- Author: Linda Forbes
University of California Cooperative Extension, 4-H Youth Development Program in Santa Clara County partnered with multiple community organizations to hold a 4-H Nature Explorers Day Camp at Escuela Popular Bilingual Academy in East San Jose from July 17 to July 21.
Organizers wanted to reach more participants this year than they had in the inaugural 2022 camp, so they structured the program for different K-8 grade levels to attend on different days. 79 campers participated, which was a 130% increase over the number of campers last year.
“Everything we did during the week was focused on environmental science,” said Susan Weaver, 4-H Regional Program Coordinator. “We partnered with Project Learning Tree, UC Environmental Stewards, UC Master Gardeners and CalFresh Healthy Living, UC– as well as community agencies related to the natural environment.”
Numerous activities engaged the youths such as field trips; demonstrations; and sessions themed around trees as habitats, birds and bugs, and being “leaf detectives.” 4-H Adult Volunteer, Laura Tiscareno, took charge of the hands-on Project Learning Tree sessions. Craft time included making nature-themed wind chimes and spinning paper snakes.
Bilingual teen camp counselors guided small groups of students for the duration of the day camp. In situations where the adult facilitator did not speak Spanish, teens translated information into Spanish for students with less English confidence.
“These kids call me ‘teacher' and it's awesome,” said Rodrigo, one of the counselors. “The camp benefits me a lot because I connect with children and in the future, I can even be a teacher if I wanted to.”
Another counselor, Andrea, learned about communication. “It's a bit different with kids at different age levels,” she said. “Since we had kindergarten through eighth grade, we had to switch our tactics from grade to grade so that they would understand us and we'd be able to understand them. Also learning how to bond with them so that they would pay more attention.
One highlight of the week was a field trip for third through eighth graders to the Master Gardeners location at Martial Cottle Park, where students learned about vermicomposting and made their own individual countertop worm habitat and composter.
Campers especially enjoyed the interactive demonstrations. “My favorite part is going on all the field trips because we went to a garden, and we've been catching worms and doing stuff about worms,” said one student. “It's really fun going on trips.”
Another camper said, “Something I would like to change about camp is having more time here.”
The program culminated in a Nature Camp Festival at Escuela Popular in partnership with community agencies. Youth enjoyed games, meeting reptiles, outdoor science activities, arborist crafts, a “Rethink Your Drink” table to make a fresh fruit drink, tamales, a nacho bar and more.
Representatives from the Silicon Valley Wildlife Center discussed animals that live in local neighborhoods and how the Center supports people to keep the animals safe. Victor Mortari of Vexotic Me talked about and showed snakes, spiders, scorpions, and other creatures, making the kids squeal while learning about them. As a fun added bonus, 4-H Community Educator Zubia Mahmood arranged to have a local team come to teach soccer skills as a healthy living activity.
The event increased the youth's interest in environmental education and involved Latino youth and adults who are new to 4-H – representing a community that has not historically benefited from the 4-H program. The teen teachers also increased their leadership and career readiness skills; post-camp surveys showed that all the teen counselors see 4-H as a place where they can be a leader and help make group decisions. Some campers noted in the survey that they wanted the camp to be every day, all summer!
National 4-H funded the camp in 2022 and 2023, allowing organizers to provide meals, T-shirts, water bottles and other items to foster belonging and promote healthy living. Community partners, crucial to the program's success, included the Boys and Girls Club of Silicon Valley, Escuela Popular Bilingual Academy, Silicon Valley Water and Silicon Valley Wildlife Center.
- 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>