Green-fingered youngsters with additional support needs are enjoying getting their hands dirty, thanks to East Kilbride Community Trust.
The charity runs a Thursday Allotment Club at O’Caithan Farm in Jackton – the home of EKCT trustee and local property developer James Kean – and as well as the youngsters learning all they need to know about how to grow their own vegetables, they also get the added bonus of learning about farmyard life – with some sports coaching thrown in for good measure.
Kids from Greenburn and Greenhills Primary School’s ASN units have been visiting the farm for the last eight months and have helped plant seeds, watched their vegetables grow, done some weeding and picked the vegetables to take back to their schools to make pots of soup.
Dave McKenna, who helps organise the Allotment Club with EKCT’s chief executive Monique McAdams, told the News: “It’s great to see the smiles on the kids faces.
“Thanks to the work of the Trust they are up here feeding horses straw and they are having a ball doing it. When they came up in the Spring they saw Highland Cows and Aberdeen Angus that were foaling and they got to learn about the workings of a farm, so it’s a great experience for all of them.
“They’ve gone the whole cycle. They helped dig the soil, planted seeds, came up and did some weeding and over the summer they’ve seen the vegetables grow and when they were ready to pick the children took them back to their schools to make big pots of soup.”
Last week News reporter Paul Thomson joined the school children for the morning as he helped take one of the football coaching sessions run by East Kilbride Football Club coaches Dave McKenna and his son Rudi. Football, tennis and basketball all form part of the sporting hour that takes place on the farm and the schools have James Kean to thank for opening his farm and his sports hub to the kids.
Dave added: “All this started with some football coaching we were doing at Greenburn Primary, but James wanted to help the kids get an allotment up and running so he suggested they come to his place and we could do that and the football coaching all in one place. James has been so generous to open up the farm to the schools. We had a barbecue just before the summer break and he dressed up as a horse, which the kids just loved. Nobody knew he was going to do it.
“So in terms of his time and his enthusiasm, he’s been great. James has been really busy with his business work, but he’s here very often for days like this and normally helps out with our Sunday club as well. He gives so much, the kids love him and I know how much it means to him to see these kids getting so much enjoyment out of this.”
Run in conjunction with Robert Wiseman’s Diaries , agricultural company LS Smellie and builders merchants Travis Perkins – who have helped supply wellies, seeds and equipment – the programme has seen youngsters grow a range of vegetables.The allotments also harvest fresh herbs including basil, thyme, coriander and chives.
Debbie McGarvey, the unit teacher at Greenhills Primary, said: “This has been a fantastic opportunity for the children. They have enjoyed growing their own vegetables which has helped to teach them where food comes from and the importance of eating healthily.
“They have all loved tasting the fresh food they have grown.”
And Carol Lynch acting depute head teacher at Greenburn Primary added: “We are really grateful for the opportunities that children are able to get each week by being able to participate in these outdoor learning experiences.
“ The children have been able to feed horses, see pigs, sheep and cattle at close range, plant vegetables at the allotments and have fun.
“It’s also been a brilliant opportunity to take part in inclusive activities with Greenhills Primary School.
“We appreciate the hard work of all the staff and volunteers involved in making this project happen, as all the children and staff members have felt warmly welcomed”.
It is now hoped that after the success of the Allotment Club it will reach out to more pupils.
Dave McKenna added: “We’vegot a unit in the Murray with additional support needs and we have been in touch with them, so we are hoping to get more kids up to the farm soon.”
Paul Thomson, East Kilbride News