The not-for-profit social enterprise Grow It Yourself (GIY) is aiming to raise €1 million in order to deliver the food education and mental health programme GROW At School in primary schools across the country for the academic year 2023/24. ‘GROW At School’ was first rolled out by GIY as 4 year-long pilot programme pilot project across 32 schools in Ireland which was completed in June 2021. The programme was a huge success and the feedback from the schools and teachers who participated was captured in a research report and it was ALL overwhelmingly positive.
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 GROW at School be implemented and supported as a national food growing programme under the Programme for Government, and was invited to represent the GROW at School programme at a Committee session on Mental Health Supports in Schools and Tertiary Education. Michael Kelly made this presentation and submission last autumn.
In delivering oral evidence to the committee, on 22 November 2022, Mr Michael Kelly, CEO, and founder of Grow It Yourself Ireland (GIY Ireland), noted that ‘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 them to participate fully in these activities. In a subsequent Joint Committee on Education, Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science – Mental Health Supports in Schools and Tertiary Education report, which was published in January 2023.
The Oireachtas committee have 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 went on to raise almost over €300,000 so far this year through philanthropic support from individuals and foundations, and from corporate donors and individual philanthropic support and is currently delivering GROW At School to 134 primary schools across Ireland this year.
In September 2023 they aim to include an additional 500 schools in the Programme, with a further 1,000 schools in 2024 – aiming to grow towards embedding food growing over 50% of all Primary schools in Ireland in the future. For the 2023 initiative they need to raise €1 million and for 2024 €2 million.
Speaking about the interest from schools for participation in the programme Nell Ward, Director of Development at GIY says, “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 & 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 & 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 will help them make better choices as they grow up. 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 says, “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 academic year 2023/2024 (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 firstname.lastname@example.org
Pictured: Founder of GIY Michael Kelly with senior infants Nina Lalor age 6, Alhyzia Montenegro age 6, Millie O’Higgins age 6 and Evie Burchell age 6