As London’s leading restaurants and food producers gear up for the first Fork to Fork festival on 13 June, we talk to co-founder Thomasina Miers about what London’s newest family food festival has in store and the Open Air Classroom project that lies at its heart.
Thomasina Miers was taking her daughters to their local park when she spotted the disused plot of land near her home in Kensal Rise. On discovering that it belonged to a failing primary school that was being taken over by an educational charity, the idea for the Open Air Classroom project was born.
“I found out who the head teacher was going to be and wrote to her to say, ‘We have this incredible space, can I help you do something with it?’ We spent a year planning it. It’s an interesting school, with lots of nationalities and languages. Food is such an amazing way to overcome those sorts of barriers.”
Along with raised beds for growing vegetables – which will be cooked in the school kitchen and sold by the children at the Queen’s Park farmers market – the garden classroom will also feature a pond to teach marine science, a conservation and ecology area, a beehive, a wormer, sundial and several climbing frames. The garden will be open to the local community at weekends and school holidays.
If the story sounds familiar, that’s because it echoes that of Alice Waters, the Chez Panisse restaurateur, food activist and founder of the hugely successful Edible Garden Project in California. Over 20 years ago, Waters set about transforming the 1 acre asphalt-clad car park of a school near her home in Berkeley into the first ‘edible garden’ of its type, with a vision to teach chidren about the providence of their food, plant life cycles, and how to grow, harvest and prepare their own produce.
Today, nearly everything imaginable is grown there (with ducks and chickens raised too) and the project has spread rapidly across the US – including to the White House where Michelle Obama set about digging up the South Lawn to create a kitchen garden within weeks of her husband taking office. Waters herself has endorsed the project in Kilburn.
“The garden is not just to teach kids about growing and food” says Wahaca founder Tommi, “but hopefully all aspects of the syllabus through the garden: maths, science and art. It’s a way of engaging them. The outdoors is so powerful – we are animals at the end of the day, it’s so good for us to be outside and active.”
Research from the Berkeley scheme, and similar projects in Australia, has demonstrated time and time again that children benefit hugely from learning in creative outdoor spaces and that it feeds back into the indoor classroom with improved levels of focus and concentration.
But all of this, of course, comes at a cost and as things currently stand the burden of funding these sorts of initiatives still falls squarely on donations, grants and private fundraising. Miers is among those who believes more public funding should be made available:
“Funding is not joined-up. If you look at the obesity and diabetes epidemic sweeping the western and developing world, it’s costing the NHS billions. If they could put some of that money into education at the beginning of the journey – teach kids about vegetables, start them cooking veg instead of cakes – we’d save billions.”
Cue the fundraising Fork to Fork Festival, launched by Miers with her friend, Caravan restaurant founder, Laura Harper-Hinton. The one-day festival will take place on 13 June at the ARK Franklin School, Kilburn and is an absolute must for London food-loving families.
Children’s activities, a secret picnic garden, live music, chef demos, talks and tastings will all feature but, for those of us who tend to think with our stomachs, the big draw will undoubtedly be the food stalls: from Hix, Ottolenghi, Koya and Soho House to Polpo, Caravan, Moro, and Granger & Co, the great and the good of London’s food scene will be all represented. And if that wasn’t enough they’ll be trucks from Wahaca (of course), Dirty Burger, The Bowler and Young’s, as well as drinks stalls from leading craft beer breweries, Borough Wines, Portobello Gin and Vinoteca.
Tommi and Laura are hopeful that the festival will become an annual event and that the scheme will become a blueprint to inspire other schools and communities. If it means we can wash down some of London’s best burgers with the perfect gin and tonic in the name of a good cause, you can sign us up for 2016 now.