Fruit and Veg for Kids at School is a fresh-produce themed art competition that is capturing the imaginations of dozens of London schoolchildren – some of whom will be visiting the forthcoming London Produce Show and Conference (LPS 2016) where the winning school will be announced. Supported by the Embassy of the Kingdom of the Netherlands in London, the Worshipful Company of Gardeners (WCG) (a City of London livery company), and Holland Fresh Group, Produce Business UK finds out more about this pioneering initiative
As the saying goes, the simplest ideas are often the most effective and this is arguably the case with Fruit and Veg for Kids at School – a new competition that is seeing pupils from seven central and east London schools have oodles of fun creating colourful sculptures out of fruits and vegetables. The idea began with a conversation between two like-minded colleagues – Stephen Bernhard, immediate past master of the WCG and owner of turf specialist Bernhard & Co, and Henk de Jong, agricultural counsellor for the Embassy of the Kingdom of the Netherlands in London.
The pair had in common a wish to both ignite children’s interest in horticulture and increase youngsters’ likening for fruits and vegetables. Bernhard explains: “Education was one of my focuses during my year as Master. I instigated a new programme for a Nuffield Horticultural Scholar, and I promoted Future Gardeners, which I set up to help give disadvantaged people the opportunity to work in the horticulture sector. But there remained a gaping hole. How could we encourage kids to show an interest in horticulture as a potential career? I had it in mind that if we could find a way of getting kids excited about horticulture it would open their eyes to it.”
De Jong adds that he and Bernhard also wanted to address the fact that most people do not eat the optimum quantity of fruits and vegetables, particularly those who are from less affluent backgrounds. De Jong says: “It’s an important social issue in the UK as well as the Netherlands. How can we do something about it? The answer is by encouraging children to eat more fruits and vegetables, because educating kids is a good starting point.”
“Weightlifting okra man”
Just as seeds require the right combination of soil, sunlight and water to germinate, good ideas also need a bit of nurturing in order to be transformed into something tangible. Jong and Bernhard therefore enlisted the expertise of Cassie Liversidge – a gardener, author, artist and mum-of-two whose Grow Your Own Playground business sees her create gardens for London schools. These little urban oases offer pupils the opportunity to harvest and then eat their own home-grown food.
Bernhard explains: “During my year as Master I became acquainted with Cassie, who is very creative with her educational outreach programme for school children. I found Cassie’s ideas about engaging children in growing fresh produce very interesting.” Clearly accustomed to helping children better connect with different foods, Liversidge devised the concept of the competition and has since been busily running her sculpture workshops. She says: “I’ve been working with different sized groups of children and a whole range of different ages – from age four or five up to age 10. The children have loved making different characters and they have given them voices and have talked to their friends’ characters.”
She reveals that the creations have so far included “Carrot Man,” “Miss Choi,” and “Weightlifting Okra Man.” “Often children only eat certain varieties of fresh produce so this is about getting them to explore a whole range of new fruits and vegetables without thinking about it. I’m using loads of different produce like olives, plums, and apricots. Some of the time we use produce that we’ve grown ourselves, or products that are going to waste. Other times we have to buy the food. It’s been working so well because it’s something really fun. They have been occupied for a whole hour and really enjoyed the idea of making their own characters. They forget that they are learning about healthy eating.”
Win, win, win
Fittingly, the winning school – which is being chosen by judge, London Produce Show Ambassador and Henri le Worm creator Oli Blanc (son of chef Raymond Blanc)– will receive a state-of-the-art glasshouse purchased by Holland Fresh Group and supplied by Elite Greenhouses. Meanwhile, the runners up will receive a year’s supply of seeds from Dutch firm Rijk Zwaan.
Aside from the fact that The Netherlands is this year’s featured nation at the London Produce Show, De Jong explains that there a several other reasons why the Dutch horticulture trade is keen to support such an initiative. “We [the Dutch] are the second largest exporters of fruits and vegetables to the UK [the largest supplier being Spain]. We also supply a lot of the greenhouses for the English market. And so, as large suppliers and exporters, we are interested in increasing sales of fruits and vegetables in the UK. It’s good for health and good for turnover. This project is a way of combining commercial interests with charity work and improving the health of children. It’s win, win, win.”
De Jong adds that those who are supporting the initiative are hoping to expand it – first, London-wide and, in the longer-term, nationwide. Bernhard says: “We want to roll this competition out to several hundred schools next year. We want to see if we can grow this.”
With this aim in mind, Fruit and Veg for Kids at School is this month being championed by the Fresh Produce Consortium, which is also advocating the competition, at the FPC Fresh Awards on June 9 in London. De Jong says: “The founders of the initiative will be happy to discuss concrete plans with potential sponsors.”
Given that the UK is already suffering from an obesity crisis, any project that promotes healthy eating has to be a step in the right direction and will no doubt attract the support of the sector.
The Dutch produce industry’s drive to increase the global consumer’s daily intake of fresh produce is the central theme of the first session in the stage 1 seminar programme at this year’s London Produce Show: Fresh From Holland: Innovative Concepts.