- Author: Mike Hsu
CalFresh Healthy Living, UC and UC Master Gardeners partner with nonprofit MORE in El Dorado County
A nonprofit serving adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities in El Dorado County, MORE has found kindred spirits in helping their clients live fuller and healthier lives – the staff and volunteers of University of California Master Gardeners and CalFresh Healthy Living, UC.
Since 2018, these programs – both affiliated with UC Agriculture and Natural Resources – have helped enrich the lives of about 60 clients at MORE, which offers services ranging from independent-living skills development to job training and placement.
“This is exactly the kind of partnership that we like to make with the community,” said MORE CEO Susie Davies, who has been with the Placerville-based organization for 40 years. “This has just been incredible; our people have learned above and beyond what we could even have imagined in nutrition and gardening.”
The three-party partnership, which Davies calls a “win-win-win,” offers a course that combines gardening and nutrition lessons, as well as a new cooking and food safety-focused class developed by educator Cailin McLaughlin in collaboration with MORE staff.
During one session, MORE clients enjoyed preparing a “plant part salad,” following a botanical lesson on the edible components of plants – fruits, roots, leaves, seeds and stems. “It was fun to cut the celery and broccoli,” said Jared (first names are used to protect privacy). “I like pouring the sauce in.”
“I liked everything about creating the salad,” said Deanne, another participant.
“MORE is the dream site, the best you could ever hope to go to, with the programming and the clients always being lovely and really just being down for anything,” said McLaughlin, a CalFresh Healthy Living nutrition educator at the Central Sierra UC Cooperative Extension office. “It's just a really cool place to be.”
CalFresh Healthy Living, UC is one of the organizations in California that teaches nutrition to people eligible for SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program). UC Davis administers the SNAP-Ed grant and UC Cooperative Extension educators deliver the lessons throughout the state.
‘Part of our MORE family'
Through the gardening and nutrition program, clients learn and apply their skills in the garden and greenhouse at the MORE facility and in the nearby Sherwood Demonstration Garden maintained by UC Master Gardeners of El Dorado County.
“The participants get a chance to harvest, plant, pull weeds and learn about integrated pest management, both in the vegetable garden and in the orchard,” said Tracy Celio, the local UC Master Gardeners program manager who worked with former CalFresh Healthy Living, UCCE educator Miranda Capriotti to develop the program.
“It's a very good program,” said Tony, a MORE client. “I can learn things.”
While experiencing the pride in bringing fresh produce to their home or to the MORE kitchen for use in the meal service, the clients are also taking away nutritious and healthy recipes. Jordan Postlewait, director of community access programs at MORE, said participants now know how to use ingredients from the garden to create dishes such as tomato salsa and fruit salad.
“They've taken the recipes that Cailin has given them and they go home and serve their whole group home what we had made for a snack,” Postlewait said. “They are paying attention to what they're eating.”
As a result of this awareness and knowledge of nutritious foods, Davies said that MORE clients are healthier, more energized and alert, and ready to learn. She is quick to credit the expertise and enthusiasm of McLaughlin, CalFresh Healthy Living, UCCE program coordinator Mariana Garcia, and the UC Master Gardeners staff and volunteers.
“They have the same dedication and commitment to excellence in their preparation for every session as our staff,” Davies said. “They just became part of our MORE family.”
“I like seeing Cailin and Tracy and all the staff who are my friends,” said Kenion, a MORE client.
Cooking lessons create possibilities for kitchen time, jobs
In April, two groups, each composed of six people, began participating in a new five-session course combining nutrition, food safety and basic cooking techniques. Each two-hour session included a nutrition lesson, a physical activity and time in MORE's commercial kitchen.
“It was fun getting in the kitchen and learning how to prepare my own meals,” Jared said. “I learned how to safely use a small skillet.”
Another participant, Kyle, said he uses the recipes to cook for his roommates. “I liked learning new cooking skills and recipes,” he said.
McLaughlin adapted a youth-oriented healthy eating curriculum, approved for use by CalFresh Healthy Living, UC, and tailored it for adults at MORE.
“The whole goal is to get them closer to an independent living circumstance, where either they can live in a group facility or have their own apartment – and knowing how to cook and identify healthy recipes is a huge component of that,” McLaughlin explained.
