I met the school council at Ferring primary school the other day. I don't know who was more daunted - me (I'd never met a school council before), or them (many had never met a horticulturalist before, never mind a 'royal' one). But how exciting. They have decided to put on their own show, and there won't be a donkey or an angel in sight at this one as it will be a vegetable show.
Now, putting on a veg show is fantastic for so many reasons, not least of which is that it will get lots of children gardening and growing their own food. But it's more than that - it's about engaging children in their learning through a project with real meaning and tangible results. It's about learning through doing, which is what this whole open futures initiative is about.
Anyway, here are my top tips for organising a school vegetable show:
1. Remember whose show it is. Give ownership of it to the children, allow them to make decisions and to make mistakes. This is an important part of learning.
2. Involve children from all year groups, giving them the opportunity to shine in both gardening and non-gardening activities - designing posters, writing invitations, organising the day.
3. Read the Horticultural Show Handbook ("the official RHS guide to organising, judging and competing in a show"). It does exactly what it says on the tin so use it to give guidance, but also to have a giggle at such gems as "good weight is considered more important than length".
4. Encourage the children to keep it manageable by having a small number of categories (Ferring decided on four vegetables, two fruits, two flowers and a cake category)
5. Make it fun. This isn't the Chelsea flower show. If the children want categories of 'longest carrot', 'most amusing root vegetable' or 'heaviest pumpkin' (and they generally do) then let them.
6. Run the show at a time of year when it will be easiest to have lots of lovely vegetables and fruits from the outdoor garden, which probably means July.
7. Invite parents and grandparents - not just to see the show, but to enter. In my experience us Dad's, and many Mum's, can get very competitive and the more involvement in their childs learning the better. It doesn't stop at the school gate.
8. Invite other schools. This will encourage them to get gardening, if they aren't already, which has got to be a good thing. And it's always great to share ideas, especially with those doing the same thing.
9. Get someone to judge. Even better, get a few people, as I've seen parents at school football matches and appreciate there's safety in numbers! I've enlisted the help of a few RHS colleagues (Simon Thornton-Wood, Hayley Young and Sarah Cathcart, maybe even Jim Gardiner).
10. Invite the local press along and publicise the great things you're doing.
The Ferring show is taking place on July 21st 2010. I'll let you know how preparations are going and who's onions are looking best as the year progresses. If you're nearby, maybe you'd like to pop in or perhaps even enter! If not, perhaps you could encourage your local school to put one on.