A mum-of-three’s ‘little crusade’ to improve children’s health and education all began with chicken nuggets.
The state of the nation’s health is never far away from the headlines nowadays, with around one in three children either overweight or obese.
Tracey Poulton, who lives near Billingshurst, is trying to repair the disconnect many children have with nature, the countryside, and the origins of where their food comes from by launching a pioneering outdoor nursery at her 33-acre family farm.
She aims to open the doors of Natural Nurture Nursery in mid November for ages three to five and hopes the project will show the health benefits of children spending time outside.
Her personal epiphany came when she read Government research that revealed when children were asked to draw a chicken, some drew chicken nuggets, while many others did not know where milk came from.
“How can kids make informed choices about food when they do not know where it comes from?” she asked.
“It’s my little crusade to say it’s totally possible for children to be outside a lot.”
Four years ago she took over the derelict Pear Tree Farm, in West Chiltington Lane, and with her husband Anthony has set up a ‘totally self sustaining’ operation.
“It’s quite a holistic farm we are creating,” she explained.
The nursery would have an outdoor kitchen and moveable cedar cabins which can be moved to different parts of the farm in accordance with the seasonal cycles.
While there are one or two places that do something similar, Tracey said there was nothing on this scale.
She said: “It’s kind of ground-breaking and that’s why a lot of people are keen to help me make it work because it’s a beacon.”
West Sussex County Council allocated two advisors to help get the project going, and the nursery fulfils all the requirements from Ofsted.
Tracey also mentioned Natwest relationship manager Alison Kettle who helped her secure a start-up business loan.
Her biggest foray into children’s health education was back in 2008 when she helped establish The Year of Food and Farming. She worked with several national supermarkets to educate school children about the source of their food.
Tracey has three sons, aged 18, 20 and 23. She said their different skills and approaches taught her about the need to adjust and treat them on an individual basis, something she hopes will shine through in the business.
Natural Nurture had an open day last month and will hold another on Saturday October 19 from 11am-2pm.
Some parents were enthusiastic about their children cooking every day and harvesting plants they had grown.
“It’s very hands on,” she explained. “Just being in that environment you can see the health benefits people have from just being outside.”
She continued: “It’s about nature and the countryside because they can get great lessons that will carry them through life.
“I want to illustrate to people that it can be done.”
In the meantime both she and the staff are eagerly awaiting the nursery’s official opening.
“It’s been in planning for about 18 months so I’m getting to the point where I want to see the little critters running around using the farm.”
They hope to cater for 35 children and Tracey said she would be taking childcare vouchers.
“I do not feel this is just for the privileged few I want it to be for all,” she said.
Could the project lead to a new model for some nurseries up and down the country?
She answered: “If we could do a step and repeat and see all these satellites popping up over the country I would be over the moon.”
To book a place on the open day call 01403 782787 or email email@example.com
For more information visit www.naturalnurture.org