Urban youngsters get a taste of the countryside

An exciting new project aims to give youngsters from urban areas of Norwich and Great Yarmouth a taste of life – and the food – in the countryside. EMMA LEE finds out more.

Norfolk is largely a rural county, and much of its prosperity grows from agriculture. As well as the fruit (and vegetables) of the land, there are also a host of great food producers in the county making all sorts of tasty treats from cheese to chocolate.

One of the building blocks to living a healthy life is understanding where food comes from and having the skills to cook it.

It's easy for youngsters from urban areas to miss out on this important lesson, which is why an exciting and inspiring new scheme has been launched which will enable children to experience the food's journey from field to fork.

Over three years the Country Trust's Norfolk Food Discovery project will give 540 primary school children, and their parents, from the most needy areas of Norwich and Great Yarmouth the chance to grow and cook their own food.

They'll visit farms and meet Norfolk's greatest chefs and food heroes, who will, it is hoped, encourage them to eat more healthily, and discover the wonderful food that is produced in Norfolk – from Cromer crabs to Dapple cheeses and rare breed sausages to farmhouse ice cream.

The first group of pupils, who come from Cobholm Primary, St Nicholas Priory and Edward Worlledge in Great Yarmouth, and Mile Cross, West Earlham and Lakenham Primary in Norwich have already been hard at work on their own allotments planting fruit, vegetables and herbs. Outdoors they've sown broad beans, raspberries, strawberries, blackcurrants, potatoes, onions and garlic. Then they're growing beetroot, carrot and lettuce plus the herbs parsley, thyme, mint and chives in a polytunnel.

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Between now and July they will have cooking lessons showing them and their parents how to cook easy, tasty and nutritious meals, they will visit farms to learn how food is produced on a large scale and they'll meet some local food heroes who will explain how they make their produce and give them a taste of some new exciting flavours.

The children will also be setting up markets in their playground to sell their own, and other fresh, local produce to their families and the project will end with the children cooking a celebratory harvest for their family and friends.

Christabelle Dilks is the project manager for Norfolk Food Discovery, which is run by the Country Trust, which has been taking youngsters on farm visits for 30 years.

'To go to a farm is a completely different environment for them and it gives them a wonderful taste of a different world,' says Cristabelle.

'Quite often they think that food comes out of a box. Sometimes they're not even eating breakfast.

'This project is about exciting them about food and the fantastic food that's on their doorstep as well as learning to grow and cook.

'Norfolk has some fantastic food and we're going to be taking them out to show them how food gets on to their plate,' she says.

Norfolk Food Discovery is only possible thanks to a grant from the Local Food Programme, a �57.5 million scheme from the Big Lottery Fund, which supports food-related community projects across the country.

The children will work the land at allotments in both Great Yarmouth, on Freemantle Road, and just north of Norwich at the HFG Farm Shop, where owners Judy and Nick Taylor are very excited about inspiring children with their love of growing food.

'We're delighted to be part of the project. It will be great to have children here actually growing their own crops, and finding out how food gets on to their plate.'

And the schools taking part agree that the Norfolk Food Discovery project fills a gap.

'It will greatly benefit the children in our school,' says Mark Adams, head of St Nicholas Priory School.

'We're in an area of high socio-economic deprivation and we have no school field, so a project such as this is very welcome.'

Julie Risby, head teacher of Cobholm Primary School, added: 'Norfolk Food Discovery is providing lots of opportunities which these children otherwise wouldn't really have.'

Sarah Hawes, who teaches at West Earlham Junior School, said: 'The West Earlham Junior School is so excited to have the opportunity to work with Norfolk Food Discovery. It's going to give the children a fantastic sense of pride and achievement.'

We will be following the progress of the Norfolk Food Discovery project in Life Matters. Next time we will be finding out how the youngsters at Mile Cross get on at a cookery class.