This month's Spotlight Master Gardener, Valerie Kimmel-Oliva had a personal goal to complete three UCCE programs in one year which she did (fall to spring 2017-2018). She is a UC Cooperative Extension (UCCE) San Bernardino County Master Gardener, a Master Food Preserver and a UC California Naturalist! Completing all three programs helped her achieve a better understanding of global environmental issues, desert ecosystems, sustainable gardening, plant care, and growing food.
Valerie has attended and participated in the "Agriculture in the Classroom" online conferences several times (a few with our very own UCCE San Bernardino County Master Gardener Coordinator, Maggie O'Neil!) The conference mission is to raise awareness and understanding of agriculture among California's educators and students. The concepts presented at the conference are helpful to Valerie in the classroom. She also shares resources from the conferences with her fellow teachers and interns to teach their own students.
Valerie has been a Master Gardener since 2017, but her interest in sustainable gardening extends back many years before. Her interest in sustainability started with learning about recycling programs. Her efforts in teaching kids about the environment just snowballed from there. With a strong belief that kids are our docents for the future, Valerie teaches them how to garden appropriately. Because of what they have learned in Valerie's classes, some started their own home gardens.
Valerie has been involved with school-site and community gardens for about fifteen years. While teaching special needs students from the inner city of Richmond, California, she took on the task of re-establishing the school's neglected garden. She later joined the board for a city community garden as the teacher representative. While in the Bay Area, she also trained in the Watershed Program.
Valerie returned to the high desert in 2011. As a Special Education teacher in the Apple Valley Unified School District, she facilitated the school garden restoration at Desert Knolls Elementary School. Valerie and her students' hard work paid off in growing a wonderful garden of flowers, vegetables, and herbs. She believes that kids learn about science and math through their gardening experiences. Measuring a garden bed, figuring out how many plants to grow, amount of soil and water needed is required within the scope of hands-on science and math-based learning.
There are a lot of socio-economically disadvantaged children living in the desert communities where Valerie teaches. She teaches students who may not have adequate nutrition and all the other comorbid things that go with that. When a child grows something, he or she gets an incredible feeling of, I got something from basically nothing. Valerie believes that is a real moment of surprise for children (and for adults too.)
Valerie has worked hard to facilitate recycling practices at the schools she has taught. In 2016, Desert Knolls Elementary School was also selected as the School of the Year for Recycling at the annual Recycling and Recovery State Convention and won the Town of Apple Valley “Green Award” that same year. "It was quite an honor, as we have been establishing our program through sustainable practices. I learned many of the practices after attending MEEC-Mojave Environmental Consortium-sponsored workshops. Composting, energy, and gardens in every classroom, to name a few," Valerie said about receiving the award on behalf of the school and her students' hard work.
Valerie taught the district STEP program, grades 1-6, and was an advisor for the GATE after-school programs. She volunteered her time to take students on field trips to support service-learning and STEM activities. MEEC has provided transportation services funding for her to take students on field trips to organic farms and recycling recovery enters. She has taken students to the YELC-Youth Environmental Leadership Conference, the Showcase event, and the Annual Solar Oven Competition. She has had winning teams for several years in solar oven competitions.
In 2016, she was honored to be selected by the MEEC board as the MEEC-Mojave Environmental Education Consortium Teacher of the Year in recognition of her dedication and hard work in fostering environmental awareness in the classroom. Valerie said, “It was a turning point in my professional career and personal development!”
Valerie's dedication leads her to continue her students' environmental learning by virtual outreach. In her Google Classroom, she has a Garden Corner where she shares information with her students and their families about gardening activities that they can do at home. She shares California Teachers Agriculture in the Classroom Program fruits and vegetable cards with her students. She is working on indoor garden activities that she can take back to her classroom to share with her students and their families when COVID restrictions are lifted. She has an herb garden kit with lights and plans to get a hydroponics kit with Betta fish. She had started a similar project at Yucca Loma Elementary School with her K-2 class before in-class instruction temporarily ceased.
Being a Master Gardener has helped Valerie expand her gardening knowledge and interests. She loves everything about gardening from pest control to the importance of trees. One of her favorite gardening activities is experimenting with methods to grow new things in the desert. She likes to grow flowers from bulbs. For the past six years has been experimenting with different types of bulbs to see which ones grow best in the desert. The most unusual thing she has grown is Loofahs. She grew so many that she and her daughter packaged them in spa gift baskets to give to friends.
