Food to grow: Junior lessons in nutrition

The students from St. Aidan’s National School in Enniscorthy, County Wexford are announced as the GIY and innocent drinks ‘Big Grow’ Champions 2019. Picture: Mark Stedman

The 21 children in Andrew Foley’s senior infant class were shocked to see him eat a stem of cress straight from the pot.

‘You can’t be eating flowers’, they told him.

Since then, these pupils at St Aidan’s Parish School, Enniscorthy, have come a long way in terms of grasping where vegetables come from.

They are the GIY and innocent drinks ‘Big Grow’ 2019 Champions and recently attended Bloom, where they were presented with a trophy, certificate and gold-coloured smoothie bottle.

Through the Big Grow initiative and through planting cress and pea shoots, they learned how to grow their own food in the classroom.

“They really engaged with learning how to take care of the plants and give them the correct nutrition. They learned what’d happen if the plants were in or out of the sun or if they got too dry or too cold. They’d rush in to make sure the soil was moist enough,” says Foley, adding that his pupils wanted photos with their plants.

You can tell, read or show a child where vegetables come from, but growing it themselves is the only way to actually grasp the concept.

"We smelled the plants daily and I planted some in a clear container so we could see the roots growing. They learned about the root system and how the leaf works.

Foley says his pupils – who mainly live in the town and wouldn’t have access to farms — were happy to try their own cress and pea shoots when they were ready.

“One boy managed to eat all of his cress walking from our classroom to the main door, having nothing left in his pot to show his father when he was collected at home-time.”

The children didn’t lose interest in their plants once they got them home.

“One girl brought her cress back to show us. It had grown twice as tall as when it left and it had begun to flower too, teaching both the children and me that cress can flower.

“Other children have been to the hardware shop to get cress seeds – they wanted to grow them at home,” says Foley.

While this was the school’s second time entering The Big Grow competition, it was these particular pupils’ first edible growing project.

Foley says he intends to continue the tradition.

“It’d be nice for the kids to do a longer-term growth for a more substantial edible plant as they go into higher classes.

"I’ll definitely continue to grow seeds yearly — it’s an invaluable learning tool for senior infants.”

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