To Top

Meet Claire Groebner of Olivewood Gardens and Learning Center

Today we’d like to introduce you to Claire Groebner.

Thanks for sharing your story with us Claire. So, let’s start at the beginning, and we can move on from there.
Olivewood Gardens and Learning Center was founded in 2008 by the International Community Foundation after Christy Walton gifted her 7-acre property, including Princess Anne Victorian home. In 2010, Olivewood began serving the children of National City through educational programs meant to engage students with nature.

Since then, Olivewood’s programs have evolved to meet the needs of our community, and our Center has become an urban oasis where children, parents, and families come to learn about nutrition, healthy cooking, environmental stewardship, urban agriculture, and community building.

I began at Olivewood Gardens as a weekend, and special events volunteer because of my interest in supporting food justice work. After about six months in this role, a part-time Development Assistant position opened up on staff. I knew I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to work for such an amazing organization, so I applied and was hired.

Fast forward four years and a few job titles later, I’m the Director of Development, working hard to ensure we can continue offering quality educational programs to our community – and ultimately, that we can change behaviors to improve health.

Overall, has it been relatively smooth? If not, what were some of the struggles along the way?
Anyone that has worked for a nonprofit knows the constant struggle between the demand for services and need for funding. San Diego is fortunate to have thousands of nonprofit organizations within the County, however, this also means that there can be significant competition to obtain resources.

Additionally, National City, where our Gardens are located, and our services focused, is often overlooked, sandwiched between the larger cities of San Diego and Chula Vista. We work hard to gain visibility in the community outside of National City and to both encourage people to come to visit us, as well as demonstrate why our work at the local level is relevant on a regional and even national scale.

Alright – so let’s talk business. Tell us about Olivewood Gardens and Learning Center – what should we know?
The mission of Olivewood Gardens and Learning Center is to empower students and families from diverse backgrounds to be healthy and active citizens through organic gardening, environmental stewardship, and nutrition education. Our purpose is building healthy families and a healthy environment.

Our garden-based nutrition education programs teach children and adults how to grow, how to cook, and how to enjoy tasty, healthy, whole foods. Through garden-based nutrition education, we inspire children and families to explore connections between plants and the natural world and — very importantly — how this relates to healthy lifestyles for themselves and their families.

With a team of fourteen dedicated staff members and over 300 volunteers and interns each year, we deliver high-quality programs that teach scientific literacy and environmental awareness, while encouraging visitors to explore the interrelationships between a diet, sustainable agriculture, and healthy living.

Our volunteer base includes professional chefs, food and nutrition education experts, master gardeners and horticulturalists, scientists and educators, and dedicated college and high school students and community volunteers.

One of the few garden-based nutrition programs in the Country that emphasizes food preparation alongside garden cultivation, we have designed our programs to involve all members of the community including the children, parents, teachers, and new leaders:
– Children’s Garden and Nutrition Education Program
– Cooking for Salud parent education series
– Kitchenistas Community Engagement program
– Community and Family programs
– Teacher Training Academies and School Support
– Volunteer and Intern Program
– Adult Cooking and Gardening Classes

We focus our efforts on providing free and low-cost programming to those who need it the most: children and families living in poverty. We connect children and adults to where their food comes from, how it grows, and how to prepare healthy meals at home. Olivewood is particularly well known for our Kitchenistas, graduates from our Cooking for Salud program.

These amazing (mostly) women are a collective within Olivewood Gardens who support one another through their journeys – not just health-related – but through personal and family evolutions. Kitchenistas learn from experts in a variety fields such as art and music, fitness, and mental health; and develop leadership skills through trainings at Olivewood, the Resident Leadership Academy, and by actively leading Cooking for Salud, nutrition presentations, and healthy cooking demonstrations as peer-to-peer educators in the community.

Kitchenistas build strength as a unit and commit to sharing and educating family, friends, and the community as a whole about health. Most recently, we have created a Kitchenista School Wellness Coalition working to identify school wellness needs, challenges to meeting these needs, and strategize how Kitchenistas can most effectively support wellness within our local school district.

This program gained significant attention when “The Kitchenistas of National City” documentary created by Olivewood supporters Mary Ann Beyster and David Romero was released. The film highlights our Cooking for Salud program and the work that Kitchenistas are doing to improve their health and that of their families.

The film received several nominations and awards and is a wonderful tool that we have been able to use to showcase our work and gain support for this program.

Any shoutouts? Who else deserves credit in this story – who has played a meaningful role?
So many people! I have an amazingly supportive family who has believed in me and been at my back through the good and the not-so-good.

I’ve also had friends and colleagues that have acted as support systems and mentors, to name a few – my colleagues Cherianne Kestner and Cristina Juarez have been through so much with me, listened to my struggles, helped me to advocate for myself, shared so much of their lives with me and allowed me to do the same.

Former Olivewood Executive Director Healy Vigderson and current ED Jen Nation, as well as board members Sabrina Falquier Montgrain, Trish Watlington, and Cathe Burnham, have all acted as mentors in different capacities, given me space to learn and be autonomous in my work, and been understanding and open to providing support not just professionally, but personally… I could go on, but these amazingly strong and inspiring women have all played big roles in my successes and growth at Olivewood.

  • Seedling Soirée: June 1, 2019,  $50 – $200/person
  • Adult cooking classes: $45/person

Contact Info:

Getting in touch: SDVoyager is built on recommendations from the community; it’s how we uncover hidden gems, so if you know someone who deserves recognition please let us know here.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

More in