Valerie said, “The Master Gardener program is a great community to learn, network, volunteer, and share meaningful experiences with people who have common interests. The learning is ongoing, and everyone comes with different levels of expertise or strengths. It is a great way to help share what you learn and do with others in your community.”
UCCE San Bernardino County Master Gardeners are proud of Valerie Kimmel-Oliva's commitment to promoting environmental awareness and positive change within schools and communities. We celebrate her many successes and are honored to have her as a member of our community!
Esther Martinez graduated from the UC Cooperative Extension (UCCE) San Bernardino County Master Gardener program in 2019. In the short time since she graduated, she has taught adults and children how to grow food, how to sustainably garden to save water and attract pollinators, and even what plants are poisonous to dogs through her many volunteer activities focusing on the West End of the county.
She was excited to educate attendees in the Pumpkin Festival at the Chino Community Garden in October 2019. At this free workshop, participants enjoyed harvest-themed activities. They learned about sustainable gardening and were invited to decorate or carve pumpkins grown in the Garden's pumpkin patch. Esther helped participants make succulent gardens in pumpkin shells.
I was impressed with Esther's willingness to jump in and get things done. She has a fearlessness that is inspirational. When she first started volunteering at the Chino Community Garden, she saw a need to clean up the butterfly garden and did not hesitate to do it. The butterfly garden is now thriving with native plants, including two butterfly bushes that attract butterflies. Children visit the butterfly garden and learn through hands-on activities about gardening with pollinators. To prepare for a "Build A Butterfly Garden" workshop, Esther ordered Painted Lady butterfly eggs online and raised them at home.
Esther has a portable butterfly net enclosure she uses for raising butterflies at her home. She transports the butterfly enclosure to gardening workshops so that children can experience hands-on learning about butterflies. Esther has taken her butterfly enclosure to the Waterwise Community Center Seed Library in Montclair to share with visitors that come to get seeds for their own gardens.
She sees opportunities for using her gardening knowledge in unique ways. She presented the idea of having an information booth at a pet event with Healthy Chino, at Ayala Park, called “Bark Around the Park.” Both she and Roger answered pet owners' questions. They also provided them with printed information about plants that are poisonous to pets.
Esther has terrific organizational skills that she has used to coordinate UCCE Master Gardener events. She was in the midst of organizing a UCCE San Bernardino County Master Gardeners West Valley get-together in May at the Chino Community Garden. She had received permission from the City of Chino to hold the get-together at the Chino Community Garden. The theme of the event was "A Beautiful Day in the Garden" in honor of Mister Rogers' "A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood." Because of COVID-19 restrictions, she was not able to move forward with planning. Esther is looking forward to the time when UCCE San Bernardino County Master Gardeners can once again hold gardening workshops at the Chino Community Garden and you can be sure she'll be taking a lead role! Through thick and thin, she continues to help maintain the Chino Community Garden, keeping it free of weeds and making sure the plants are watered.
She has known about the UCCE San Bernardino County Master Gardener program for a long time and was always interested in becoming certified. She finally realized her goal when she had more free time in 2019. She applied to the program after she attended a Water Wise workshop presented at Chino Basin Water Conservation Districts' Waterwise Community Center. She met Maggie O'Neill, UCCE San Bernardino County Master Gardener Program Coordinator and, after listening to her presentation on the Master Gardener program, decided "I'm going to just have to jump in and take a chance.”
Esther encourages anyone interested in helping county residents garden more successfully to apply to the Master Gardener program, which is taking applications beginning July 1 for the October 3, 2020 - March 6, 2021 program (completely online for the first time in its history!). For more information on the program and applying, please click here: https://cesanbernardino.ucanr.edu
In addition to gaining research-based sustainable gardening knowledge to share with the public, Master Gardeners meet people like Maggie O'Neill. Esther says that Maggie has been an incredible mentor to her. She has a good sense of humor and makes it fun to learn about gardening and horticulture.
