Lots of carrots, but no stick

25th May 2007 at 01:00
Every Tuesday morning, a P7 class in East Lothian runs its own food co-operative for the local community.

BROOKE RAWLINGS is directing two P7 boys as they move a table across Whitecraig Primary's assembly hall to create a makeshift shop counter.

Next, the trio arrange the till on the counter, making sure they have change before the first customers come in for their weekly grocery shop.

Keith MacNeill quizzes the food co-operative's supplier on whether they have eggs this week. He looks disappointed at receiving a negative answer, but is magnanimous as he rearranges the fruit and vegetables to fill the gap.

Neither of these budding entrepreneurs has yet reached their 12th birthday, but they are firmly and quietly in control of this enterprise. Various adults hover in the background, chatting among themselves, on hand to help but not directing the pupils or even overseeing their business-like division of labour.

This grocery is a food co-operative run by the pupils at White-craig Primary in East Lothian. The idea arose after the charity Roots and Fruits approached the school about its work on healthy eating. The charity, which receives funding from the local authority, sources fresh produce and sells it at a penny or two dearer than cost price, to cover overheads. It uses a large fresh produce supplier, but it is investigating sourcing from local growers, says Michelle Telford, project worker .

Roots and Fruits runs a visiting co-op grocer's at the Musselburgh East Community Association centre and two vans which tour East Lothian selling fresh fruit and vegetables, eggs and yog-hurt. In addition, it offers lessons in healthy choices, extolling the virtues of a healthy lifestyle.

For Mark Melville, deputy headteacher, the project is not just about educating children, it's also about putting learning into context. The P7s learn how to work a till and see how maths is used in the real world. They learn communication skills by talking to customers, develop team working skills and are given responsibility to work independently.

"It's a terrific example of what A Curriculum for Excellence is all about,"

says Mr Melville. "It also helps cement the school's place at the heart of the local community by reaching out to all members, including those with no association with Whitecraig Primary."

The food co-operative has been operating on a Tuesday since the end of January and is timed for mid-morning to catch parents collecting nursery children. P7 pupils organise staffing on a rota, devised by Keith MacNeill, 11, which rotates pupils in pairs so there are always two with experience and two who are new. This allows them to pass on training on the job, encouraging peer-to-peer learning.

Having the shop at the school exposes children to healthy foods they may not get at home, or have seen before, says Mr Melville.

Brooke enjoys working in the co-op. "You get to learn about maths on the till, and you get to work with other people from outside the school," she says. "And I have tried some of the peppers and kiwi fruit - I never used to like kiwi but I like these ones."

Proving the influence of pester-power, Brooke now encourages her mum, who works at Asda, to bring home the new fruit and vegetables she has discovered through selling them in school.

Classmate Andrew Brown, 12, has also discovered kiwi fruits and pineapples:

"When I am in the house I always look for a piece of fruit rather than crisps or biscuits - I've tasted the different fruits and they are better.

I go to my gran's and eat all her kiwis!"

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