The guided kitchen experiences – and equipment like plastic safety knives – not only benefit the participants but also give their family members reassurance and confidence to include them in meal preparation.
“We've actually been asked by staff at MORE, and also by clients' parents, where we got the knives, because they would like to have their family member in the kitchen with them, if they can do it safely,” McLaughlin said. “They didn't know things like safety knives existed; they didn't know you could adapt a silicone food guard to keep them from burning themselves on a burner.”
In addition to enhancing the clients' family time, the cooking lessons could also set them up for future employment. Davies said she is in talks with a local chef about establishing a culinary training for the clients.
“This cooking program could be a preparation program for them to be involved in the culinary training program,” she said. “That's what we're really excited about.”
McLaughlin added that, for future sessions of the cooking and food-safety series, past participants have expressed interest in serving as kitchen aides and mentors.
Partners nurture clients' relationships with nature, community
Empowering clients with new skills and fostering a sense of ownership of the garden are both cornerstones of the partnership programs. Beginning in 2019, participants from MORE each adopted a tree in the Sherwood Demonstration Garden orchard to monitor and nurture.
“Almost every time they come to the garden, we check those fruit trees,” Celio said. “The trees are doing so many things throughout the year, so they're following the cycle: they watch the leaves drop; they watch the fruit come in; they see what a freeze does to their tree; they see what pests do to their tree.”
The participants experience the challenges of gardening – from managing rabbits and squirrels to coping with the loss of a pear tree due to disease – as well as its many joys.
“I liked seeing the butterflies and different plants; the butterflies drink from the bushes,” said Jen, a MORE client. “My favorite thing is the rose garden.”
At the same time, the clients have built strong relationships with the core group of UC Master Gardener volunteers and the dozen or so “vegetable garden crew” volunteers. Celio stressed that the garden programs, which were recently recognized by the statewide UC Master Gardeners program with a Search for Excellence Award, are truly collaborative.
MORE participants often bring their own ideas; one man, for example, became interested in composting and worked with MORE staff to establish a worm bin at the MORE facility garden.
“Every time I see that client, he will tell me how the worms were doing and he'll tell me how healthy the plants are that are growing next to the worm bin,” Celio said, adding that he also worked at a table during a MORE fair, teaching other clients and their family members about vermiculture.
Advocating for the greater good of the community is central to another CalFresh Healthy Living, UC collaborative project at MORE, in partnership with Stanford University's Our Voice initiative. Using an online tool and app, 12 clients have been taking photos and sharing feedback on their health and wellness experience at MORE, specifically about their walking trail. With that information, they are building a case to make the path safer and more enjoyable.
Responding to their feedback, along with the other partnership programs that are building vital skills and community, demonstrate to MORE's clients that they are appreciated and respected.
“The request from the people that we serve is that they want to be seen, they want to be heard, and they want to be valued by other community members,” Davies said. “And this is really showing them that they are valued and being seen and heard.”/h3>/h3>/h3>/h3>
- Author: Saoimanu Sope
Along Pacific Coast Highway in Laguna Beach, atop a small hill, sits a residential community for adults with disabilities. When you get past the gate to Glennwood Houseand look beyond the parking lot, you'll immediately notice the quaint oasis of swinging benches enclosed by vegetables growing in large pots and along walkways.
The garden, which is maintained by the residents, was created in spring 2022 by Monica Mehren Thompson and Robbie Prepas, two UC Master Gardener volunteers of Orange County.
The UC Master Gardeners program is a public service and outreach program of University of California Agriculture and Natural Resources. Through the efforts of more than 6,000 Master Gardener volunteers across the state, the program is a unique driving force of change in local communities.
Thompson and Prepas completed their 16-week Master Gardener training in 2021 and quickly turned to Glennwood House for an opportunity to apply their newly acquired skills. Troy, Thompson's son, was a resident at Glennwood for nine years, making her decision to develop a garden on the grounds an obvious choice.
“This place is truly magical,” said Thompson.
Prepas agreed and shared that the residents play an active role from beginning to end. “We take the residents with us when we buy seeds so that they can choose what they want to grow,” she explained.
