Eleven years ago, I was approached by Sam Smith, our education manager, to see if we, the Marden Fruit Show Society committee, might like to formalise our rather ad hoc school programme into something that had real curriculum benefit.
She proposed that as well as educating the next generation about how fruit is grown, we could show what farming is really like and what kinds of wonderful careers are available in the fruit sector. Those who know Sam have already realised that this was an easy decision, as there cannot be a better person to enthuse people than Sam.
Over the intervening years Sam and her team have visited hundreds of school classrooms, scout, guide, cub, brownie, rainbow and beaver meetings, home education groups, school clubs, careers events and public shows.
They have shared slices of apple and pear, fruit crisps and fruit leather, juiced thousands of apples and berries and made many thousands of small boys giggle with comments about how the end of an apple looks like a bum… What they have been doing is multi-layered; in an utterly memorable way they have shown that fresh British fruit is delicious and enjoyable, they have embedded knowledge of food, farming and the environment in a really fun way and for the teacher they have delivered a curriculum-linked programme that aids their OFSTED targets and core curriculum goals.
For the older groups, STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) is at the forefront, as is a cleverly crafted careers programme which, with the aid of Oculus virtual reality headsets, allows us to share the beauty of orchards throughout the year and the advanced technology within the packhouse. We can literally fly young people above James Smith’s farmyard, giving a bird’s eye view of fruit in bins and on trees and of the biodiversity that surrounds the orchards.
And it’s all for free. The programme is completely free at the point of delivery, no matter the age of the child. From early years foundation skills (reception class) through key stages one to four, there is something for every year group.
With the unfaltering support of our two principal sponsors, Avalon Fresh and AC Goatham, the programme has been able to grow into this outstanding, unique, offering. With the aid of OnePay we now have Blossom, our distinctive little van that brings all this knowledge to schools and events.
There are also many growers and businesses that donate fresh fruit, crisps, fruit leather and juice to ensure that no child goes without at one of our visits. Steph Dunn James and Nick Dunn at FP Matthews get a special mention too; every single school we have visited is left with one of their wonderful trees, a lasting legacy of the beauty of British fruit.
The whole team turned out for the Kent Show this year; we had a brilliant spot and got to meet thousands of visitors. With over 1,300 children actively engaged in a healthy eating/tasting great challenge, we shared a lot of healthy fruit, too. We spoke with their parents, we met a lot of teachers and community group members; we were struggling to meet demand before the event, even more so now.
There is a waiting list of 200 schools, let alone the groups, which means my wonderful team will be busy for many years to come, unless we can grow significantly.
If we want to continue to engage with our consumers, educate our children and inspire a new generation of young people to take up a career in the fruit industry we need to keep up this collaborative and proactive approach. It has been brilliant to work alongside other industry educators but even better to bring together different organisations within the industry to support us.
Together we can make a big impact for the British fruit industry. Can you help, can you encourage an organisation to support us too, please?