Esther generously invited me to visit her garden and the Chino Community Garden. She humbly told me that her garden is like a "mom-and-pop garden, but it comes from the heart." I was delighted with the creativity Esther expressed in her garden. She has created themed areas in the garden that represent people and places that are meaningful to her. One area dedicated to her mother is decorated with pottery and mementos that Esther collected to remember her by. Another area is dedicated to her father-in-law. It includes items from his military career and a plaque acknowledging him as a Purple Heart and Bronze Star recipient. Some areas of her garden are whimsical and charming. Other areas are steeped in Native American culture that Esther is proud to be part of. Free in her artistic expression, Esther has created garden areas that are unique and meaningful.
Esther appreciates the importance of pollinators in gardens. She has created a Monarch butterfly garden habitat at her home. She received certification last year from the North American Butterfly Association (NABA) by agreeing to criteria set by NABA that demonstrate her commitment to creating and maintaining the habitat. The garden must have at least three different native caterpillar food plants, and at least three various native butterfly nectar sources. The use of pesticides is discouraged because they are harmful to butterflies. Esther has planted a lot of milkweed and other native plants in her garden to attract butterflies and create an environment where they can lay eggs.
Another one of Esther's gardening interests is creating topiaries. She developed a fascination with them when she visited Disneyland as a child. She even has a topiary section in her yard devoted to the "Three Bears." She has created several, including a large topiary of a horse in her front yard. She created an area she calls "my pig pen" that features topiaries of a mama pig and her two cute piglets. She made several of her topiaries by shaping screen cages in the shape of the desired topiary. She also has a few topiaries that she made freehand. While keeping the topiaries trimmed and maintained is time-consuming, it is a labor of love for Esther.
If Esther has an interest in learning something, she just does it! She decided soon after becoming a UCCE Master Gardener that she would enhance the knowledge she acquired in the Master Gardener classes. Esther wanted to learn about irrigation concepts to gain the skills to fix her own sprinklers and manage run-off in her yard. So, she went through the required training to become a Qualified Water Efficient Landscaper (QWEL). In addition to participating in 20 hours of education on local water supply, sustainable landscaping, soils, landscape water budgets, irrigation system components and maintenance, irrigation system audits, and scheduling and controller programming, Esther was required to demonstrate her ability to perform an irrigation system audit as well as pass the QWEL exam.
During the same time that she was attending the classes, Esther and her husband decided to design the front area of their yard with a dry stream bed. They put decomposed granite in the front yard, installed a trench and lined it with river rocks to create a watershed. The area now catches water that would have run off uncaptured into the street.
Esther has a long history of agriculture and gardening, starting when she was 5 years old. Growing up in Chino, Esther, along with her family, was always involved in agricultural activities. When she was younger and school was not in session, she spent many summers working in agriculture. Esther knows first-hand about the hard work that goes into agriculture. She has a lot of respect and empathy for the people who continue to work in the fields in the Central Valley and other California areas to provide us with food.
Esther likes to say that "Plants are like people. They are all unique." She has combined her creative side with her love of gardening in unique ways. She has an artist's sensibilities as well as a life-long knowledge base of agriculture and horticulture. I am pleased that I had the opportunity to get to know Esther, see her home garden, and visit the Chino Community Garden with her! She expanded my gardening knowledge and opened my eyes to new ways of thinking about gardening.
Esther felt honored to be featured as the July, 2020 UCCE San Bernardino County Spotlight Master Gardener. She very humbly told me that she was surprised to be chosen. UCCE San Bernardino County Master Gardeners are thankful to Esther Martinez for her enthusiastic support, creativity, and extensive gardening knowledge!
UC Cooperative Extension (UCCE) San Bernardino County Master Gardeners Jillian Kowalczuk and Adam Wagner's passion and enthusiasm for gardening, agriculture, and the UCCE San Bernardino County Master Gardener program made for a lively and fascinating interview recently! They want people to know that the UCCE San Bernardino County Master Gardener program can benefit anyone. There are so many opportunities to try different areas of gardening that the hard part is deciding which one you want to pursue! Whatever your skills and strengths, you can utilize them in the UCCE San Bernardino County Master Gardener program.
There are also opportunities to develop new skills and strengths. As long as the criteria meet the mission of the UCCE San Bernardino County Master Gardener program, there is support for creating new ideas. You can pursue gardening interests in any direction you want from working with your local community gardens to presenting at workshops to helping out on the UCCE San Bernardino County Master Gardener Helpline!
