and have the ability to understand the vital connection between healthy soil, thriving ecosystems and nourishing food.
Georgia: I think that is especially important, yes, as growing up in the neighbourhood you could see the Pentland Hills in the distance but that was the closest you got to nature, and everything nearby was concrete. There was no real space to explore outdoors without being perceived as a nuisance, so through the School Farm we have the ability to provide the children with a space to be energetic and curious. It really gives them room to express themselves and interact with each other in a way that is sensitive to one another, but not restricted.
What is your favourite part of the role?
Georgia: Working face to face and interacting with the children, getting immediate feedback and seeing the changes over time is great. As we are working with so many children with different personalities it is also a very diverse experience, and enjoyable as I get to work with my hands. Working with Julie on the project has also really enhanced the role as we get to share our skill set and see the positive results.
Julie: The part I find I come home and tell my friends about, is when you get a child who lacks confidence or has previously had little exposure to this type of environment and activities, and they have a go at something successfully, or even just have a go. There are quite a lot of big characters and it can be easy for some of the children to get lost in that situation, and when I see a child I have never heard speak taking part it is fantastic. A story that springs to mind is when a young girl picked a strawberry and asked if she could eat it, it was the fact that she had never picked and eaten something, as while she trusted something that came from a plastic package, she did not when it came from the soil, because we are often understandably taught that things on the ground are dirty. It was lovely to see an instance of a child taking a step in understanding that the soil is rich and life-giving, and that eating food from it is a gift that should be treasured. It is a very big change of mindset, so small steps like that are very rewarding.
The School Farm
What are your plans and goals for the farm over the coming school year?
Julie: I want it to be led by the school, and for us to facilitate their goals. We have ideas about what could be done in the autumn term, particularly as there are a lot of jobs on the farm at this time of year, but what they want to focus on is really important. One of the things I am keen to explore is how we can connect with the children’s families, because food knowledge within the families is very varied, with all sorts of cultural backgrounds. I would love if the food we grow could represent that in some way, perhaps through asking families what vegetables they would like to see grown on the farm that are not as easily accessible at the moment.
Georgia: Yes I have noticed that a central part of working in community gardens is that there is always something you have never seen or heard of, which is nice as it exposes everyone to new things as well, which would be great for the children to experience. This term we are also going to finish the cycle of wheat production on the farm, as we have been taking part in Scotland The Bread’s ‘Soil to Slice’ project. With that we have sown, grown, measured and harvested the wheat so that the children get to see and experience the whole process. That has involved conducting lots of scientific experiments with the children to demonstrate how they can sow the seeds. We took the harvested wheat to be threshed recently, so we now have grains, and will be looking at the different elements of the wheat, as well as doing some experiments to let the children investigate the plant, and how seeds and crops grow overtime. We will then be milling the grains to make flour and the children will have the chance to make bread and see the whole process through.
What skills do pupils stand to learn, both practical and personal, through the farm?
Julie: We really focus on them being farmers, and with that comes horticultural skills such as bed preparation and weeding, plant protection, the safe use of tools, crop life-cycles, and the use of seeds. We also emphasise that they are scientists as well, and we have done a lot of activities developing their science skills, such as setting up experiments, collecting data, weed physiology and adaptation, and the role of citizen science. In terms of experiments, a good example is when two of the classes did fertiliser projects, where we created an experiment and made an organic School Farm fertiliser, and also bought a commercial one from a supermarket. The children had to monitor the effects of each fertiliser on their plants for six weeks and identify the differences, and the overwhelming response was that the School Farm fertiliser was far superior. As far as personal skills, at the beginning of each session, we talk to the children about the ethics we are using that day, and have these visualised on the board, as we both feel this is really important. We have three categories; Earth Care, People Care, and Fair Share. Everything that we do on the farm fits into one of those categories, and allows the children to develop those personal skills. For example, when the children are learning how to care for creatures, that’s part of Earth Care, while taking care of the tools is People Care, and working well in a team is Fair Share. Our view is that if we promote them every week the children will be more aware of them, and the teachers will sometimes say that they refer to these ethics back in class. At the end of each session we come back together and celebrate what we have been doing, and get the children to talk about how they themselves used the ethics, or identify where someone else used them well. This ensures that we are celebrating both those practical and personal skill sets.
What is a positive change you have seen for either the school generally, or the pupils, as a result of the project?
Georgia: At the end of last term we surveyed the children about different aspects of the farm, including things like how much they enjoyed putting their hands in the soil, growing plants, seeing creatures, and eating things they had grown. It was great to see that overwhelmingly across all of the classes, they enjoyed each of these activities. All of these anecdotes from the farm are in themselves positive changes, so it was good to measure that change through the survey.
Julie: We often get feedback from the teachers, and they have said that at the very beginning the children were very excited but not quite so good at listening, however after a few weeks they were much calmer and more settled, and that the farm had become a natural part of their week, which is really positive. I think that the children seeing the connections between what they do in class and on the farm has also been a positive change. Some of the children are also more willing to put their hands in the soil now, which is great to see.
Do you have any particular fond memories from your time working with the pupils on the farm?
Georgia: Something that was particularly touching for me was that on our final day at the end of the last term, we did a fun day where the children could choose to do different activities, whether that was making a card using colourful bits of bark, leaves and flowers from around the farm, drawing using diagrams of insects and butterflies that we gave them, running around looking for insects and identifying them using cards we made, or even harvesting the plots. That was a great day, especially seeing that they felt comfortable there, were confident in choosing what they wanted to do, and had a lot of fun running around and expressing themselves. Some of them even made us cards as well, which was lovely.
Julie: Last term we planted potatoes with the Primary 6 classes on an area of the farm called ‘Tattie Terrace’ and they got to see the leaves emerge slowly, and then after a good lot of sunshine they had really grown. One boy in particular was so excited because his potato plant was taller than everyone else’s, so we got him a tape measure and he was so keen and excitedly measuring the leaves, stems and potato, which was a really nice moment. It is also always great to see them all hunting for strawberries in the polytunnel in the summer term.