Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Growing minds and healthy bodies at Cuyamaca College's Intergenerational Garden

Would you like to volunteer at the Intergenerational Garden?
For seniors wishing to work with children in the garden and classroom, contact Jamillah Bakr at
To volunteer for a weekend work day once a month, contact Cindy Emerson at
The next work day will be Saturday, Aug. 8 from 7 a.m. to noon. at the garden, next to the Child Development Center at Cuyamaca College.

The East County Intergenerational Garden at Cuyamaca College is a place where preschoolers can learn about how food is grown and to enjoy healthy eating, all with the help of local senior volunteers.

The garden, located on 1/3 acre adjacent to Cuyamaca College’s Child Development Center, produces a variety of fruits and vegetables, including avocados, apples, nectarines, asparagus, strawberries, ornamentals and many vegetable crops. Pumpkins and squash are harvested at Pumpkin Hill in the center of the garden. 

        The Intergenerational Garden creates an outside classroom that naturally links Five and Fit and Farm Preschool Curriculum to the Child Development Center programs, where the 3- to 5-year-olds grow the fruits and vegetables that support healthy eating habits for their families.

Early on, the children learn about “farm-fresh” and “locally grown” fruits and vegetables. A college-wide composting project started this spring, involving both the children and teachers at the Child Development Center and the College food services staff.  

Eight volunteers aged 55 years and older – called the “Garden Grannies” - now participate in the Intergenerational Garden program. The volunteers come from all walks of life, but each has some experience with gardening and a passion for working with young children.

Volunteers are recruited in a variety of ways, including through the San Diego Aging and Independent Service newsletter, but most volunteers learn of the program through word of mouth. They work side by side throughout the year with Child Development Center teachers, student teachers, and staff teaching and exposing the children to many new fruits and vegetables. Using all elements of the Five and Fit program and the Southern California Preschool Garden Primer curriculum, the volunteers modify these experiences for the children at the Center.  

Groups of volunteers meet with the children one morning each week, providing experiences and developing new behaviors about healthy eating and living an active lifestyle.

Each month, a new topic is introduced, such as the cabbage family, persimmons or pumpkins. Weekly lessons are chosen allowing the children to use all of their senses, which provide a deeper experience. Each lesson starts when the volunteers ask, “Where did this come from?” Children often plant seeds or harvest fruits or vegetables, which are then taken back to the classroom to sample.

The children’s families are encouraged to sample the fruits and vegetables and experience different foods in a new and interactive way. A sampling table is located in the Center lobby where parents collect fresh fruits and vegetables to take home. The volunteers also provide recipes for the families that utilize many of the fruits and vegetables grown in the garden.

            Many families report trying new fruits and vegetables for the first time. When the children stop by the table to gather produce, they can often be heard saying, “I picked these today with the Garden Grannies!”

            Families are encouraged to become involved in the Intergenerational Garden.  The children and their families can often work side by side on a Saturday garden work day, planting, watering or harvesting in the garden. This experience benefits both the children and their families. The children are learning at an early age how foods grow as they develop critical thinking skills on the importance of taking care of themselves and things around them.

Cuyamaca College interns and students help coordinate, work on projects and develop skills in irrigation, planting methods, architecture and construction. Their involvement with the Intergenerational Garden is a unique way to get hands-on training in their chosen fields.

Businesses also have opportunities to become involved with the garden. During the Saturday garden work days, community members, interns, students  and volunteers from the California Conservation Corps can be found building, digging, and moving large quantities of rocks, amended soil, mulch and plants. The Intergenerational Garden offers opportunities for all to experience its benefits.