Restore began volunteering at El Dorado Elementary school as a way to support the teachers and staff of the students in our programs. We soon noticed that they had a large but dilapidated garden on campus, and Restore as an organization was given permission through the school to take over the space. In 2012, Restore began transforming the 10 raised garden beds on campus into an educational garden program for the students. This garden functions as an outdoor classroom for K-8th grade students and their teachers, and it is a place where core curriculum lessons can be creatively and tactilely applied. The El Dorado garden provides opportunities for students to take their learning to the next level, as they can physically apply the lessons that they learn in the classroom to real-life experiences. The garden has fostered learning in the areas of math, science, English language arts, P.E., social science, and art. Above and beyond the traditional education that students can receive in the garden, we focus heavily on leadership lessons and teaching life skills.
The garden provides a unique place to teach students about leadership, sustainability, business management, and healthy teamwork, among other things. We have organized regular Farmer's Markets to raise money for the school and teach students in the upper grades entrepreneurial skills. These Farmer's Markets are one of the key ways that we connect families to the school through the garden. We also believe that sustainability is an important part of gardening, so we have undertaken to build a greenhouse entirely out of recycled two-liter plastic bottles. The bottles are donated from students at the school, and this has been a way to increase involvement and provide a sense of ownership for the students. We have also had the opportunity to reach students and their families in the garden through health fairs and school events on campus, and we have seen a highly positive impact on the school through the development of this green space.
Restore reaches anywhere from 60 to 150 students on a weekly basis through the garden at El Dorado, and we have several staff members and teachers at the school who are committed to this program. Although the specific structure has varied over the years, most classes that come out to the garden participate in a short lesson about leadership, life skills, or building character. This interactive lesson is then followed by hands-on application through a variety of gardening projects, including planting, harvesting, tending to soil and plants, and maintenance of the garden.
The garden has thrived due to partnerships with several local organizations besides Restore; LOVE Stockton has adopted the site as a city beautification project for the last three years, and local churches have also come in to provide support on family work days. All of the plants and seeds grown in the garden have been donated from individuals or businesses, including Home Depot, Delta Tree Farms, Lockhart Seed Company, and Baker Creek Heirloom Seed Bank. The garden has been blessed to receive grant funding from multiple sources over the years, as well as volunteer support from many different community partners. It is incredibly significant for students to plant seeds, tend to plants, harvest produce, and watch how they can produce something worthwhile and valuable, and there are many community partners that foster this. In the garden, students have the opportunity to grow in their understanding of the relationship that they have to the earth and to each other, and to experience the importance of stewardship and care for the environment.