Food Education. Is it key to our species survival?

April 21, 2015
Food Education is Key To Our Survival |

One of many rapeseed crops growing in County Carlow during the 2015 springtime

As the sun shines down on Ireland, apart from running around after a busy family, my life has been about community garden projects, herb garden designs and bees. After a slow start to the year, it’s been a joy to get back out into the community and help two group of gardeners begin to learn how to grow their own food in hobby garden courses in community gardens, funded by our local Carlow/Kilkenny adult training board (ETB).

Food Education is Key To Our Survival | Greenside Up

Sieving homemade compost made from kitchen scraps in the Greenside Up garden. Spring 2015

Every garden I work with starts with a session on the meaning of the word organic as well as discussing the use of pesticides, herbicides and genetically modified organisms (GMO’s) in our food systems. My experience is that the majority of rural gardeners haven’t heard about CSA’s (Community Supported Agriculture), GMO’s or understand the term ‘seed or food sovereignty‘.

The older gardeners often talk about how in tune their parents were with nature and how they were the original recyclers. They give examples such as cutting up old leather boots to make new door hinges, working in the fields picking stones in preparation for crop sowing and even spending hours stirring the blood of a pig to make the black pudding, an annual ritual that helped to provide food for neighbours and families in the not too distant past. However, at least two generations are now growing up in a fast, disposable food world that doesn’t compost, or know how to make a tomato based sauce or have held a cabbage seed and perhaps not even a cabbage.

Most of the community gardeners I’ve worked with still aren’t regular users of social media, so unless concerns about the long-term sustainability of industrial scale food production and a fast food lifestyle are being broadcast on mainstream media or by planet friendly educators, the news just isn’t getting out there.

Food Education is Key To Our Survival | Greenside Up

Overwintering vegetables harvesting from the Greenside Up garden in April

Many adults I speak with in gardens believe that manufacturers of pesticides and herbicides have our best interests at heart. If products are legal and on sale they believe without question that the chemicals being recommended to destroy our weeds or ‘pests’ can’t harm us, our wildlife or our food.

That said, when we begin a session it’s apparent that gardeners of all abilities are very keen to learn alternative methods that don’t involve the use of artificial chemicals, though many are disbelieving about the effectiveness. They don’t want to pollute the planet but they don’t know what the alternatives are or the long-term harm they might be doing to the environment by using artificial chemicals. Once again, education is proving key in helping to change habits and perceptions, encouraging people to see the land and food production in a more gentle light that is less about death and destruction and more about living in harmony with nature.

Are the Youth Getting the Message?

This week a YouTube clip fell into my timeline that I found incredibly inspiring. A group of Irish secondary school kids in Dublin are learning about small-scale urban farming following a conversion of their school greenhouse into a ‘GROWlab’. The teenagers are learning how to grow food aquaponically, selling the produce to restaurants and farmers markets. Take a listen to this young man as he eloquently describes the difficulties the planet faces at it looks to the future. If, thanks to some forward thinking teachers, the teenagers are being taught in schools that changes have to happen for our planet to survive, that we can’t continue on the land stripping way we have been, then there is hope.

The mission of Belvedere Urban Farm is to

“save our world one seed at a time”.

Learning about Bees

Thanks to various campaigns, many of us are aware now of the importance of pollinators in our food chains. As a novice beekeeper the knowledge I’m gaining about the lifestyles and habitats of Irish honeybees is invaluable in my work as an organic gardening tutor and it’s hard to describe the joy I’m feeling every time I learn something new about them. It’s purely as a result of keeping bees and attending the lectures that I’ve learnt the importance to bees of dandelion flowers in the early springtime (so please don’t spray them), that ivy flowers should be left uncut in the autumn (they help with winter honey stores) and that there are banned gardening products on sale in DIY shops that can harm bees that would be swept off the shelves in garden centres if the authorities spotted them.

Food Education is Key To Our Survival | Greenside Up

Dandelion flowers are a major food source for honeybees as they emerge from hibernation

School of Food

From Thursday, 23rd April I’ll be starting a ten week beginners gardening course in Thomastown at the School of Food, a centre where adults can learn about food education from soil to seed to kitchen to table in any one of the many courses being offered there. In May I’ll be running two more workshops at the centre on growing salads and another on herbs, a topic I’ve researched in great detail for a private herb garden design that will be the highlight of a new herbal medicine school opening locally in the months to come.

