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Rethinking Food Futures
Rethinking Food Futures

Students at two of our academies have been enjoying dishes containing ingredients they’ve grown at school, as part of an educational partnership between Sodexo Schools and Rethink Food.

As a key catering provider to OCL, Sodexo provides meals to more than 28,000 pupils every day at 48 academies across the UK. We’ve been trialling Rethink Food Futures – a programme that’s designed to teach children to grow produce more sustainably – at Oasis Academy Blakenhale in Birmingham and Oasis Academy Temple in Manchester.

The programme aims to create a revolution in food education and introduces soil-free tower gardens to the schools, enabling the children to grow fresh produce from seed in 60 days.  

Research from Rethink Food shows that children who grow their own food are five times more likely to eat it.

Tower gardens use aeroponic technology which grows plants in an air or mist environment, using water, plant nutrition and LED lighting. Compared to soil gardening, aeroponic technology has been shown to increase yields by up to 30% and triple the speed of plant growth, while using only 10% of the water and space. Seeds are germinated in a small greenhouse and once grown to around 2cm, are transferred to the tower.

Social Responsibility and Engagement Manager Liz Axon is leading the project and has spent time at both Blakenhale and Temple talking to pupils about why this could shape the farms of the future. She says; “Vertical farming uses much less land space than typical farming, and the towers allow indoor growing all year round.”

Liz has been helping the students to plant salad leaves such as lettuce and chard, and herbs including basil and rocket. The tower gardens have been placed in areas where there is a high footfall so that as many children as possible can see the progress week by week. Each school has nominated a teacher as an eco-champion, who have in turn engaged a team of pupils as eco-warriors, involving them in trimming the plants and topping up the water. 

“They’ve really enjoyed the journey and tasting the things they’ve grown as part of their lunch, and they could identify the different types of produce too,” says Liz.

Hannah Carrington is a teacher and eco-champion at Oasis Academy Temple and said “all the children are interested in the tower gardens. I think they are a fantastic thing for schools to use.”

Karen Edwards, Sodexo’s Catering Manager at Blakenhale agrees that the project has really captured the pupils’ imaginations, and has also encouraged her chefs to think of different dishes to cook up for lunch, to showcase the ingredients. “The tower garden is going really well. I’ve accompanied the children to take cuttings and they bring me some produce over to the kitchen when I ask them too. When we use the salad and herbs from the garden in our dishes I let the children know by putting a poster up during the meal service.”

Students at both Blakenhale and Temple have recently planted their second set of seeds and started the next growing cycle. “They are really excited to plant again and are very keen to be involved and proud that they had been part of a successful pilot,” says Liz.

On the back of the trial’s success Sodexo is now looking to expand the project to all 36 Oasis primary Academies where Sodexo provides school meals. Liz has already created a presentation for students and delivered it in school assemblies, and is now putting an information pack together for teachers that brings the initiative and its objectives to life, supports Rethink’s resources and gives schools all the information they need to introduce their own tower garden.

“We know that school teachers are under constant time pressures,” she says. “So our aim is to make things as easy as possible, and share the great feedback we’ve had from the trial, inspiring others to get involved.”

Rethinking Food Futures
Himali Dolatessim