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Working with Schools to promote food growing

Q&A  with Janie Bickersteth, Chair of IEL

Why are you so passionate about working with schools?

I believe that all children should be exposed to Nature and the soil.

Why does soil matter? 

Soil is what keeps us alive – without it, we would not exist. We depend upon it, but take it for granted. In a handful of soil, there are more microorganisms than there are people on this Planet; 1cm of soil takes 500 years to form; our Government recognises that we are 30-40 years away from eradicating our topsoil, through poor farming choices.

And when we know about soil – what next?

We need our children to recognise its importance. Here’s why:

  1. PLANETARY HEALTH – our planet is groaning..we expect too much of it.  Overtilling of soils, heavy pesticide use and absurd movement of food around the world increasing our CO2 emissions.
  2. PHYSICAL HEALTH – there’s an epidemic of obesity – 28% of children aged 2-15 are overweight or obese [Public Health England]). Locally produced food is far more nutritious, as it’s picked when it’s ripe (tomatoes picked green for transporting have 31% less Vitamin C). Children need to re-connect to real food, stepping away from convenience, processed food – their health depends upon it.
  3. MENTAL HEALTH – getting people onto the land improves our mental health – we breathe in the fresh air, we connect with the soil, we understand our planet better. Growing food makes you feel good!

What is your mission?

First – To encourage and support teachers to embed food growing into their schools. 50% of schools do have some kind of growing space, but support for it varies enormously; many teachers I meet feel overworked and woefully under-supported in this work. Like any organisation, senior management needs to embrace the importance and significance of this to make it meaningful throughout the school. I want to signpost schools to the many resources that are now available – from the Edible Playground project at Trees for Cities to the RHS school garden programme, to London Food Growing to more local opportunities in Lambeth.

Second – To lobby our Education Minister to recognise that all children need to be equipped to grow food. I believe it’s an essential life skill; it’s called ‘food security’ or ‘food resilience’. I’m gathering interested people!

What’s next?

Obviously, I’d like schools (and anyone living in Lambeth who is interested in local food) to join IEL! Go to And then we can support with signposting. I’d like teachers and parents to join a movement to embed meaningful food-growing in the National Curriculum (email