Educational Opportunities

No matter what our age or socio-economic circumstances we are all being offered opportunities to learn and develop our knowledge about food and many other life changing skills in schools and educational centres all around us. There’s scope and potential for so much more if educators could only access more funding to provide it and be trained in new and exciting ways to deliver it.

Food Education. Is it key to our species survival?

Irish honeybees caring for their brood and making honey

If we are passionate about wanting to preserve and adapt our planet so that it can cater for the growth of our ever-expanding population, our children and their future generations, shouldn’t we find time to embrace all the learning opportunities that are offered to us, share and talk about them, come up with ideas and solutions about how we can encourage, attend and fund more?  Education is empowering, it changes lives. It offers us the opportunity to improve our lifestyles, diets and our culture.

“Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world” – Nelson Mandela

One thing is for sure (and the proposed Transatlantic Trade and Investment Programme (TTIP) is an example) if we do nothing, if we choose to stay in ignorance and leave our future to companies who have more money than small countries, we shouldn’t be surprised to find that our best interests are the furthest things from their industrial hearts.


  • Reply atjmc April 21, 2015 at 8:22 pm

    Dee ,Always refreshing to read you writings.. especially this one. You are correct in your statement that education is the course to follow, as in a back to basics and reintroducing people to our food and soil. Food would not exist without healthy soil , and we will disappear without both.We are biological beings and I think the majority of our over developed world has forgotten this basic truth. Sadly too many people believe whats on the packet…….It’s all about the money..

    • Reply Dee Sewell April 21, 2015 at 9:02 pm

      Thank you and kind to say. I enjoy helping people learn the basics, perhaps because it wasn’t so long ago that I longed to learn them myself but there wasn’t anything around for me at the time – thankfully that’s changed. It was also thanks to a local adult education course that I had the opportunity to study horticulture, which not only helped me to get back to work and help hundreds of other people, it enabled me to see first hand how empowering education is and has enabled me to make good food choices for our family.

  • Reply Sophie Skinner April 21, 2015 at 10:43 pm

    Thrilling article and very well written. Thankyou for sharing the video of the inspiring young Dublin school goers. Fantastic cutting edge work they are involved in.

    • Reply Dee Sewell April 22, 2015 at 9:24 pm

      Thanks Sophie, glad you enjoyed it and that you watched the video too. I was really impressed with his grasp of the changes that need to be made in the coming years and it was that that prompted me to write the post. I know there are other challenges ahead such as a warming planet, rising sea levels, etc., but surely that makes it even more important that everyone has an idea about how to grow their own food and provide for themselves? We were cut off here a few years ago by snow and it made us realise just how reliant we all are on having our food delivered to supermarkets for us.

  • Reply dublinecolo April 21, 2015 at 10:48 pm

    Excellent article! Pretty scary though to read that many adults you speak with in gardens believe that manufacturers of pesticides and herbicides “have our best interests at heart”. But, as you say education is key (at school and for adults). Having a clear idea of how our food is produced / and how to cook it should be part of any curricula. It’s not only essential for the environment, It will also help in tackling obesity, etc.

    • Reply Dee Sewell April 22, 2015 at 9:19 pm

      Thank you and yes, it galls me that home economics or cookery is optional in schools. Neither of our eldest two opted for it as they’d heard the curricula wasn’t very interesting and at least we’re able to teach them the basics of nutrition and simple cookery at home. I’m looking forward to watching the new sugar movie that’s due out in the hope it will teach me to leave the biscuits completely alone, just the way Food Inc stopped us eating shed reared meat!

      • Reply dublinecolo April 23, 2015 at 8:53 pm

        Yes, I was extremely lucky to be taught how to garden and cook at home but, more needs to be done at school for kids who don’t have this opportunity!

  • Reply Lorna April 23, 2015 at 10:58 pm

    Your workshops sound really interesting Dee. I have to admit that there’s plenty of dandelions here – I was just looking at some in the back flower bed yesterday and thinking that I must dig them up, better do it before they go to seedheads but will leave them for the bees for now 😉

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