The garden has only experienced two plantings so far: spring and fall 2022. When it's time to harvest, the residents eagerly gather to taste the fresh vegetables and herbs. During the week, dinners are prepared by a professional chef, who incorporates ingredients pulled from the garden.
This will soon change, however. Since the residents enjoy the hands-on opportunity to cook so much, they'll now be in charge of preparing lunch and dinner every Friday. To kick start this shift, the residents prepared a huge salad and spaghetti with vegetable marinara sauce. The meal was a big hit and the residents were so proud of their creation.
“This is an all-out, very sophisticated effort with the Master Gardeners,” said Faith Manners, Glennwood House CEO.
Glennwood House is unlike other residential communities for persons with special needs in that it is home to 46 residents. “It's one of the largest supported-living communities in the U.S.,” Manners said, adding that Glennwood has an enormous waiting list.
According to Janet Parsons, development and facility director at Glennwood House, Laguna Beach genuinely embraces Glennwood residents. “When we're out and about, you should just see how warm and welcoming the community is towards our residents. Everyone is always engaging and smiling,” she shared.
Recently, the Laguna Beach Garden Club caught wind of the community garden at Glennwood and made a $1,500 donation to help fund materials.
Janet Chance, president of the Garden Club, credited Glennwood as one of the few places that caters to adults living with disabilities, commending their ability to cultivate a sense of belonging and integrate them into the greater Laguna Beach community.
While Chance regrets not having the time to become a Master Gardener herself, she attends some of the classes they teach in the Laguna Beach community. “The work they do is remarkable,” she said, adding that the club's recent donation was “one of the best” they have ever made.
Parsons said that it's important for the residents to feel independent. Therefore, the administration and the staff prioritize intentional programming. For example, instead of simple activities like coloring, Glennwood hosts advanced art sessions so that interested residents are learning techniques that will strengthen their artistic capabilities.
The same idea applies to the “farm-to-table” experience Thompson and Prepas have established.
“Just because the residents are living with a cognitive disability, it doesn't mean they're incapable of learning new things,” Parsons said. “They will tell you when something is boring or when they're not interested. So, we try to select activities or programs based on skills, personal interests and goals.”
While being recognized for the positive effect the gardeners have on the residents, Prepas quickly interjected that the real positive effect is the one that residents have on her. “I've learned so much from them,” she said. “They're incredible and so much fun to be around.”
Thompson, whose son lived at Glennwood until he passed away earlier this year, describes the Glennwood community as her family. Seeing Thompson's delight while gardening or cooking with the residents, it's easy to understand what she means.
“My husband has always supported philanthropy,” said Thompson. “But he says this feels like so much more than that. Because it is!”
To learn more about the UC Master Gardener program visit https://mg.ucanr.edu/.
- Author: Mike Hsu
Master Gardener volunteers partner with County of San Diego on new demonstration garden
In a garden with roughly the square footage of a two-car garage, the University of California Master Gardeners and County of San Diego staff have packed a whole lot of learning for the community.
The demonstration garden, which had its grand opening last fall, is now flourishing in its 20-by-20-foot space in a plaza at the heart of the San Diego County Operations Center. Skilled volunteers with San Diego's UC Master Gardeners, a program of UC Agriculture and Natural Resources, maintain its containers of vegetables and herbs, succulents, and native and pollinator plants.
“For such a little garden, there's a lot to look at,” said Karen Morse, a Master Gardener volunteer who helped establish the “demo garden” – a highly visible and accessible teaching tool for the many people who work and conduct business in the surrounding offices.
“We get questions from people just walking by – from the public, from county employees – all the time,” said Leah Taylor, UC Master Gardener program coordinator in San Diego County. “While we're doing what we're doing in the garden, we're a presence for people to just get a quick bite of education.”
The garden also features a “Little Free Library” of gardening books, as well as a compost bin and rain barrel for demonstration purposes. There are also signs (in English and Spanish, as well as additional languages on the garden's website) offering tips on composting/worm composting, pest management, water conservation, climate adaptation, sustainability practices, and health and nutrition. The expertise of a host of county departments and agencies inform the resources.
“The most beautiful thing about that garden is not necessarily the plants – although we love our plants – it's that it showcases almost every county department…all represented in one place and you can find how to connect with those groups, all in one place,” Taylor explained.
