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Wakefield District Incredible Edible Schools Network

By Sarah Ward

For groups just getting started it can sometimes seem quite a challenge to spin all three plates – community, business and especially learning.

One group that has managed to achieve this is Incredible Edible Wakefield who have been spinning the learning plate for a number of years now and this year have established their Wakefield District IE Schools Network to allow local teachers, teaching assistants and interested parents to come together to bring food growing and cooking more onto the curriculum and to develop better outdoor learning facilities at their schools across the district.

Their work with schools didn’t start on such a grand scale though. The group’s first involvement came when they were approached by a primary school next door to their first community garden to help with a food growing project for Health Week.

Numbered “T” labels were to be placed next to nine edible plants around the garden so pupils could find the plant, identify it and fill in a crossword style activity sheet.  By the time Health Week came along the usual gardening challenges (slugs, snails, bad weather) meant that four of the vegetable types were nowhere to be seen in the garden so pupils following the trail may have noticed vine tomatoes tied on with string, a cauliflower dug up and strategically replanted, supermarket strawberries placed amongst strawberry plants and container grown pea plants wheelbarrowed in from someone’s garden.  Improvising in the face of nature was a great learning experience for the group!

Since then the group have hosted school visits, created activities for Brownies to complete their gardening badge, set up after school gardening clubs and created the well-used Edible Activity Trail.

The schools network came about when the group has discussions with a teaching assistant (TA) with the skills, drive and time to lead the initiative.  Janet Bennett was working as a TA in a local primary school, teaching maths and English in the morning and then working as an outdoor learning facilitator in the afternoons.  Over a five year period Janet had developed a school garden and, as a sole trader, was running holiday and after school clubs, paid for by parents of attendees, so solving the twin problems of maintaining a school garden during holidays and bringing in some income for her when school was closed.

Through the Big Lottery funded Roots and Branches project Incredible Edible Wakefield will support Janet to deliver four training days at her school garden across the year covering subjects such as ‘Starting a school garden’, ‘Bringing food growing into the curriculum’ and ‘Developing a forest school’.  Teachers, TA’s and parents connected with other schools in the district have joined the Schools Network Facebook group, attached to the Incredible Edible Wakefield page, and can then attend sessions in order to learn from Janet’s experience and share their own.

The recent Apple Day launch of the schools network was opened by the Mayor of Wakefield, Stuart Heptinstall, and was well attended by parents, grandparents, pupils, TA’s, other school’s teachers and head teachers, all of them taking part in apple juicing, pumpkin carving and exploring the school garden.

Forgive the pun but if there’s a lesson from Wakefield for other IE groups, it’s not to be afraid of having a go at spinning the learning plate – just start with a small project and you never know what may grow from it!

If you’ve got a story to share about how your Incredible Edible group has spun the learning plate, then contact us so we can share your learning.