Founder of the Edible School Garden, Gia De Picciotto, talks us through the value of growing veggies at home and with your children and gives us her top tips to make the most of your space.
Growing up, my mother and grandmother did everything possible to make my meals more nutritious. I distinctly recall everything I ate being sprinkled with berries and wheat germ – which I liken to chia seeds today. When I had my first son, I realised that food for me meant wellness and that, by providing my family with nutrient-dense, seasonal meals, I would be able to keep our immune systems strong and healthy.
When my son started school, I quickly learned that not everyone knew the basics so I set up the Edible School Garden to present a solution and an opportunity for all children to appreciate and understand good food and good food choices. Good food is vital to our children’s health and academic achievement so making it fun and fascinating helps ensures a truly edible education.
My kids have been involved in the food we eat at home since they were small. They continue to join me at farmers’ markets, in planting and growing when we can. We spend many evenings perusing cookbooks, meal planning and, when possible, shopping for ingredients; their enthusiasm continues to grow the more they participate. We talk a lot about the way foods from the earth can taste good and make you feel good but even my children need encouragement too – especially my little one. If he had things his way, he wouldn’t be choosing anything out of the soil!
I set up the Edible School Garden to present a solution and an opportunity for all children to appreciate and understand good food and good food choices.
However, I can tell you that from the moment he is actively involved, his palate suddenly changes and he becomes open to taking risks on what he might previously have thought were the strangest, most unattractive looking veggies. I find that empowering my children to make their own choices is extremely effective: ‘do you boys think we should add peas or sweet potato to this tonight?; what shape would you like me to cut the courgette into?’ – the more invested they are in the meal, the more they will experiment with different tastes and enjoy them.
This is precisely what I see happening with the Edible School Garden. As it becomes embraced at a school through teachers, lessons and pupils, the most amazing things start to happen. Children appreciate, respect and learn from food without labels and eating them becomes an instinctive, positive food habit. The quality of food in England’s schools has improved enormously since 2005, when Jamie Oliver alerted the nation to the horrors of the Turkey Twizzle, and the best schools do a brilliant job of weaving food education into school via or alongside reading, writing and arithmetic.
The quality of food in England’s schools has improved enormously since 2005, when Jamie Oliver alerted the nation to the horrors of the Turkey Twizzle…
But there is still work to be done. This country faces a serious health crisis, and we can contribute to fixing it just by going back to basics. We have a responsibility to prolong the lives of the next generation. Where there is no edible education, I challenge the school to help. All of our children deserve it.
There are countless reasons I can think of to create an edible garden at home too. Education is just as important outside school parameters. The best part is that you don’t have to live on acres of land in the country or be an experienced gardener to reap the rewards.
Here are my top tips for getting started in a city or small area:
- Make the most of your space. Whether it’s a full garden, containers or a window box, you can create beautiful plant foods. If it’s a window box go for a multitude of amazing herbs that you’ll be able to sprinkle on food and use to transform a simple dish, adding not just taste and flavour, but also a serious nutritional kick.
- Soil: head to your local nursery and get the best quality you can; one that’s suited to your environment. Have your kids get their hands dirty.
- Make your children mini gardeners: give your kids jobs associated with your garden, even after you’ve finished planting.
- Seasonal eating takes planning. Make sure you are planting at the optimum time for the foods to grow to their full potential during the right season.
- Enjoy! Show your kids where their food comes from and let them share in the pure joy of being able to pick tomatoes or herbs for your salad. Use it as an opportunity to diversify the foods and the dishes you are eating.