If the government did one thing with the multi billion budget for a positive impact on the environment, education and mental health all in one fell swoop; it would be to spend €1 million equipping the next generation with the knowledge to grow their own food.” This is the message from GIY Founder Michael Kelly ahead of the upcoming budget.

In 2021, GIY first rolled out ‘GROW At School’ which was a 4 year-long pilot programme pilot project across 32 schools in Ireland and which was completed in June of 2021. Based on the pilot success the programme was rolled put to 134 schools in 2022 and the aim is to now roll it out to 500 in the 2023/24 academic year. 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 overwhelmingly positive.

The Oireachtas Joint Committee on Education, Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science has since then heard from GIY 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).”

Michael says, that “For all manner of reasons and convergence of climate impact, the cost of living crisis and arming our future generations with the knowledge to feed themselves that now is the time to act on this.

The programme is already in operation by GIY through the support of generous philanthropic funding and corporate sponsorship and the programme has had incredible teacher feedback.  Teachers tell us that our 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 impact that government support would have for GROW At School by funding the programme to the tune would be a vegetable garden and food literacy programme for teachers and children in 50% of primary schools in Ireland by 2025 and a quarter of a million children learning how to grow their own food.

Just on a cost basis, an average Irish household can grow over 50% their annual WHO recommended vegetable intake a year;   [based on family growing on 20 ms, equivalent veg output of 80kgs, and WHO recommended veg intake of 400g/day] so by equipping families with the know how to grow their own food supports a cost saving of up to €500/year (compared to shop-bought vegetables cost.

It also helps to address climate anxiety in kids: Research from Cambridge University notes that ‘climate crisis is imposing a heavy psychological burden on children and youth, both from experiencing climate-related disasters and from the knowledge that worse is to come’.  They identify the solution as ‘ supporting their capacity to take action, raising awareness about the impact of the climate crisis on youth mental and physical health, and taking action themselves to work for a secure climate future.”

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 and these materials and knowledge helps to equip this generation of children with the skills to grow their own food, to help them overcome the anxiety of living in an increasingly food insecure world. Presently GIY have 600 schools on a waiting list with a request to join the programme, which costs 1 million per year to operate.

In order to operate the programme currently, thus far ‘GROW At School’ has been supported by companies  and organisations including; Enerpower, Community Foundation of Ireland, The Ireland Funds,  The Rory McDonagh Trust, Dawn Meats, Hibernia, FLI Group, Fidelity Investments Ireland, Powerscourt Estate and Gardens, Sanofi, Keogh’s, Smurfit Kappa Foundation, The Lakeside Fund and private philanthropy.

GIY are also working with Supervalu on a 3 year programme called Supervalu Let’s GROW, that has reached 50,000 school children this year with an in-classroom growing programme.