Being part of the UCCE San Bernardino County Master Gardener program has opened up a lot of different doors and avenues of perception for Adam and Jillian. People from all areas of life, age groups, and experiences become UCCE Master Gardeners. Being part of the UCCE San Bernardino County Master Gardener program, Adam and Jillian have realized that there are many different ways of approaching the same gardening ideas. Ideas from UCCE Master Gardeners from different geographic areas are shared with the gardening community. UCCE Master Gardener members learn that gardening practices work differently in different parts of the world.
Being part of the UCCE San Bernardino County Master Gardener program has helped enhance and sharpen skills not just for employment, but for all areas of life. It has helped them learn public speaking, formulating new ideas, communicating and working well with others, and how to use technology applications like VMS.
Adam and Jillian's pet project as part of the UCCE San Bernardino County Master Gardener program is the Yucaipa seed library that they started as a satellite of the Chino Basin Water Conservation District seed library. They are proud of what they have accomplished through the seed library and have enjoyed making it the success that it has become. Though the seed library is temporarily shut down due to COVID 19 restrictions, they are ensuring that the work they started at the Yucaipa seed library continues through the support of the local community. Jillian received permission from the UCCE to donate the seeds to a group that she and Adam started called Seeds of Yucaipa. Seeds of Yucaipa was started with the Oasis Botanical Sanctuary in Yucaipa and Unity Church of Yucaipa to help facilitate getting the donated seeds out to the local community With COVID 19 restrictions currently in place, they believe people need access to gardening resources such as seeds, soil, and pots now more than ever.
Adam and Jillian also inspire and help other UCCE San Bernardino County Master Gardener to achieve their goals. UCCE San Bernardino County Master Gardener Whitney Coker liked what they were doing with the Seeds of Yucaipa Project. She asked them for advice on how to start a similar project in Rialto. Jillian was able to get some seeds for the Rialto project. With so many UCCE San Bernardino County Master Gardener learning tools and presentations currently available online, people can learn from home, get the seeds and supplies from the Seeds of Yucaipa project and start their own garden!
The UCCE San Bernardino County Master Gardener program offers opportunities that you don't get elsewhere. Jillian and Adam have participated in educational opportunities that they feel would not have been available to them had they not been part of the UCCE San Bernardino County Master Gardener program. They participated in the Qualified Water Efficient Landscaping (QWEL) for the Chino Basin Water Conservation District, a major partner of UCCE. The QWEL program is an affordable, local training providing 20 hours of education on principles of proper plant selection for the local climate, irrigation system design and maintenance, and irrigation system programming and operation to landscape professionals.
Adam and Jillian also had the opportunity through the UCCE San Bernardino County Master Gardener program to go to South Coast Research and Extension Center (South Coast REC) for integrated pest management (IPM). South Coast REC is one of nine UC ANR Research and Extension Centers. It was established by the University of California in 1956 as a representative site for agricultural and horticultural research in California's south coastal plain-temperate climatic zone. South Coast REC programs focus on a variety of agriculture and natural resource topics, including crop and landscape pest management, irrigation management, plant disease, rootstock development, and alternative weed control methods.
In 2019, Adam and Jillian contributed their gardening skills to a kitchen garden project at the Asistencia community garden project, 26930 Barton Road in Redlands, California. The kitchen garden is a small garden at the Asistencia used for growing edibles such as herbs and small vegetables. They worked on the Asistencia kitchen garden through Rotten Apple Farms, a ‘hobby' farm they founded in Yucaipa, California, to provide farm-fresh produce to the public while preventing waste. They participated in the project by installing the irrigation and planting trees. As UCCE San Bernardino County Master Gardeners, they contributed their gardening expertise and advice to the project. More than 50 volunteers from the UCCE San Bernardino County Master Gardener program, the Redlands Conservancy, the University of Redlands, and the Redlands High School AVID program also contributed to the project. They helped dig holes, pick-ax the adobe clay soil, prep new soil, remove old pipes, build water wells, and plant 110 plants in the 900 square foot area. Jillian and Adam agreed that it was a great learning experience to participate in a historical landmark garden project!
Building sustainable gardening communities and educating the public are two of Adam's and Jillian's greatest passions. They participated as UCCE San Bernardino Master Gardeners in the planning and development meetings for Huerta del Valle's “New Farmer Training Program.” The mission of Huerta del Valle is to cultivate an organization of community members to grow their own organic crops. Building lasting skills and developing strong relationships within the region are just a few of the goals of Huerta del Valle. Sixty-two 20' x 10' family plots are available to rent for one year. Huerta del Valle provides seeds, tools, water, compost, and small plants if available for the plots. The participating gardeners receive the support of experienced gardeners to help them succeed in producing a lot of food to consume or share as they please. They also taught gardening classes at Huerta del Valle.
