- 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: Pamela Kan-Rice
To plant the seed of healthful eating among youngsters, UC Cooperative Extension is giving away vegetable plants to Oakland families with school children.
On Thursday, May 7, CalFresh Healthy Living, UC staff will give tomato and basil seedlings to Oakland parents who come to pick up food for their children at West Oakland Middle School. The team will also be giving away plants again at Elmhurst United Middle School on May 14 and at Bret Hart Middle School on May 21. The plants are being donated by the UC Master Gardener Program of Alameda and Contra Costa counties.
“Gardening activities can help increase children's interest in eating fresh fruits and vegetables and improve their understanding of the health benefits and major nutrients found in the plants grown,” said Tuline Baykal, program supervisor of the CalFresh Healthy Living, UC team in Alameda County.
UCCE Master Gardeners are donating 100 tomato plants in 1-gallon pots for the giveaway on Thursday. The seedlings are in paper bags with planting instructions in six languages: English, Spanish, Chinese, Vietnamese, Korean and Arabic.
The plants were part of the annual plant sale normally held in April to raise funds for the UC Master Gardener Program of Contra Costa County, which is funded primarily by revenue generated by the plant sale and donations. The sale, which attracts thousands of gardening enthusiasts, was canceled due to COVID-19 safety concerns.
“We didn't want the plants to go to waste, we wanted to get them out into the community,” said Dawn Kooyumjian, UC Master Gardener Program coordinator.
“Rather than compost the plants at this time of heightened interest in home vegetable gardening and food security, we saw an opportunity to connect with Oakland Unified School District through the UC Master Gardeners of Alameda County School Garden Support Team, which supports gardens in Title 1 schools by mentoring teachers, parents and Food Corps volunteers.”
In past weeks, they gave away tomato plants at Sankofa Academy, which serves children in preschool through fifth grade.
UC Master Gardener volunteer Devra Laner coordinated with OUSD to distribute plants at the meal giveaways.
“Six to eight Oakland school gardens are being opened up this week,” Kooyumjian said. “UC Master Gardeners will be donating some tomato plants to these school gardens and FoodCorps Service members will be harvesting the garden produce to donate to food distribution centers.”
In addition to the plants being given away to Oakland families, the UC Master Gardener Program in Contra Costa County has donated 30,000 plants to 48 community and school gardens in the Bay Area. They also provided plants to local nurseries that could not keep up with the current demand for gardening supplies that COVID-19 has created.
“Typically, our plant sale takes in $85,000 or more. Because of COVID-19, we turned the Great Tomato Sale into what our gardeners call ‘Our Great Tomato Share' to support our underserved community,” said Frank McPherson, director of UC Cooperative Extension for the Bay Area.
- Author: Jeannette E. Warnert
Hands-on crafts, farm animals and fresh organic produce brought the Santa Clara County community to the Martial Cottle Park Harvest Festival in San Jose Oct. 6. UC Cooperative Extension in Santa Clara County participated to share gardening information, composting basics and the fun of 4-H with children and families.
The UCCE 4-H program brought virtual reality goggles that allowed children to look in any direction for a view under the sea, complete with coral, fish and a sea turtle. Santa Clara County 4-H ambassador Alexa Russo used a tablet computer to interact with the children as they looked through the goggles, asking questions to engage them in the experience.
The goggles are just one way 4-H is seeking to light a spark of interest in youth. In clubs throughout the state, 4-H youth are taking part in fun computer science and engineering projects while learning about healthy living, citizenship and leadership.
Booth visitors intrigued by the goggles at the harvest festival were invited to participate in a free event at the Google Mountain View Campus called Code Your World. The activity was developed by 4-H, Google and West Virginia University Extension to teach children about computer science with games and interaction. The Oct. 13 event is being held to to mark 4-H National Youth Science Day.
"Code Your World is fun, hands-on and easy, even for people with no computer science experience," said Fe Moncloa, UC Cooperative Extension Youth Development advisor for Santa Clara County. "We opened Code Your World to all our 4-H members, and we're also encouraging kids who aren't members to come." Space is limited and pre-registration is required. To register, go to: http://ucanr.edu/nysdscc
For more information on Code Your World and the Youth Science Day event, see the Santa Clara County 4-H website.