Diet is a major cause of ill health, in children no less than adults. A third of all pupils at St Mary’s are on pupil premium, so they are entitled to free school meals. Bridport and its surrounding villages are fortunate in having a provider of local school meals, which are prepared in a central hub. However, at St. Mary’s we are luckier to have a real school kitchen and two brilliant cooks. They have been sourcing school lunches from the organic garden in the school grounds, and other local suppliers, for several years now.
This venture was initially started by Home in Bridport(Home) and Transition Town Bridport (TTB) through the installation of a donated second-hand polytunnel. It was founded by Robert Golden (Home) with the support of many local businesses, volunteers and the backing of Bridport Town Council. Sarah Wilberforce, as volunteer coordinator, raises money each year to employ two part-time gardeners. Over the years we’ve built up trust with the school and community. Working together, we’ve been able to transform school lunches into healthy, tasty, popular meals and an increasing number of children choose them. Key to this change of eating habits has been an imaginative programme of activities to engage the pupils in thinking about how food is grown and prepared for the table, the impact on their health and the environment, and comparing eating fresh local food vs packaged fast food and snacks.
We work with the headteacher and staff supporting projects around growing, cooking, eating and health. We’ve developed family events in the garden, workshops for the children and family cooking. The gardening club is held each week. Last summer we helped to provide part of a Dorset-wide plan to tackle summer holiday hunger by running cooking sessions; with selected families, we ran food and entertainment events on the school grounds during the holidays.
The aim of our work is not only to educate but to empower and inspire children and parents to a better level of health and well-being. This in turn helps create healthier - and happier - people, which means a healthier and happier Bridport!
This edible garden has built up trust over the years by involving families in the community to consider eating together at social events and persuading children that the range of tastes they can like is wider than their usual salty, sweet and fatty processed foods. We held family pizza evenings and an open day as part of the Bridport Food Festival. We built a cob oven and hold regular themed events providing fresh vegetarian feasts including entertainment.
We have worked hard to engage the children in lots of ways. The Kitchen Team give cooking classes after school and created a cookbook. Children are involved in growing food through the gardening club and as part of their National Curriculum. Through the Eco-club the school has gained the Green Flag of an eco-school. More recently, with the PTA having a sponsored Litter pick, we have been able to plant an orchard and foraging hedgerow, thus tackling Climate Change in a positive way.
Continuing to raise money for two part-time gardeners is an endless task. Much time is put into applying to Charitable Trusts and gaining local business sponsorship. Charities prefer to pay for things and not people, so one has to create new projects every year.
The battle of persuading families, on low income, to eat healthily is huge. The giant Food Industry have normalised processed food; unhealthy brands full of fat, sugar and salt. Healthy eating is not the cheapest food either and many families no longer know how to cook. Life expectancy over the last 8 years has plateaued due to diet-based illnesses.
We also know how many of the young adults we've trained go on to work on the land.