Arthur Levine, left, programs manager for Huerta del Valle, leads an Inland Empire Resource Conservation District farmers' workshop in Chino Sept. 20, 2019. In the front row are Adam Wagner and Jillian Kowalczuk of Rotten Apple Farms. (Photo by Crystal Valenzuela, Inland Empire Resource Conservation District)
Most of Adam and Jillian's activities together revolve around gardening, farming, and agriculture. Through their different gardening experiences, they have learned from each other. Jillian started getting involved in gardening about 5 years ago with succulents. After that, she dove right into different kinds of gardening, developing an interest in sustainable gardening along the way.
Adam has a diverse background, having enjoyed gardening for most of his life. Living in different areas of the United States, he observed how nature worked around agriculture. His gardening experiences while living in Nebraska were much different than his gardening experiences in the Coachella Valley. He said that in Nebraska, you could just throw out seeds, and they grew, however, Coachella Valley desert gardening was much different. It was a culture shock to him that cultivation in Nebraska did not require irrigation. Coachella Valley desert gardening was much more labor-intensive. Through a change in perception, Adam worked on developing more efficient ways of growing. He developed gardening processes which enabled him to focus on areas of gardening that he really enjoyed.
Adam's gardening experience has evolved over many years. Learning about one area of gardening that interested him naturally led to learning about other areas of gardening that interested him. Working for a hydroponics company, he learned about indoor gardening and how climates can be controlled. Learning about indoor gardening evolved into an interest in greenhouse growing. Working at a local garden nursery, he learned about planter beds, compost teas, bacteria, fungus, and how everything all works together.
One of Jillian's most memorable gardening experiences was attending Armed to Farm, a week-long intensive training event in Davis, California. Offered through the National Center for Appropriate Technology, NCAT has partnered with several sustainable agriculture organizations to train military veterans interested in sustainable agriculture careers. Some of the goals of Armed to Farm are to train veterans and their partners to operate sustainable crop and livestock enterprises and to provide technical assistance to participants as they start and improve their farming operations.
Jillian has always been interested in Agriculture and related subjects. When she saw a trend that Viticulture was expanding in the Yucaipa area, she thought it would be an exciting subject to learn more about. She enrolled in a 2-year Applied Associate of Science program for Viticulture. Jillian's training as part of the UCCE San Bernardino County Master Gardener program gave her an excellent framework for her Viticulture classes. Her study of soils in the UCCE San Bernardino County Master Gardener program has helped in her study of Viticulture soils. Jillian is looking forward to getting her degree in Viticulture. She also has a keen interest in getting ISA Arborist certification. Her goal is to eventually be certified to work in vineyards and orchards.
In November 2019, Jillian was awarded the honor of being picked out of a list of 21 applicants to serve on the American Viticulture Area Planning Committee (AVAPC) for the City of Yucaipa. The AVAPC was established to assist in the planning effort regarding the American Viticultural Area in Yucaipa. Jillian was chosen as one of three members at large "as she is pursuing a degree in viticulture, and that would be a great benefit to the committee," said Yucaipa Mayor Pro Tem Allen. Yucaipa Councilmember Riddell ended with, "I'd like to say that we really had a large and outstanding group of well-qualified candidates too."
Adam and Jillian's advice to anyone hesitant to get started in gardening is to take classes in whatever gardening area you're interested in, become a UCCE San Bernardino County Master Gardener, take courses and learn from each other! If you're a gardener, you're going to make some mistakes. Don't feel intimidated because making gardening mistakes are a great learning experience for the future!
In the two short years since they graduated from the UCCE San Bernardino County Master Gardener training program, Jillian and Adam have become involved in nearly every aspect of the UCCE Master Gardener program. Wherever they see a need, their enthusiasm compels them to jump in and help. They are great presenters, and regularly present at UCCE Master Gardener events. I asked them how they got the courage to do their first gardening presentation. They told me they had not even graduated from the UCCE San Bernardino County Master Gardener program yet, but presenters were needed to do County presentations. They saw that their help was needed and decided to just go for it!
