School dinners cooked with farm's vegetables to put learning on the menu
Primary pupils are eating school dinners made with vegetables from the surrounding fields as an educational partnership with a neighbouring farm continues to grow.
Barnham Primary School, in the village near Thetford, has brought its catering service in-house so chef Julie Page can prepare meals using seasonal ingredients grown on the Euston Estate.
It is the culmination of more than two years of partnership in which the school has used the farm as an outdoor classroom, inspiring new insights into science, maths, economics and business studies.
Pupils have planted sugar beet, carried out real-life crop trials, and helped the farm manager make an investment decision on an £80,000 new JCB telehandler. They have also explored renewable energy generated by the farm’s solar panels and biogas plant, and during Countryside Week in June, they were shown hi-tech combine harvesters and seed drills, harvested their own carrots, and learned about beekeeping, sheep shearing and shooting.
Headteacher Amy Arnold said the meals on the kitchen menu were now integral to the wider learning at the school, which goes far beyond what the children could learn in the classroom.
“With a conversation at lunchtime, the learning can be just as rich as a lesson in the classroom,” she said. “It goes beyond the curriculum as it gives wider understanding about food miles, the seasons, climate and supply and demand.”
Farm manager Matthew Hawthorne, who is also a governor at the school, said: “Rather than cash-and-carry, we wanted a bit of seasonality with the meals. We want the children to understand that carrots have dropped off now because we have stopped harvesting them, and we want them to understand the difference when the new potatoes start coming in.
“We want to take the menu back to the calendar and relate it to what’s growing outside. And because all this is happening at dinner time, the children are learning but they are not aware they are learning.
“I don’t want to make anyone here into a farmer. All we want them to do is have a bit of awareness of what’s happening on their doorstep. When they go to the supermarket we want them to tell their mums about the carrots, or say: ‘Don’t buy that bag of sugar because it is cane sugar, get this one because its made from sugar beet’.”
Giles Abrey, a partner at Wretham-based RG Abrey Farms, which grows vegetables on the estate, said building links with the pupils could also help the industry recruit much-needed workers in the future.
He said: “When these children go to the supermarket, rather than running to the toy aisle or the magaizine aisle, maybe they will run to the vegetable aisle because they have seen that process of pulling something out of the ground, so they are interested in it.
“This is an important age to reach them, because this is when they set out how they view the world, and we need to bring more people into agriculture.
“Anyone who comes here cannot believe the diversity of jobs. We have got people running complicated machines that are more like computers. We have got drones, technical quality control people, an accountant, a sales team, HR recruitment, mechanics and engineers, and the agronomy side looking at different crops. We need quite a lot more skilled people these days, and we need to get that message across.”