UC Master Gardeners and Outreach: A Tale of Two Events
If there is one thing I appreciate about my UC Master Gardener volunteer groups, it is their desire to rethink, change, evolve and avoid stagnation. Now, sometimes there are “growing pains” involved with expanding a program or developing a new one, but the energy is needed to refresh the enthusiasm of both the volunteers and local gardeners who keep tabs on their outreach projects.
Years ago, a group of my volunteers came up with the idea to create a new community event that would bring amazing speakers into the county to deliver fun and interesting gardening topics to our local gardening clientele. They called it, “A Gardeners' Gathering”, it was created as a one-day event located in an historic fruit shed renovated to host large groups in the “middle” of the county so as to be convenient for both our urban and rural gardeners. The six speakers were chosen carefully and related non-profit groups were invited to have tables at the event. Since it was a full day event, food and beverages were provided, pre-registration was required and the cost was relatively high (although the event was not a fundraising event).
It was very successful in many ways – one big product of the event was the first online credit card survey created and used in our office for registration. For years, we packed the fruit shed with eager gardeners looking forward to networking, listening to some great speakers, and enjoying good food too. After doing this event for years, the volunteers noticed that the same folks were attending year after year and we were limited to 130 registrant because of space limitations. This meant, there was no options for expansion of the event in its current form. So, it was brought up that maybe we should rethink the event which was difficult to contemplate considering how well it was running.
The event was reviewed in a series of meetings and UC Master Gardeners decided it was time to change it up and reach more local gardeners with a different event format. Enter the new “GardenFaire” – an event created and put on for the first time last year reaching more than 300 people. This event had the goals of being inexpensive with no registration required, a kid's area to bring in families, less speakers, more tables and an “Ask a UC Master Gardener” area that had plenty of visitation! We believe this event has a huge potential for future growth.
So, here we are about to put on the 2nd Annual Garden Faire in Placer County and it shows how sometimes a pivot with an event can quickly double or quadruple (fingers crossed!) the number of people we can reach through our program. Remember, even if you have a successful event going for years - take the time to review and reconsider after a while. It may end up being the best path forward to change it up and keep all of our local gardeners wondering, “What will those UC Master Gardeners do next?”
For more information about the UC Placer Master Gardener Program and their upcoming events, visit their website at pcmg.ucanr.org.