Jillian shared with me that even though she had been a recruiter and instructor in the military, she does experience some anxiety before presenting. She stressed that giving presentations is more comfortable when she is offering a topic that she is passionate about, and that co-presenting with Adam gives her courage. Becoming involved in the UCCE San Bernardino County Master Gardener program, sharing gardening activities and interests with Adam and serving the community inspires and motivates her to take action.
Jillian and Adam presenting together at UCCE San Bernardino County Master Gardener class, "Healthy Soils."
Adam and Jillian teaching "Basics of Building Irrigation" at the Huerta del Valle New Farmer Training program.
Jillian and Adam are passionate and enthusiastic enough about gardening to do whatever it takes to achieve the mission and goals of the UCCE San Bernardino County Master Gardener. They stressed that having the support of the UCCE San Bernardino County Master Gardener program as well as local community members who donate seeds to the Yucaipa seed library enables them to accomplish their goals. Gloriselda Garcia, manager of the Green Valley Senior Village Apartments, has been incredibly supportive of them. She has allowed them to run the community garden, facilitate the Yucaipa Community Garden Club, and set up the Yucaipa seed library at the site.
Thanks to the City of Yucaipa's donation of a plot at the Yucaipa Community Garden to Adam and Jillian, they have been able to conduct gardening classes and demonstrations on-site. They also regularly give gardening presentations at the City of Yucaipa Library and are grateful that the library allows the UCCE San Bernardino County Master Gardener and Master Food Preserver programs the use of their conference room for presentations. They're looking forward to being able to hold more classes and demonstrations when COVID 19 restrictions are lifted.
Yucaipa Community Garden at the Green Valley Village Senior Apartments, 34955 Yucaipa Blvd, Yucaipa.
Adam and Jillian have a love of collecting seeds and sharing them with the public. Recently, they made a donation to the Yucaipa Community Foundation, who has joined with That's My Brick!® to raise money for the Yucaipa Performing Arts Center. Personalized pavers will be located on the pathway along the Uptown Park in front of the Yucaipa Performing Arts Center next to Yucaipa Boulevard.
Jillian and Adam's support will help enhance the quality of life for their community by investing in the education, development, and presentation of excellence in art. It seems fitting that their personalized paver will say, “Adam and Jillian - Love Starts with a Seed.”
- Author: Margaret J O'Neill
This year, while only three months in, has been a rough one in so many ways….and with that, the promise of spring and all its hopes are even more important. I think that childhood is in so many ways like spring, just like a newly budded flower or a tiny leaf peeking out from a branch, it is a time when one is approaching the world with fresh eyes ready to see what life is all about. A gift we can give our children, to prepare them for all that life has to offer, giving them the never-ending joy of working with your hands to create beauty and food, is gardening. We can teach them how to sow a seed, how to check the soil to see if it needs water, how to use their eyes to look for signs of pests or check plant health. In the garden they can also learn about loss and understand that we can't control everything when those darn squirrels eat their delicious tomatoes or pumpkins. They learn about wonder when they plant a pea seed that is hard as a rock and it seems impossible that it contains life, then it sprouts, grows, and gives them food! Parents and teachers can teach children about the cyclical nature of it all when they teach kiddos about letting plants go to seed, saving the seeds and having them to replant for years to come.
We are so fortunate to have produce in the stores throughout the year no matter the season and are not dependent on what we grow in our local gardens to have food on our table. This lack of need has meant that we, as a society, are losing the skills that were once commonplace knowledge. When I was a kid my grandparents, parents and auntie taught me so much about gardening, really all I knew about it, until I took the Master Gardener course. While the access to this bounty in the stores has made life easier for us it has also meant that less and less grandparents and parents are teaching these valuable skills to the youth.
-Just remember to keep on eye on the kiddos, they are still learning, and remind them to ask before they taste if they are trying something new!
Editor's note: Back in 2018 Maggie helped a group of Master Gardeners and teachers attend a workshop with Project Learning Tree, an environmental education project co-sponsored by UCANR and the US Forest Service. PLT's K-12 lessons are aligned with California Standards and Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS). If COVID-19 has you or someone you know in the role of home science teacher, PLT has some great lessons available online: https://www.plt.org/educator-tips/activities-to-do-with-children-at-home
I met with Bob and Sharon Yocum recently on a beautiful, clear Southern California winter morning at the Crafton Hills College garden in Yucaipa, California. With the snow-capped San Gabriel Mountains in the distance, it was a perfect way to spend a Saturday morning viewing the garden at the College that they have been instrumental in developing and helping to grow. I learned more about their mutual love of gardening and helping others, as well as their extensive knowledge of gardening. Bob is a 20-year Master Gardener. Sharon has extensive gardening knowledge also, and recently decided to “make it official” by becoming a Master Gardener trainee.
