What better way to engage with the everyday people who buy your produce, than starting with the next generation of consumers? Here Produce Business UK goes back to school to learn how National Fruit Show educationalist Sam Smith is spreading the word about home-grown apples
When I was invited along to a kids’ educational session at a Kent primary school by the National Fruit Show it seemed an odd request. Having been to the show for the past couple of years or so, it’s quite a grown-up affair – with miles of apples displayed ready to be judged, and lots of company stands talking machinery, pesticides and variety work, as well as the odd alcoholic drink. It was hard to see how children where going to get their kicks out of all that.
This is the same quizzical attitude educationalist Sam Smith faces when coming to a new school for the first time. Her workshop is a novel concept so the teachers don’t really know how the session’s going to play out, but over the years, Smith has built up an hour-long class dedicated to all things apple, covering cooking and nutrition, production techniques, varieties and development, and working in the apple industry. And, most importantly, she’s made it fun.
Having married into one of the largest apple-growing families in Kent, at Loddington Farm, Smith has guided Kent-based primary school groups around the National Fruit Show on the last day of the event to see the apples and talk them through the industry on their doorstep for years. So when the National Fruit Show wanted to design an educational resource for schools linking in with the national curriculum, she jumped in feet first.
Building a resource
“It’s taken four years to build up and even though the workshops are given to the schools for free, it was hard to find a way in at first, as you haven’t had the opportunity to prove yourself,” explains Smith, who is a freelance education consultant. “It helped that Tesco got involved with funding, as they are a nationally recognised name and already have the proven Farm to Fork educational offering. One of my main aims is to give teachers ideas for teaching plans, so that the workshop has more impact than just its allotted time and also to give kids the confidence to taste new apple varieties and products – teachers can’t believe who tries them at times!”
As you can probably imagine (we have all been children, after all) this acceptance isn’t by chance – Smith has to earn their attention, respect and trust each time. But this is not workshop where the kids are lectured; it’s an interactive, sometimes all-singing, all-dancing affair, with apple-tasting, variety-guessing, juice-making and even tree planting, on occasion.
“Some classes can be more challenging than others,” Smith says. “Teaching year six [10-11 year olds] is obviously completely different to preschool age, and behaviour changes from school to school. I’ll talk to the teachers first to see if there are any topics I can include that are relevant to their recent studies, such as the Ancient Greeks or photosynthesis.”
Smith and the youngsters even engage in planting trees
Enter the children
We’ve had a chat while Smith has been cleaning up apple debris from juicing and various apple pieces here and there, and before we know it, her second of four classes that day is at the door, with one child exclaiming: “There are apples everywhere!” I’m not sure if he is pleased or not.
In their last year of primary school, these are the big kids in town, but Smith gets them in line with a stern but informal, we-can-have-fun-if-you’re-nice chat, introducing various times where it’s okay for them to shout out loud, as long as they put their hands up first.
Smith starts the class with a breakdown of the title ‘National’, ‘Fruit’, ‘Show’, asking the children for definitions of the words so they fully understand the event, then the importance of Kent when it comes to apple growing. The kids seem impressed with the fact that the Queen gets to taste the best apples from the show awards, especially when Smith prompted them to “go home and tell your grown-ups, I only eat the apples that are good enough for the Queen”.
Before we go through the meaning of orchards, pollination and harvest, with props such as heavy picking bags, which one lucky soul got to wear, and maps of the world, the children get cards with different variety names on them, getting to shout out the name when it’s their turn. They then find out that there are around 7,500 different varieties of apples in the world. “If anyone says to you: ‘I don’t like apples’, politely, respectfully and with knowledge say, ‘yeah, but have you tried all 7,500 of them?’” Smith tells the gleeful children, introducing a new phrase to the playground by getting them to repeat the sentence.
After a talk through cooking and favourite apple meals and desserts, a smoother-than-expected group apple-juice making activity and apple crisps all round, Smith explains that she has asked a lot of silly questions in her time and that if the kids had any silly questions about apples, she was here to answer them. There were queries about waste, why the juice changes colour, what’s done with the less attractive apples and even grafting. I had never really understood the process of grafting before sitting in on this lesson.
Beyond the school gates
The next step is to join the dots and link in with other school schemes nationally, says Smith. “We hope to start a family-learning scheme for adults and primary-school teachers,” she continues. “Unless we engage at all levels, the children will take on the bad consumer habits of the parents. We’d also like to address discussing careers in the fruit industry at secondary/high school level, introducing career paths such as agronomy and science.
“After 10 years of being married to a farmer, I look back and realise I had no idea what it takes to get fruit on a table and how many careers it takes. I thought I knew, but I didn’t realise the pressures; from the weather to the EU. It’s a two-way thing though and farmers come and help with the class, to help plant trees or explain. It’s good for the children to get some time with an actual farmer and that farmer to meet the next generation of consumers.”
Sat in Wingham Primary School’s prefabricated outhouse, surrounded by 30 or so cross-legged enraptured kids with Smith shining in the spotlight, it strikes me that this is one of those moments in school that’s going to be firmly logged in the memory bank for these potential future farmers, pickers, scientists and chefs. But no matter what they become, they are the next generation of consumers buying into the apple category, with a good understanding of what lies behind the farms of the fresh produce industry. I’d put money on the fact a trip down the apple aisle will never be the same again and they’ll remember the day Sam came to school to talk apples.