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Soil Association wins £16.9 million

180 schools in diverse communities across England are set to become beacons of good food culture, thanks to £16.9 million Big Lottery funding for a new collaboration of like-minded organisations called the Food for Life Partnership. The positive impacts will go much further, getting schoolchildren and parents across the country cooking, re-skilling dinner ladies, and offering farmers secure markets for local, seasonal and sustainably-produced food.

Led by the Soil Association, The Food for Life Partnership consists of the Focus on Food Campaign, Garden Organic and the Health Education Trust, bringing together unique experience of successful practical work in schools, revolutionising school meals and giving children the chance to grow and cook food, and visit organic farms.

It helps schools think about their food culture and create school meals which are both tasty, nutritious local and organic. Food for Life is based around the whole school approach – which encourages children, parents, catering staff, governors, headteachers and producers to all fully engage in changes to school food provision.

The Food for Life targets are:

1. School lunches should aim to provide food which meets the nutrition standards set by the Caroline Walker Trust and the School Meals Review Panel

2. 75% of all foods consumed should be made from unprocessed ingredients

3. At least 50% by weight of meal ingredients should be sourced from the local region (50 mile radius or the proximity principle applies)

4. At least 30% by weight of the food served should be from certified organic sources

5. Better classroom education on food, cooking, nutrition and health and ensure that all children visit a farm at least once during their time at school

Food for Life was set up by the Soil Association, Jeanette Orrey (former catering manager at St Peter’s Primary School, Nottingham), Lizzie Vann (who runs Organix, a leading organic children’s food company), and Simon Brenman (Organic Networks), a specialist in the organic supply chain.

Jeanette Orrey serves as the Soil Association’s school meals policy advisor, is a board member on the School Food Trust and has won numerous awards, including the Observer Food Award for ‘Person who has done the most for the food and drink industry’ in 2003. But prior to this, she was the dinner lady at St. Peter’s Primary School in East Bridgford, Nottinghamshire for 14 years.

She led a revolution in her school kitchen back in 2000, rebelling against the poor quality of centrally supplied ingredients. She chose to bring catering at her school back in-house, sourcing as much local, organic and fairtrade produce as possible – and all on a very tight budget. Since then, life for Jeanette has sped up and she now travels around the country talking about what has been achieved at St. Peter’s and encouraging other schools to implement Food for Life targets.

In 2005 the Training Kitchen at Ashlyn’s Organic Farm in Essex was opened – there Jeanette offers a two-day practical course on how to transform school dinners using the Food for Life approach aimed at school cooks and catering managers. The courses look at how to cook meals that meet nutritional standards from scratch using local and organic ingredients, menu planning, food purchasing and budget management. Jeanette is also the author of two books, The Dinner Lady and most recently, Second Helpings.

For more information, please visit www.soilassociation.org/foodforlife

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