Children get to meet Norfolk’s food heroes

Talking to some of our region's food producers is an important aspect of the Norfolk Food Discovery Project's aim to teach children about where food comes from. In the third part of our series which follows the scheme, Emma Harrowing discovers what happens when an apple producer visits a Norwich school.

There are over 100 varieties of apple originating from East Anglia. Most are grown at Drove Orchards, a fruit farm on the edge of Hunstanton. Here a selection of the most suitable varieties are freshly pressed in small batches to produce apple juice that is sold from the farm shop.

Sue and George Hall from Drove Orchards tell stories about what they do to the children at Magdalen Gates Primary in Norwich. The tales about the apples journey from drove to drink raise a lot of questions from the children in Year 4 who are taking part in the third Norfolk Food Discovery Project, a scheme funded by the Big Lottery's Local Food Fund and managed by the Country Trust in partnership with the RHS Campaign for School Gardening. The project teaches children about where their food comes from and visits to the school from food producers is one part of the scheme.

'The children have been on farm visits and have sown seeds in order to grow their own fruit and vegetables so they are becoming experts at handling food,' says teacher Helen St Ruth. 'Sue from Drove Orchards came to the school and talked about the many different varieties of apples and pears grown there and many of the varieties were brought in for the children to taste.'

The children discovered that not all apples taste the same. Some are sweet such as the St Edmunds, some are complex such as the Cox's Orange Pippin and some are quite dry such as the Bramley.

Sue tells the children that each apple is picked when ripe from the tree and pressed in small batches to ensure its freshness and flavour.

The orchard planted their first apple trees just after World War Two. Now the orchard covers almost 30 acres and is home to a wealth of different fruits including five varieties of plum, 10 pears, strawberries and raspberries, red, white and black currants, gooseberries, jostaberries, walnuts, hazelnuts, artichokes and the whole range of seasonally available vegetables and salads.

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It's then the children's turn to try their hand at making apple juice. A traditional apple press was brought into the school courtesy of Phoebe Wingate from the Norfolk Food Discovery Project and each child takes it in turns to press the apples to make a juice.

'It's fun but very hard work,' says pupil Ricards Kroners. 'I had to hold down the press while the others turned the handle.'

After all the hard work each child had a bottle of Drove Orchards apple juice, an apple and even a piece of homemade apple flapjack to take home.

Helen St Ruth was amazed at how much the children learnt about growing their own fruit and making their own juice. 'This was a brilliant opportunity for the pupils to see this trade in action. It was very generous of Sue and George to come and leave the pupils with so much!'

This wasn't the first time that the children had met someone who produces food. As part of the Norfolk Food Discovery Project the children get to meet local food 'heroes', those that are farming the land and producing some of the most delicious food and drink in Norfolk.

The project aims to get children excited about eating more of the food produced in our region. The project began last September and between then and July this year 180 children from six primary schools in Norwich and Yarmouth will be growing their own food and cooking it up for their families.

Back in November the children visited Morely Farm near Wymondham and the Raveningham Estate. Here they met food heroes David Jones, farm manager at Morley Farm and Jake Fiennes the estate manager at Raveningham. Both took the children on a tour around the farm and the children experienced what it was like to work on a farm and grow their own food by digging up crops, tasting fresh produce and tackling giant worms.

Finding out about how our food is grown and produced first hand from the experts is an essential part of the children's education on the project. Norfolk Food Discovery Project manager Christabelle Dilks feels that this part of the scheme is beneficial for all those involved:

'Following the huge success of the Drove Orchards' visit we'd like to arrange more Local Food Heroes visits to our schools in Norwich and Great Yarmouth,' says Christabelle. 'If you're a food producer and you's like to share what you so with eight and nine year olds please get in touch. All you need to do is take a short assembly with a little tasting session. We are happy to pay expenses and you will get so much out of it as it is a fantastic experience for the children.'

For now the children from Magdalen Gates Primary school chatter about how they could possible make their own apple juice if they can grow enough crops. Their own plants are growing on an allotment on Bluebell Road and with cooking classes booked in for later this year, the children are crossing their fingers that they can produce a feast made from the fruit and vegetables they have grown themselves in the Summer.

The Norfolk Food Discovery Project is working with Tuckswood, Valley and Magdalen Gates Primary schools in Norwich, and with North Denes, Peterhouse and Herman Primary schools in Great Yarmouth. The project is currently looking for food producers who would like to come into the schools to talk to the children about what they do. The scheme is also looking for volunteers to help maintain their allotments. For more information contact Christabelle Dilks on 01728 726 540 or email