The Geoffrey Field edible gardens started with a parents’ project to build a pond and raised bed enclosed by a corral fence. In 2006 Steve Jones and Dave Richards, with help from a team from the local John Lewis store and Lottery funding, developed the area into a forest garden which could be used as a teaching resource right across the curriculum. It included a traditional Berkshire apple, Rev Wilkes, as well as more exotic edible plants such as Japanese wineberry, Juneberries from the USA and oca, one of the lost plants of the Incas. The garden also featured a hexagonal seating area filed with Welsh slate, marked with the points of the compass.
Where possible reused, renewable or recycled materials were used in the hardlandscaping in order to reduce the environmental footprint. For example, a 1400 litre container which was originally used to import orange juice concentrate was used to harvest rainwater and old pallets used to make compost bins. The garden has really matured since it was first planted and has been maintained by the school gardening club. It has started to produce fruit and veg – the wineberries and wild strawberries are a favourite and the whole school tasted soup made from Jerusalem artichokes.
In 2009 Reading International Solidarity Centre (RISC) managed to secure funding for a project to create 15 school and community growing projects around Reading. Geoffrey Field was an obvious candidate to develop its food growing even more. The Food4Families project has been a great success with a dedicated core of children and their parents creating new raised beds from logs left over from cutting overgrown willow trees, and enjoying spuds, beans and spinach throughout the summer. Unfortunately the poor summer only allowed one BBQ, but in the autumn the pumpkins provided a tasty soup sampled by the whole school.
Everyone’s hard work was rewarded with a Pride of Reading Healthy Lifestye award with John, Steff and Siobhan enjoying a slap up meal with Chris Tarrant at the Crowne Plaza Hotel.
Teams from local business have built a reading garden, more beds and helped with maintenance. Although the family sessions have come to an end, learning how to grow food has become an important part of school life and enriches the learning experience. The garden is a laboratory for science where children can learn about germination, the seasons and the life cycle of plants. They grow wheat and barley and discover how the Ancient Egyptians used these ingredients to make flat bread and 4000 years later Victorian Reading became prosperous on local wheat which made Huntley & Palmer biscuits and barley which was used to brew Simonds’ beer.
Later in the year a team from Colt built a reading garden and more beds. This would enable every class to have its own plot so it could plan and grow a meal which could be harvested before the end of the summer term.
The garden has become an important part of school life. There are more projects in the pipeline – composting vegetable waste from the kitchens, a solar-powered pump to irrigate the beds, an orchard, generating solar power for the grid – that will make the school a showcase for sustainability…