During planning for a broader revamp of the Operations Center grounds, the county had approached the Master Gardeners to provide guidance on a public demo garden.
“The County has a long-standing commitment to sustainability and partnership with the University of California Cooperative Extension,” said Rebeca Appel, program manager for the county's Land Use and Environment Group, which spearheaded the effort through the “Live Well San Diego” Food System Initiative. “So it was a natural approach to work with the Master Gardeners with their robust community garden program, and educational outreach in home and urban gardening throughout our region.”
The vision for the garden was shaped by county teams working with Joan Martin and Ellen Cadwallader, co-chairs of the Master Gardener committee that oversees the program's demonstration gardens across San Diego County, including those at Balboa Park and The Flower Fields in Carlsbad.
And while those gardens help raise awareness among the many visitors at those sites, Martin said the newest demo garden provides unique opportunities for ongoing community education, such as lunch-and-learns on specific gardening topics.
“This is the garden where there's really a chance for year-round education and sessions,” Martin said. “We're excited to see it get started and watch it grow.”
Morse and fellow Master Gardener Sandy Main collaborated with Appel to bring those early plans and objectives to verdant life.
“I think we ticked all the boxes of everything they wanted, initially – examples of container gardening, natives, vegetables, herbs, pollinators – and wheelchair accessible,” Morse said.
They have since passed the botanical baton to Skye Resendes, a relatively recent graduate of the Master Gardener certification program. She will coordinate a team of a dozen volunteers in the ongoing upkeep of the County Operations Center demo garden.
Resendes, who uses gardening to help her cope with the stresses of her work as a civil litigator, said she hopes the garden will not only inform the community on crucial ecological and conservation topics but also inspire more people to start their own gardens.
“The science is out there – there are huge mental health benefits to gardening,” Resendes said. “It's an absolute meditation.”/h3>
- Author: Madison Sankovitz
When stay-at-home orders went into place in March 2020, many of us took up newfound pastimes and reprioritized the tasks that filled our days. It wasn't all about baking sourdough bread and fulfilling TikTok challenges - the pandemic also ushered in a new wave of novice gardeners looking for help and advice on how to delve into home horticulture.
The perfect group to aid in this mission was the UC Master Gardeners, a program that has focused on sharing research-based information about gardening and pest management with the public since 1980. At the start of the pandemic, Master Gardeners were suddenly bombarded with a higher volume of calls and emails seeking gardening advice. This public service and outreach program under the University of California Agriculture and Natural Resources (UCANR) is usually administered in person by participating UC Cooperative Extension county offices, but COVID forced Master Gardeners to rethink their strategy for disseminating critical horticulture resources. Volunteers across the state showed continued to extend information by using new digital platforms and technology, efforts that have helped the program stay connected to California communities.
Gardening resources in Spanish
One significant digital resource developed by Master Gardeners during the pandemic has been the addition of gardening videos in Spanish. The majority of resources offered through the program are only in English. But according to the 2019 census data, the most common non-English language spoken in California is Spanish; 28.8% of the overall population are native Spanish speakers. An internal UC ANR grant to develop online educational resource materials in other languages proved to be the perfect opportunity to expand gardening resources for Spanish speakers.
With a spirit of collaboration, Master Gardener volunteers, local community organizations and partners, and UC News and Outreach in Spanish staff created and released a series of food gardening videos in Spanish. In addition, they are working on translating the entire California Master Gardener Handbook (the chapter dedicated to food gardening is already completed).
Visit the statewide UC Master Gardener YouTube channel at youtube.com/c/UCMasterGardenerProgram to access the playlist of videos in Spanish. These videos are available for sharing on social media, websites, or anywhere the program reaches the gardening public.
The Spanish translation project has provided aid to countless community members looking to start gardens during the pandemic, but hope and resilience during COVID-19 are arguably even better exemplified through individual volunteers who have spearheaded digital initiatives through the Master Gardener Program. Some volunteers stand out as digital superstars.
Allen Buchinski joined the program in 2003 with a love of gardening and its sense of community. Buchinski has played an instrumental role in developing and maintaining the UC Master Gardener Program of Santa Clara County's website (mgsantaclara.ucanr.edu). He aided in bringing the program's help desk online, and he also coded an online storefront for selling seedlings and scheduling pick-ups.
