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Northern Irish students urged to Sow, Grow, Munch

UP ON THE ROOF...The gardeners planting the new edible roof garden at the Europa Hotel, needed an extra hand this week in the form of a crane to help put in place the flower beds and greenhouse. The greenhouse will be used to grow microherbs and peashoots for the hotel from April to October and the raised beds have been planted with rhubarb, bay trees, thyme, rosemary, parsley, sage, coriander, chives and even chocolate mint for the chefs to use across many of their popular dishes and even in cocktails in the bars. Pictured is Jilly Dougan who oversaw the installation of the new rooftop garden.

UP ON THE ROOF...The gardeners planting the new edible roof garden at the Europa Hotel, needed an extra hand this week in the form of a crane to help put in place the flower beds and greenhouse. The greenhouse will be used to grow microherbs and peashoots for the hotel from April to October and the raised beds have been planted with rhubarb, bay trees, thyme, rosemary, parsley, sage, coriander, chives and even chocolate mint for the chefs to use across many of their popular dishes and even in cocktails in the bars. Pictured is Jilly Dougan who oversaw the installation of the new rooftop garden.

UP ON THE ROOF…The gardeners planting the new edible roof garden at the Europa Hotel, needed an extra hand this week in the form of a crane to help put in place the flower beds and greenhouse. The greenhouse will be used to grow microherbs and peashoots for the hotel from April to October and the raised beds have been planted with rhubarb, bay trees, thyme, rosemary, parsley, sage, coriander, chives and even chocolate mint for the chefs to use across many of their popular dishes and even in cocktails in the bars. Pictured is Jilly Dougan who oversaw the installation of the new rooftop garden.

Fresh food enthusiast Jilly Dougan has launched an innovative workbook to encourage schools and pupils in Northern Ireland to grow and cook more of their own food.

Mrs Dougan, who runs Jilly Dougan’s Edible Gardens, a business that has been assisting hotels, restaurants and businesses to grow herbs and edible flowers, has written Sow, Grow, Munch, a richly illustrated food guide for schools.

Based in Portadown, county Armagh, Mrs Dougan, who has vast experience in food production and marketing including the development of dry-cured pork products, has used her knowledge of the industry and expertise in the production of the innovative workbook designed to stimulate youngsters to grow and cook their own food using ingredients they’ve planted, nurtured and harvested themselves.

It’s also a timely production in line with the current Year of Food and Drink campaign in Northern Ireland that’s highlighting local producers and also with the work of the Education for Sustainable Development Forum.

Local food companies such as Irwin’s Bakery, Yellow Door and Forest Feast are backing her initiative. Food NI, the Ulster Farmers Union, the Northern Ireland Potato Marketing Group and the Armagh, Banbridge and Craigavon Council are also on board. She’s been encouraged too by the Belfast Food Network and the Food in Schools Forum. Hastings Group is using the book to support its work with six local schools as part of Year of Food and Drink.
What motivated Mrs Dougan, wife of leading Northern Irish chef Simon Dougan, to put pen to paper was research showing “a generational disconnect from real food, how it is produced, where it comes from and how to take raw ingredients and make very simple dishes from them”.

Both inner city and, perhaps surprisingly, rural school children have very little food knowledge, according to Mrs Dougan.

She explains: “The aim of the workbook is to get more children growing and enjoying their own home-grown produce. The book is the result of almost a year’s research and drafting. It covers the contribution of food and drink to the economy and the products grown here. I also made sure that the recipes were simple, and used local and store cupboard ingredients which can mostly be bought in a corner shop, and are cheap.

“We owe it to our children to at least inform them in simple terms where their food comes from, who produces it, how it is produced and give them enough knowledge to shape their food choices for life. A healthy lifestyle is all about balance. We should show them that not all food comes from a supermarket, over packaged or overly processed. It’s natural for root vegetables to have soil on them, milk comes from cows that should eat lovely green grass, eggs come from chickens, meat comes from animals, and the cooker in your house is not just for reheating stuff, neither is the cooker or stove something that needs to be laboured over for hours!”

Mrs Dougan continues “cooking from scratch simply and quickly with raw ingredients and minimum effort can be very empowering for both parents and children. It can also save a lot of money”.

She points to recent research showing that growing food at school “promotes health and well-being, particularly in relation to diet and nutrition, but also encourages and facilitates learning, builds skills, improves awareness and understanding of the natural environment and its importance to us, supports school improvement and strengthens communities”.

“Growing food in school equips youngsters with greater knowledge of the natural world, such as biodiversity, ecosystems and sustainability, as well as an understanding of their impact on the environment and their role as environmental stewards. It encourages environmental responsibility,” she adds.

The guide, she continues, is not intended to be a comprehensive book, but ”a brief overview of what can be done to establish food growing in any school”.

“It is a monthly growing guide, along with basic nutritional information on some common and easy to grow fruit and vegetables. It features recipes for simple food which can be prepared and cooked in a classroom with raw ingredients the children have grown themselves. The simple dishes which could also be cooked at home with parents.”

There’s a section on where food comes from, why agriculture is vitally important to any country, especially Northern Ireland, and how buying local supports a whole host of other businesses.

What encouraged her to set up Jilly Dougan Edible Gardens, her own business, was a recognition that huge opportunities were developing from the demand for fresh, nutritious, wholesome and safe food with provenance.

Northern Ireland Food and Drink companies are also celebrating the regions pure, natural, quality food and drink in 2016, with a series of local, national, and international promotional events.

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