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, and strawberries. 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.
Eight volunteers aged 55 years and older – called the “Garden Grannies” - 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. The volunteers work side by side throughout the year with Child Development Center teachers, student teachers, and staff teaching and exposing the children to new fruits and vegetables. 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.
"What a wonderful concept - our older generation working with and teaching the youngest generation here at Cuyamaca College," said Cindy Miles, Chancellor, Grossmont-Cuyamaca Community College District.
Each month, a new topic is introduced, such as the cabbage family, persimmons or pumpkins. Weekly lessons allow the children to use all of their senses. Each lesson starts when the volunteers ask, “Where did this come from?” Early on, the children learn about “farm-fresh” and “locally grown” fruits and vegetables. 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, too. A sampling table is located in the Center lobby where parents collect the 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 work side by side on a Saturday garden work day, planting, watering or harvesting in the garden. The children learn 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 work on projects in the garden and develop skills in irrigation, planting methods, architecture and construction to get training in their chosen fields. Community members and California Conservation Corps volunteers also work in the garden, digging and moving large quantities of rocks, amended soil, mulch and plants. The Intergenerational Garden offers opportunities for all to experience its benefits.