“The help desk has been especially interesting during the past year because of the pandemic,” says Buchinski. “We needed to adjust our processes to work from home as well as deal with a 50% increase in the number of questions. We answered more than 2,100 questions from March 2020 to February 2021!”
While Buchinski's expertise focuses on web development, digital communication also relies on social media. Social media expert Michele Willer-Allred joined the UC Master Gardener Program of Ventura County in 2020 and became co-chair of the communications committee shortly after.
“Social media has been a great tool, especially with promoting our virtual workshops and interacting with other Master Gardeners throughout the country. But there is so much more we want to do,” explains Willer-Allred. “We plan to start an email newsletter; create educational gardening videos and virtual tours of local gardens; profile more of our amazing garden volunteers; and go outside our county and visit with other UC Master Gardener Programs. We also hope to increase our reach to a broader, more ethnically diverse audience, as well as younger gardeners in our community, since they are indeed our future!"
Long-time volunteer Rita Evans has been an active UC Master Gardener volunteer in Fresno County since 1993. When the pandemic hit, the county office closed, and most volunteer activities ceased. Evans immediately came up with a plan for how volunteers could stay connected and continue to earn hours.
“When the pandemic hit, our online refresher course was born. It is a 16-session 'refresher' using the UC Master Gardener Handbook with our own UC Master Gardener volunteers being the featured speakers,” explains Evans. “It is providing a path for volunteers to earn their required hours, to socialize virtually with a study buddy, and to refresh their horticulture knowledge ... it's a win-win.”
Buchinski, Willer-Allred and Evans are a few digital superstars shining among many volunteers who have given countless hours toward increasing access to gardening resources for communities across the state. Their efforts, in addition to the Spanish translation team, are true stories of hope and resilience during this pandemic and represent the beginning of a new era of increased access to resources./h2>/h2>
- Author: Ricardo A. Vela
The CalFresh Healthy Living, UC Program, administered through UC Cooperative Extension (UCCE), works with ethnic communities to transform their environment by implementing a community garden. UCCE created three gardens in partnership with community organizations in an equal number of neighborhoods located in this populous county.
In the first one, adults and minors dug and planted seeds and various vegetable plants in a community garden located in Riverside's popular Latino neighborhood. The vegetable garden has brought people in this low-resource community together to address healthy food access and learn about healthy eating and nutrition.
Gonzalo Rodríguez, an active member of the Community Settlement Association, said, "We planted pepper plants, tomatoes and little seeds. Vegetables are an excellent food for us, and another thing that keeps children off the streets and helps them understand the process while having fun taking care of their plants."
The garden in this thriving Latino community has grown over the years and is now a place for families to get together to celebrate healthy living. Educating food-insecure families of different ethnicity, the importance of having a vegetable garden, and how to grow your own food is a goal of the CalFresh Healthy Living, UC Program, and UCCE in Riverside County.
The second garden is located on what used to be a vacant lot in the Riverside Faith Temple under Pastor Duane Sims' supervision, who spoke about his vision. "I would like to see it a complete food force, a source of food that won't cost anybody anything, and something for people that don't have anything to do, a place to put their hands in the dirt and accomplish something."
These community gardens collaborate with several programs from the University of California Agriculture and Natural Resources and partner with ethnic organizations to combat the poor eating habits that result in obesity, chronic diseases, and sometimes premature death.
"We're trying to get low-income families to eat more vegetables, and the best way to do this is to encourage them to plant their own fruits and vegetables in an orchard, and that's why we're promoting community gardens," said Chutima Ganthavorn, UCCE nutrition specialist in Riverside County.
Adela Torres and her children are involved in the project with the Community Settlement Association in Riverside. "It's beneficial for the children because they are fresh fruits or things that we can have at home," she said.
Ganthavorn reaffirmed the UCCE and CalFresh Healthy Living, UC's commitment to helping ethnic communities live a healthier diet. "We know that many people's diets today are fast food and soft drinks, and they are not consuming fruits and vegetables. We need to eat almost nine portions of fruits and vegetables a day, and most of us aren't getting close to that level. We are trying to encourage the consumption of fruits and vegetables, especially vegetables because they contain many nutrients and many health benefits," she said.