2 Mar 2008

A group of leading politicians, including a Shadow Minister, a city MP, Euro-MP and city Mayor, today vowed to support the national Year of Food and Farming campaign after working alongside children and sowing vegetable seeds in Cambridge.

The National Institute of Agricultural Botany, in partnership with Cambridge University Botanic Garden, invited them to sign a pledge which declared: “We champion the Year of Food and Farming and pledge our support to educating young people about how plants grow and provide us with food.”

It was signed at the Botanic Garden by Shadow Minister for Agriculture and Rural Affairs, James Paice; Cambridge MP, David Howarth; Euro-MP, Andrew Duff; and Cambridge Mayor, Coun Jenny Bailey; as well as Tony Cooke, Programme Director of the Year of Food Farming. It will be laminated and planted in the Botanic Garden’s teaching garden which is currently in development.

The Year of Food and Farming campaign was launched last September by Prince Charles at his Highgrove home and will run until August. Its aims are to help children find out more about the countryside and where their food comes from through memorable, first-hand learning experiences.

Today was the launch of a series of workshops for primary school pupils being held at the Botanic Garden. Guests were invited to join schoolchildren from Newnham Croft Primary School, Cambridge at their workshops before signing the pledge and being presented with their own seeds to take home and sow.

Mr Paice praised the initiative and said it was vital to educate children about food and its origins. He said:

“I am extremely encouraged that there are so many children who are interested in this. I just hope they watch their plants grow and that their knowledge grows with it. Children need to get involved this way. They love doing things with their hands, like sowing seeds. They will really learn more about food and its origins this way than in their classroom.”

Mr Howarth was equally impressed and said:

“I thought it was a wonderful day, especially seeing the excitement on the children’s faces and to hear all the questions they were asking. This will really help to increase their understanding about where food comes from.”

Mr Duff said that politicians had a role to play in bridging the divide between farming and science with public opinion.

“There isn’t a more fruitful place to start in seeking to influence public opinion than with children, so it is a great pleasure to be here and I hope these exercises are being extended across Britain and the European Union.”

Jenny Bailey hoped that green-fingered children would take their tips home and said there was something magical about growing your own food:

“I found today absolutely fascinating. It was so lovely to see the smiles on the children’s faces when they were planting beans. Hopefully, they will persuade their parents to do the same at home and even get an allotment.”

Mr Cooke said it had been an excellent event:

“I have been inspired by what I have seen. I know the positive impact that activities like this have on young children and their relationship with food, and how very worthwhile it is. Research has shown that after visual reinforcement, children can be up to twice as likely to grow and exhibit positive food preferences.”

Newnham Croft Primary School form teacher Emily Genochio said it had been a very enjoyable lesson for her pupils, aged five and six.

“We are always growing things and working on eco projects and have our own gardening club. We encourage our children to grow plants and think about where their food comes from, and from which country. This is a great way to connect young people with food and farming.”

Prof John Parker, Director of both Cambridge University Botanic Garden and NIAB, welcomed the guests. They were thanked at the end by NIAB trustee, Vincent Hedley-Lewis.

Juno McKee, project leader for NIAB, said:

“We are delighted at the level of support our local politicians have provided to this initiative today and it’s very gratifying to see the children so engaged with plants and seeds. NIAB is committed to being involved in similar activities in the future because the involvement of children and young people is vital for the future sustainability of our planet.”

This week is designated Seeds Week when pupils will sow seeds from a range of early vegetables, such as carrots, broad beans and lettuce. This will be followed by a Sow and Grow Week between 14-17 April when school children will be able to monitor the growth of early vegetables and sow seeds for a range of later vegetables, including sweetcorn and courgettes.

A third series of workshops between 23-26 June will give youngsters the chance to harvest and taste the produce grown, the final part of the “from soil to plate” workshops which have been sponsored by Elsoms Seeds Ltd of Spalding and Mr Fothergills Seeds of Newmarket.

Leading plant scientists from NIAB are also visiting a number of the schools to explain their work and its relevance to the vegetables we eat.

Further information is available from NIAB project leader Dr Juno McKee.

You can find out more about the Year of Food and Farming at