Not-for-profit social enterprise Grow It Yourself (GIY) is aiming to raise €1 million in order to deliver the GROW At School food education and mental health programme in primary schools across the country in the 2023/24 academic year.
GROW At School, which was completed in June 2021, was first rolled out by GIY as a four-year-long pilot project across 32 schools in Ireland. The programme was a huge success, and overwhelmingly positive feedback from the participating schools and teachers was captured in a research report.
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In the summer of 2022, GIY made a submission to the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Education, Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science, proposing that GROW At School be implemented and supported as a national food-growing programme under the Programme for Government, and GIY was invited to represent the GROW At School programme at a committee session on mental health supports in schools and tertiary education. Michael Kelly, CEO and founder of GIY, made this presentation and submission last autumn.
In delivering oral evidence to the committee on 22 November 2022, Kelly said, “Food-growing is a great leveller for children of all abilities and ages. Sometimes the most marginalised children can participate and thrive in the school environment, where they may not be thriving academically.”
The Oireachtas Committee heard in oral evidence that the curriculum in schools is heavily focused on preparing for exams. Students do not have enough time to engage in other activities that could help maintain good mental health. The importance of physical education and other non-academic pursuits, such as drama, art, creative writing or participation in workshops and courses such as those provided by Fighting Words, Lust for Life and GIY, must be emphasised and given equal status to academic subjects. As such, time must be allocated within each student’s timetable to enable him/her to participate fully in these activities.
In the subsequent Joint Committee on Education, Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science’s Mental Health Supports in Schools and Tertiary Education report, published in January 2023, the Oireachtas committee recommended, ‘The Primary and Post Primary Curriculum should be reviewed to: Identify suitable Co-Curricular Programmes for inclusion such as those delivered by Grow it Yourself (GIY).’
As of yet, the programme has not been funded by the government, however, GIY has gone on to raise approximately €300,000 so far this year, through philanthropic support from individuals, foundations and corporate donors, and it is currently delivering GROW At School to 134 primary schools across Ireland this year.
In September 2023, the aim will be to include an additional 500 schools in the programme, with a further 1,000 schools in 2024, aiming to grow towards embedding food-growing in over 50% of all primary schools in Ireland in the future. For the 2023 initiative, GIY needs to raise €1 million, and for 2024, €2 million.
Speaking about the interest from schools in participating in the programme, Nell Ward, director of development at GIY, said, “At present, it’s incredible that over 600 primary schools have registered their interest in joining the programme. This reflects the huge interest amongst teachers in actively participating in environmental action, and the impact of the programme, even beyond food-growing.
“GROW At School is at the nexus of climate action, mental health and education – food system. We have been working with schools since our foundation in 2008, and we have learned a lot about what works and what doesn’t. This programme delivers on well-being, offering mental and physical health and well-being benefits. It also delivers on environmental goals – a healthy food system with sustainable food choices, addressing biodiversity and zero waste, in order to alleviate climate anxiety – and it is educational, offering students the opportunity to learn a practical life skill and understanding where food comes from.
“We also have some incredible teacher feedback about how the programme teaches children about their food and where it’s come from, [which] will help them make better choices as they grow up – [with] some children being ‘baffled’ by the fact that Brussels sprouts grow on a stalk, and that peas were growing in pods in front of them.”
One teacher stated, “It has had a huge impact on the children. A lot of them have transferred what they have learned and started their own patches at home. Children in the autism unit have probably got the most benefit out of it. It has been very therapeutic for them to go out and work the soil and see the plants growing.”
Another said, “It made everyone very conscious of the amount of food that was wasted and the carbon footprint, compared with growing something in your own garden.”
The pressure is on to fund these schools for the 2023/24 academic year (at no cost to the schools to participate). It costs €2,000 per school to provide the kit of four raised beds, soil to fill them, seeds and other materials, along with teacher training and ongoing support, to help the gardens to flourish. For further details, email [email protected].
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