Children at eight elementary schools in the Amsterdam East district have enjoyed seeing apples and other fruit grow in their playgrounds this year. Fruit4Schools is bringing the kids and their parents into contact with healthy food in a fun way. The initiative by Amsterdam city council and Wageningen UR will be implemented in other elementary schools in the Dutch capital during 2016.
“Fruit4Schools is a social concept which brings children into contact with healthy food in a playful way,” says scientist Marc Ravesloot from Wageningen UR.
“The pupils get their own orchard in the schoolyard and learn how to take proper care of the trees. We have opted mainly for spur-type apple trees. These stiff, upright-growing dwarf trees have lots of fruit and are easy to grow in hedges, ensuring that even the smallest children have apples at eye level.”
A greenery deficit for the young
The eight schools in the first experiment are located in densely populated urban areas. “You can tell from the reactions of the children that they have not grown up surrounded by greenery,” Ravesloot says. “At best, they may have seen fruit trees during visits to the school allotment, and those locations generally focus more on the cultivation of vegetables. Now the kids just need to look outside. A teacher told us that, after the spring holiday, her students were staring out of the windows amazed that the whole playground was suddenly in bloom.”
Lessons in fruit cultivation
The project also included the development of training materials for the lower, middle and upper grades. This teaches children in six age groups how fruit grows and how trees are looked after, including by pruning. The schools have agreed to free up space in the curriculum for Fruit4Schools and to manage the orchard together with the children, parents and local residents. “We accompany the entire process,” Ravesloot explains. “For instance, we offer environmental education teachers a ‘train-the-trainer’ programme. Having learnt the basics of fruit cultivation, they can properly prepare for the lessons they give.”
Fruit4Schools and Fruit4Sports
Fruit4Schools stems from Fruit4Sports, a Wageningen UR project which enlisted associations to sell fruit from their own sports parks in their canteens. “Amsterdam city council is very keen on these types of projects,” Ravesloot underlines. “The more young children come into contact with healthy food in various ways, the greater the chance that they will adapt their taste preferences and lifestyle accordingly. And a healthy diet prevents diseases of affluence such as obesity and diabetes. Schools already devote a great deal of attention to the importance of healthy eating and Fruit4Schools makes its own contribution in this context.”
Involving local greengrocers
Ravesloot would like to see Fruit4Schools grow to an initiative supported by the entire district in 2016. “For instance, we would like to make arrangements with local greengrocers to provide schools with fresh fruit every week. I see this as a worthwhile investment on their part as the fruit is intended for children who will grow up to be their future customers.”
Amsterdam city council believes in the project as a means to promote a healthy lifestyle at an early age. According to Ravesloot, other municipalities have expressed interest in following suit. “This is consistent with municipal health policies and would also improve the appearance of the schoolyard and neighbourhood.”