Monday, February 1, 2010

Edible Gardening at Todmorden High School, in the UK

This summer I was lucky enough to make the long journey home to the UK to see my family. Whilst there I thought I would do what I could to see how the other side of the world approached Education for Sustainability in schools.
During my online investigations I came across a project in West Yorkshire called Incredible Edible in Todmorden ( They’ve had lots of publicity recently about the fabulous work they’ve been doing to introduce growing food into their towns everyday lives.

Todmorden is nestled in the Penines in West Yorkshire and has a population of around 15,000. The town originally grew during the industrial revolution. You can read more about the history of Todmorden at Wikipedia -
One snowy and icy Friday morning I met with Estelle at the high school to begin my tour of what Todmorden is currently up to. 

If you click on any of the photos they will open up much bigger and you will be able to see the details, useful to know when looking at the menus below.

Todmorden high school has a canteen for the students to buy their lunch from and their head chef and canteen manager Tony is a truly inspirational man. When he started work at the school he noticed that there was a green house on the grounds and wondered how it could be utilised to best serve his kitchen. This was about the time when the community of Todmorden were coming together to start the yet to be named Incredible Edible project. 

After Tony placed and advert in the local paper asking for help with the greenhouse things just started to bloom. It didn’t take long before raised beds and a poly tunnel were installed. One of the most impressive things I kept hearing was how all of this has been completed on a tight budget. They have received funds from people such as the National Lottery, Food for Life & the Soil Association. What has really made this happen though is the work from Tony and the staff at school and the members of their community who all share the vision of a healthy school having good food available to all students at a price that they can afford.

As the growing increased so did the integration with the curriculum. The food technology class was now able to study how the food was grown as well as how to prepare it. They are now of the of the leading schools in the country offering a land based diploma option to their students. 

Tony was the first to admit that when this started he knew very little about growing and each year he learns more lessons and refines the way they do things. One of the first issues he came across was his bumper crop of beetroot. I’m sure you’ll agree his idea of pulping them to replace much of the sugar in the chocolate muffins is genius.

The menu is designed with help of the students. Members of SNAG (School Nutrition Action Group) are very involved with what is grown and made for their school lunches. Before anything is added to the menu it has to undergo a rigorous taste test by members of SNAG. For instance, blind tastings of sausages from various sources have seen the free roaming pig version come out on top. Not only the healthy option but also the tastiest, and it’s coming at an affordable price.

They have formed relationships with many other local growers and supermarkets. The local Morrisons supermarket offers shoppers reward vouchers that can be given to the school to redeem towards new gardening tools. The local cheese producer supplies them with cheese that is nearing its sell by date, the school has a high turn around so can use it all well within the safe eating dates.

The school canteen produces about 500 meals per day, 300 of them are sold to their students and the rest are taken to nearby primary schools. The aim is to keep the cost low and nutrition high. A three course meal will set you back £1.70 (approx. $3.90). The meat that is used is either free range or free roaming and the eggs all come from local free range hens, some of their own and others from around town.

On the wall of the canteen you can see the menu, alongside details about where the ingredients have come from. You can see the father of the pork that you are eating, the chickens that may be served up or laid the eggs you just had. This has been an absolute hit with the students. One of the things that was so noticeable about the students at Todmorden High School was that they all looked so healthy and well nourished.

To help give even more ownership a local graffiti artist has worked with students to design and create murals promoting the food projects in schools. It’s an old school that is being transformed by the desire to improve the quality of food eaten by the pupils.
So where next? They are currently awaiting hearing about news for a National Lottery grant to install an aquaponics system in school to increase their growing potential even further. If you haven’t heard about aquaponics it’s basically a system that uses water to grow vegetables as well as fish. The water cycles around and is filtered through the plants and fish. Each part of the process is complimentary to the other, maximising the nutritional benefits of each and using the least amount of water to produce the most food possible. Obviously this is a very basic description and I’m no expert, so you can find out more about this type of system at good old Wikipedia -
I met with the school’s head teacher, Patrick Ottley-O'Connor, and he is very keen to form some international links to schools on this side of the world and is willing to offer some advice and reassurance to other schools wishing to undertake projects like this. He is overwhelmed with the way the project has progressed and admits at times it felt risky, especially since no other school in the country was doing the same, but now hopes that they will act as an inspirational bench mark to other schools.

Todmorden High School is one of the most inspirational visits I’ve ever had. To see the combination of school and community was amazing. It was total integration into their curriculum and utilisation of their local resources without spending thousands and thousands of dollars to get there. OK, their new aquaponics system will require a fairly large fund to get it going but that will be raised on the back of the work they have done for very little money. Fingers crossed the National Lottery board have been as impressed with Todmorden High School as I have and the money is granted to them.

I’m so grateful to everyone I met in Todmorden for sparing the time to show me round and inspire me no end by the work that has been and is being done. I’m once again full of hope for the future seeing this in action. This is only the story of the High School, keep your eyes posted on here for details about what is happening in the rest of town and some ideas we may be able to implement here to increase the local growing in our town so we can all eat better healthier food without the high cost and dependency upon oil to get it to us.


Anonymous said...

The chef, Tony, at the school sounds like a very inspired man, seems he does alot for the school and the community.

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