Award-Winning Excellence, Community, and Empowerment in El Dorado County
In the rolling foothills of El Dorado County, Calif., a beautiful community garden thrives. Not just an ordinary garden plot, but a community space that cultivates life skills, self-confidence, and weaves a vibrant tapestry of community. The architects of this garden are the UC Master Gardeners of El Dorado County and their partners CalFresh Healthy Living, UCCE (CFHL, UCCE) and the Mother Lode Rehabilitation Enterprises (MORE), a non-profit supporting adults with disabilities. Together, they've crafted a pathway to equal opportunities, inclusivity, and engaging experiences for the clients at MORE.
Recently, the team's extraordinary efforts were recognized statewide in the UC Master Gardener Program's Search for Excellence awards for their commitment to expanding the program's reach to a typically underserved audience. “I was moved after reading the El Dorado MORE volunteer project that focuses on teaching adults with disabilities about gardening and growing food. UC Master Gardeners' dedication to creating an inclusive and empowering environment where individuals of all abilities can learn and flourish is inspiring,” commented a Search for Excellence committee member.
Transitioning from childhood to adulthood can be challenging for many people with disabilities. The path to continued learning and independence often becomes foggy and winding. It's a journey that calls for customized support, guidance, and resources. At the heart of MORE's fully inclusive program is a commitment to improving the quality of lives and making dreams come true for the people they serve.
In late 2018, a seed of collaboration was planted as MORE, the UC Master Gardener Program and CFHL, UCCE initiated a partnership built on shared goals—cultivating an enriched life for adults with disabilities. The blossoming garden-based lessons led by UC Master Gardener volunteers perfectly intertwined with CFHL, UCCE's nutritional education and MORE's education and MORE's mission.
In 2020 and 2021, despite the many challenges of COVID-19 UC Master Gardeners continued to provide harvested fruits and vegetables and deliver projects to MORE, even when in-person meetings were on hold. Following the pandemic shutdown, the partnership thrived anew in 2022, breathing new life into their mission with revised plans, fresh goals, and an updated curriculum. The renewed goals of the collaboration were as multi-layered as a well-tended compost heap: providing practical garden and nutritional instruction, introducing sustainable practices, promoting healthy food choices, and fostering skills leading to increased independence.
UC ANR's “Teams with Intergenerational Support” or TWIGS program for gardening and healthy eating curriculum, complemented by CFHL, UCCE's "Harvest of the Month" curriculum, was a perfect fit. This hands-on, research-based approach provided the ideal way for MORE clients to delve into the fascinating realms of botany and nutrition. Traditional methods of assessment often miss the mark when catering to adults with various abilities. Hence, the team innovated, embedding assessments within instruction, using interactive and engaging tools like stickers, thumbs-up/down gestures, and verbal responses. This fluid, dynamic approach ensures each participant can connect with the concepts and apply them to their daily lives.
One rewarding highlight includes clients adopting fruit trees at the Sherwood Demonstration Garden orchard, learning about seasonal changes, and assisting with pest management. This sense of ownership and responsibility is a profound result of the program's influence. Clients are actively involved in the food cycle—harvesting crops, preparing healthy meals, and understanding the nutritional value of what they eat.
In a world often focused on individual achievement, the story of the UC Master Gardeners of El Dorado County, CalFresh Healthy Living, UCCE, and Mother Lode Rehabilitation Enterprises serves as a reminder of the transformative power of community and collaboration. As their clients and garden continue to flourish, we are reminded that the journey to excellence is best undertaken together. This is a celebration of their award-winning work, a testament to the importance of community, and a heartwarming reminder of how we can all grow together!