The Mission of Olivewood Gardens and Learning Center is to connect and motivate students and families from diverse backgrounds through organic gardening, environmental stewardship, and nutrition education, empowering them to be healthy and active citizens. Our Vision is to reconnect students and families to the natural environment through food, education and community engagement.
About Olivewood Gardens:
Olivewood Gardens and Learning Center’s historic 6.85-acre property in National City, California serves as an interactive, indoor-outdoor classroom for children and adults from around San Diego County. Olivewood provides science based environmental education lessons, hands-on gardening, and hands-on cooking to students and families from underserved communities.
Who We Are:
Started in February 2010, Olivewood Gardens, a 501(c) 3, is a community and garden resource facility and home to the International Community Foundation. Olivewood Gardens is a Type 1 supporting organization of the International Community Foundation. The house, gardens, and property were donated to the foundation by the Walton family in 2006 and later gifted to Olivewood Gardens in 2010.
Our staff serves our community with the help of dedicated volunteers including:
- Food professionals
- Master gardeners
- College students
What We Do:
Olivewood’s core program offers visiting school children a curriculum of ecological, academic and culinary lessons to build scientific literacy and environmental awareness, while encouraging students and visitors to explore the interrelationships between a quality diet, sustainable agriculture and healthy living. Through garden-based education, our programs inspire children to explore connections between plants and the natural world, and the disciplines of history, science, art, literature, math, geography and nutrition. Our science based environmental education program adds hands-on, inquiry-based workshops in sustainable agriculture, water conservation, recycling and composting.
Third, Fourth, and Fifth graders from National School District visit Olivewood three times a year, giving students the chance to observe the garden’s different growing seasons as they move through the calendar year. Our field education programs are appropriate to the season and the natural happenings on the property. During each visit, students rotate through three sessions –a science lesson, a gardening activity, a nutritious cooking activity – that engage them in the full cycle of cultivating, preparing and eating fresh produce from the garden.
In the garden, students undertake a grade-appropriate sequence of standards-based science lessons.
Our life science curriculum was developed by teachers and conforms with California’s state educational requirements. Sample life science topics include Weather & Adaptation, Food Chain, Pollination, Life Cycles and Plant Biology. To extend the learning experience, we provide teachers with additional curriculum to use in their classrooms.
In our intimate demonstration kitchen, students receive cooking lessons from our chef educator or guest chefs and participate in hands-on culinary alchemy. We highlight age-appropriate, easy, wholesome recipes that feature seasonal produce from our garden. We encourage students to explore the food they sample with all their senses, and to encourage them to be adventurous eaters. In doing so, we increase their enjoyment of and knowledge about healthy foods and positively affect their attitudes and behavior toward consuming fruits and vegetables.
In addition to our core school program, Olivewood offers gardening classes, field trips, weekly tours, and weekend family days, along with meetings and luncheons for health- and sustainability-related companies and organizations. We host healthy cooking classes with UCSD’s Moores Cancer Center, a partnership born of our garden’s original purpose – providing fresh organic produce for a then three-year-old boy with leukemia and his parents, who sought to strengthen his conventional medical treatment with dietary changes.
We also offer several community initiatives throughout the year to engage and educate parents, families and other community residents. We partner with the Junior League of San Diego to offer a nutrition, cooking and fitness expo called Kids in the Kitchen that occurs 4-5 times annually. Olivewood is also one of five regional sites where San Diego County residents can take free classes to learn how to convert lawns, yards and small spaces into fruit and vegetable gardens. Other classes we offer help residents to start or maintain school and community gardens.
Where We Work:
Olivewood Gardens is surrounded by a socioeconomically disadvantaged community with one of the highest childhood obesity rates in the state of California. According to San Diego County’s Department of Health & Human Services, the rate of diabetes hospitalization and mortality is 2.3 times greater in National City than the county average.
While we serve students and adults from around San Diego County, our primary constituency is our neighbors in National City. National City, squeezed between its giant neighbors San Diego and Chula Vista, has few human and social service organizations located within its borders. Yet the need is enormous: According to California Border Kids Count, in 2007, 34% of National City’s children and youth lived in poverty. Eighty-five percent of students in the National School District qualify for free/reduced lunch. Because of our focus on National City youth, children on field trips from National City schools comprise nearly 90% of the 5,025 student visits to Olivewood Gardens to date.
What We Have Accomplished:
- Over 7,000 student fields trips and 6,000 community visits since February 2010
- 14,000 hours of CA standards-based elementary student instruction
- Over 700 volunteers and 8,000 hours donated
- Adopted by Les Dames d’Escoffier and the Junior league
- Trained 115 adults in basic gardening, community gardening or school gardening through the Regional Garden Education Center for San Diego County
- Engaged 10 community members through the Resident Leadership Academy
- Highlighted in the San Diego Union-Tribune, Edible San Diego magazine and other media outlets
- Received two landscape design awards, including an Orchid Award for “Engaging the people”
- Funded by The California Endowment, Kaiser Permanente, SDG&E, The San Diego Foundation, Union Bank, Cigna Foundation, Cox Communications, Neighborhood National Bank, CA Restaurant Assoc. of San Diego, Albertson’s, Whole Foods, Kashi, County of San Diego, and National City.
Olivewood Gardens provides standards-based nutrition education, lessons in sustainable agriculture, and environmental stewardship to students attending school in southern San Diego County, as well as to local community residents. There are 6,000 elementary aged children served by National School District. By participating, children will consistently receive important nutrition education in the context of a garden-based learning environment. As demonstrated at other garden-based learning facilities throughout the state, such experiences could significantly increase children’s knowledge of, preference for, and consumption of fresh fruits and vegetables, even into adulthood. By practicing positive nutritional choices over the long term, local children and community members may reduce their risk of chronic diseases associated with obesity including diabetes, cancer, and heart disease.
Olivewood Gardens is one of the few school garden programs in the country that emphasizes food preparation along with garden cultivation, teaching children and adults not just to grow but how to cook – and enjoy – tasty, healthy, whole foods since February 2010. We are the only center of our kind serving San Diego County’s three million rural, urban and suburban residents.
Coming to Olivewood is like going back to my childhood in Veracruz, Mexico.
Chef Flor Franco