Like many Master Gardeners, Bob has a life-time love of growing things. He first learned about the benefits of having a vegetable garden from his grandmother and grandfather. Through working in his grandparent's garden, the necessity of growing one's own food became deeply ingrained in Bob. The family garden was not only a source of sustenance, but also of beauty that was shared with others. His grandmother had a flower garden and Bob shared the family's joy of gardening by taking flowers to his teachers.
When I met Bob, he told me, “when things are grown with love, they grow better.” I realized very quickly that those are words that Bob and Sharon live by. They have combined their mutual love of gardening and growing food with helping people from around the world. They have inspired others by teaching them about the benefits of sustainable gardening and feeding them nutritious food. Family vacations, free weekends and even Bob's birthday weekend were spent at Sommer Haven Ranch in Lancaster, California helping start a garden and teaching gardening classes. Their focus was to help the community learn about sustainable gardening practices, start their own gardens, and learn how to cook what they grew - a true Farm to Table experience. Gardening students from all over the world attended the classes to learn about sustainable gardening practices that they took back to their individual countries. The international attendees learned new gardening practices and techniques from Bob and Sharon. Bob is very quick to point out that he and Sharon also learned new gardening techniques from attendees who came from such places as Nigeria, the Philippines and Uganda. He is extremely generous in sharing his gardening knowledge with others so “they can be successful, come back and teach him new things”. Students had the opportunity to receive certificates after they completed the classes. One of the requirements to receive the certificate was for the student to start their own community garden, making the classes “the gift that keeps on giving”.
At Sommer Haven Ranch, gardeners always grew more than they needed, not just for themselves but to give away to others. They shared knowledge, resources and labor with one another. If a fellow gardener needed help, everyone pitched in to help with whatever was needed to ensure the success of the gardens and the community.
Master Gardeners reach people of varying levels of gardening experience and physical capabilities. Bob and Sharon learned about Loma Linda University Medical Center East Campus which provides physical medicine and rehabilitation, among other specialties at the facility. Bob and other Master Gardeners helped with the design and building of a 4x8 table at the facility, that could be raised or lowered via a pulley system making it wheelchair accessible. The table made the gardening workspace easily accessible, proving Bob's belief “that everyone has something to contribute.”
Talking with Professor Janine Ledoux, I learned about food insecurity, the concept of not knowing when or where your next meal is coming from. For Janine, Bob and Sharon food insecurity is not a concept, it is a reality in today's world that they have decided to do something about. As volunteers of the Blessing Center when it was open in Redlands, they collected and distributed food donated by local organizations, as well as from local gardens to be given away to those in need. When the Blessing Center closed, they became involved in collecting donated food to be shared at monthly community dinners at the Family Services Association of Redlands.
Bob and Sharon instilled a love of gardening and helping feed those in need in their 4 children. Their family has become involved with a Central California organization called Gleanings for the Hungry, working as part of a team that makes and ships dried fruit and soup mix. Tons of California cull fruit is thrown away annually. Gleanings for the Hungry takes fruit such as peaches that may have gone unused, then dries and ships it all over the world helping feed the poor and needy.
I came away from my time spent with Bob and Sharon humbled by their philosophy that if you have a meal with, or wash dishes with someone after a meal, you find out a lot about them – what kind of person they are, the essence of who they are. I may not have washed dishes with Bob and Sharon, but through the few hours I spent with them, I got to know them better, and am proud to be part of the Master Gardener community with them.
Bob and Sharon have seen a lot of evolution in the Master Gardener program over the 20 years that Bob has been a Master Gardener. It is apparent that they are very proud to have been part of the program for so many years. The friendships they have developed with fellow Master Gardeners are deeply personal and important to them. They view their fellow Master Gardeners as family. As Bob told me, “Master Gardeners are there when you need them.”
Photographer: Sharon Yocum
Author: Debbie LeDoux, Master Gardener trainee.