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A garden for the ages takes root at Cuyamaca College

Posted on: Aug 20, 2013 1:00:00 AM

Contact: Della Elliott (619) 644-7690

The little pumpkins at Cuyamaca College’s Child Development Center and the “Gardening Grannies” who together have been cultivating a garden unlike any in East County will at last be able to share the early fruits of their labor with the community.

On Tuesday, Aug. 27, Cuyamaca College and the County of San Diego will dedicate the campus’ Intergenerational Garden, a 1/3-acre plot between the Child Development Center and the Water Conservation Garden that is well on its way to produce a bountiful crop of produce at a site full of whimsy and creative touches. Funded in part by a $25,000 grant from the county’s Health and Human Services Agency, the garden also is a labor of love for scores of volunteers.

The 1 ½-year project will soon be flourishing with an abundance of citrus and other fruit, a variety of vegetable and flower beds, vines with pumpkins and melons, ornamentals, herbs, and more. The harvest will be incorporated into the children’s menus at the center, a pre-kindergarten daycare facility serving both the college and off-campus communities. Uniquely suited as an onsite lab for students enrolled in the college’s child development program, the center provides a fun and inviting learning environment for roughly 100 preschoolers annually.

“The irrigation is in and water is flowing in the garden,” said Jennifer Lewis, project coordinator and the college’s dean of Continuing Education and Workforce Training. “In addition, the split rail perimeter fencing has been constructed and Pumpkin Hill is planted and growing pumpkins.”

Eight raised garden beds are also being readied for fall vegetable planting. Besides providing healthy offerings of fruits and vegetables for the children, any extras will be given to their families and the seniors, and potentially to to the community at a booth at the farmer’s market held every Saturday at the college.

Officiating at the garden’s opening from 1:30-2:30 p.m. will be East County Supervisor Dianne Jacob, Grossmont-Cuyamaca Community College District Chancellor Cindy L. Miles; Cuyamaca College President Mark J. Zacovic;  county Health and Human Services Agency Director Nick Macchione; and county Aging and Independence Services Director Ellen Schmeding.

In addition to the young gardeners and their senior citizen partners, others joining in on the official launching will be community partners who have donated time and materials, members from the California Conservation Corps, and others. The dedication ceremony is open to the public.

Hands-on learning

For a few hours each week, eight gardening enthusiasts, aged 60 and older, have been sharing their know-how with 60 preschoolers initially tending a small practice garden on the center grounds until construction was far enough along on the Intergenerational Garden. Previously a vacant site with mountains of mulch and debris, the garden, once completed, will boast lots of extras, including a nearby amphitheater and a meandering creek bed.

Thanks to donated material and hours, the Intergenerational Garden will be a public attraction at Cuyamaca College for everyone to enjoy. With fundraising and corporate sponsorships that so far have added $40,000 toward the garden, an adjacent community garden is planned with dozens of plots for public leasing, most likely by 2014.

The county grant helped establish the garden and also paid the $100 monthly stipend for the minimum 16 hours served each month by the seniors, affectionately called the “Gardening Grannies” by the center’s young inhabitants. The grant ended in June, but to keep the project going, the county has committed to providing an additional $15,000 to cover the stipends and garden maintenance starting this month.  Volunteers and community partners are continuing to be recruited at various  local events..

A palatable lesson

For the children, ages 2-5, the intent is to teach good nutrition to a population accustomed to diets heavy on processed foods. For the seniors, it’s a healthy outdoor activity and a rare opportunity to connect with kids. Watching the two generations interact, it’s clear the seniors are having as much fun as their young wards. Strolling through the garden, they dispense their pearls of wisdom like flower seeds during a planting.

“Today’s kids have little concept of whole foods and eating what’s grown in the garden,” said  Pat Loughlin, a senior recruited from the San Diego Master Gardeners, a troupe of volunteers trained by the University of California Cooperative Extension.  “Ask them where orange juice comes from and they’ll tell you ‘out of the refrigerator.’”     

Members of the California Conservation Corps and others in the local community helped clear the site, and Ed Butts Grading, an East County contractor, prepared the site. Also contributing to the project were Dixieline/ProBuild; HydroScape, A.D.D. Landscaping, The Fence Doctor, and Xcel Remodeling, Inc. Students enrolled in Cuyamaca College’s surveying and ornamental horticulture programs also helped with the garden’s build-out.

La Mesa landscape architect George Mercer designed the garden gratis, holding focus group meetings with the community, students, the child development center staff, ornamental horticulture faculty and Water Conservation Garden staff.  The plans that unfolded are impressive: a pumpkin hill with a shade structure and benches; an orchard of fruit trees; an amphitheater with a canvas canopy and surrounding shrubs and boulders; vegetable and flower beds; a farmyard with a shade house, potting bench, a sink with gray-water plumbing; compost bins and picnic benches.

 Also planned are a Three Sisters Garden, a planting method devised by American Indians to grow corn, squash and beans in one common area; an “enchanted forest” of 150 shrubs and stone seat walls; and a “caterpillar tunnel” with a vine-covered archway, apple trees and mosaic paving.

Those interested in volunteering at the Cuyamaca College Intergenerational Garden or providing building materials or labor should contact Cindy Emerson at (619) 660-4672 or via email at

 Cuyamaca College is at 900 Rancho San Diego Parkway in the community of Rancho San Diego. Free parking will be available at the Child Development Center in the southwest portion of the campus. For campus and driving maps, go to

little girls gardening little boy gardeningseeds being planted at intergenerational gardenSenior citizen volunteers teach children at the Cuyamaca College Child Development Center about gardening and the benefits of eating fresh fruit and vegetables. An intergenerational garden that involved months of work on the part of scores of community volunteers is set to open with a dedication ceremony from 1:30-2:30 p.m. Tuesday, Aug. 27, at the Rancho San Diego campus.

Here's a video that San Diego County created about the Garden Grandmas.

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