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!
UCCE San Bernardino County Master Gardener, Meredith Hergenrader says that one of the best parts of volunteering at Master Gardener events is the camaraderie of gardeners sharing gardening tips and tricks with each other. She has been an active UCCE San Bernardino County Master Gardener volunteer and sharing her gardening knowledge in many Master Gardener events since her graduation in 2016 and resides in the high desert.
Before the cancellation of regularly scheduled monthly events at the Hesperia Library due to COVID restrictions, the San Bernardino County Master Gardeners and UC San Bernardino County Master Food Preservers gave presentations on various gardening topics at the library. Meredith gave presentations on integrated pest management (IPM). With a strong belief in IPM, she does not use chemicals on any of her property. She uses natural and cost-effective ways to get rid of pests. Meredith has also volunteered at local farmers' markets in Wrightwood and Phelan, answering attendees' gardening questions.
One of the most significant things that Meredith learned through being a member of the Master Gardener program is the importance of being water-wise. She says that with water resources becoming increasingly limited, we need to make the best use of the water available with an eye towards future sustainability. The Master Gardener program teaches us ways to do that. One of the methods is by planning our gardens around the needs of plants. Meredith says, “We should use plants that naturally grow in the space they are planted, and by using native plants.”
She advises everyone, especially if you consider using graywater in your garden, to be aware of ingredients in detergents and soaps you use. She makes her own cleaning agents like dish soap and clothing detergent. She does not use fabric softeners or products that are scented and don't easily biodegrade. With better technology, fabrics, and laundry products, fabric softeners are no longer necessary. Instead, Meredith occasionally adds vinegar to the rinse cycle as a softener.
Meredith believes that if you see something that needs to be fixed, “be the solution” and do something about it. She and a group of Master Gardeners and other volunteers were motivated to do something after seeing the vegetation at the Phelan Post Office being removed because of the rising cost of upkeep. She approached the postmaster with the idea of using natives and other plants that would not need much water. She received his approval to proceed with the project and quickly started to work.
It was a large space, so Meredith tackled the job in three sections. Meredith and other volunteers provided native and other drought-tolerant plants for the first area. In the second area, she planted succulents and cactus that she dug up from her own property.
Meredith would like to thank Wendy Walsh Walker for her wonderful donations of a California Flannelbush and Penstemon spectabilis. The California Flannelbush is a fast-growing evergreen shrub that can grow 20 feet high by 20 feet wide and is one of the most spectacular of the native California shrubs. Meredith said: “The team has been fortunate to have Wendy as an advisor for the project. She has studied California native plants and natural history all her adult life. She worked for the Riverside Corona Resource Conservation District, doing habitat restoration for four years before moving to Transition Habitat Conservancy.”
The maintenance worker at the post office was concerned about having to water the plants. Meredith explained that only native and other water-wise plants were used, and once they were established, they would require minimal water. She watered the plants for the first year but has not watered them for the past year, and they are still alive and well.
Last summer, the post office grounds had become overgrown with weeds. The maintenance staff did not have time to maintain the grounds. Because of COVID, they were being utilized to clean inside the post office full-time. Funds at the post office were too low to hire more staff.
Around the time the post office was becoming overgrown with weeds, Meredith received a call “out
of the blue” from UCCE Master Gardener trainee Debi Dossey. Debi asked if Meredith had been responsible for replanting at the post office two years ago and if she was interested in being part of a team of volunteers to clean up the post office grounds. Meredith saw the need and immediately said yes.
A team of volunteers worked early on Saturdays, late on Sundays, and in their free time for several months. Most of the work was done with hand tools. However, they used Weed Eaters to finish work around the pine trees. Meredith wants to acknowledge Debi Dossey for spearheading the clean-up effort at the post office, getting approval from the postmaster, and providing encouragement to her and the other volunteers.
All the volunteers were motivated by a spirit of civic duty. Darlene House (another UCCE San Bernardino County Master Gardener), Amanda Plunkett (owner of BeeRooted, an environmental service “dedicated to promoting healthy environments for honeybees and humans through live bee relocation services, education, and products”), Debbie McAfee (Phelan resident), Barbara Hamilton (Hesperia resident), as well as many other volunteers from local high desert areas participated. Congratulations to you all for a job well done supporting your local community
Meredith is a life-long learner with a desire to acquire ongoing knowledge about gardening, IPM, and protecting the environment. She has extended her gardening knowledge by taking classes at Victor Valley College Agriculture and Natural Resource (AGNR) Department. She is currently taking courses for her own self-knowledge (while toying with the idea of possibly getting an advanced degree in Botany in the future.) She has taken an IPM class, is currently taking a class on identifying 100 non-native plants by their Latin names, and in February, will be taking a class on native plants.
Meredith was recently asked by one of her professors at the AGNR Department to start a seed library at the college. She has wanted to create a seed bank in the high desert, so she agreed. Meredith already has some thoughts about how she will organize the seed library utilizing onsite resources and volunteers. There are greenhouses wherethe library can be set up to bring in seeds that can be traded. There is even an onsite lab where the seeds can be cleaned, dried, and stored. She is looking forward to getting started on the seed library as soon as COVID quarantine restrictions are lifted!
Learning about Meredith's extensive knowledge of holistic health and living a fully holistic lifestyle has been eye-opening and inspirational! In her 20's, she adopted an organic lifestyle and has grown everything organically ever since. Early on, she read a book called "Back to Eden" by Jethro Kloss about herbs, how to use herbs, eat well, and avoid toxins. After reading the book, she concluded that there is probably an answer to almost any problem by using plants.
Meredith has a passion for educating people about keeping a pure seed supply and avoiding pesticides. She has never seen any logical reasons for using a lot of chemicals in our day-to-day lives. She has given talks in the high desert, promoting healthy choices, and encouraging people to lead organic lifestyles.
Meredith has an extensive property that includes a goat farm, rabbits, horses, and herb, vegetable, and flower gardens. Over several years, she has removed most of the invasive vegetation on her property while encouraging native plants to take over.
Every year the native plants reseed and have slowly taken over the invasive plants. The native plant areas need little water. However, Meredith installed a drip system to use during the hot summers in the high desert. She enlisted the help of her grandson and granddaughter and their friends to haul way truckloads of weeds. Another generation of farmers in the making!
Meredith's life-long love of farming began on her grandparents' farm in Nebraska. Like many people during that time, they had a farm growing their own vegetables, planting fruit trees, and raising chickens. They canned what they grew and preserved eggs by the water glassing method. Keeping eggs by water glassing is a long-standing historical method that works well for long-term egg storage. Meredith learned to operate farm equipment and helped her grandparents with their farm.
Meredith's fascination with seed saving started with rows of unlabeled jars of seeds on shelves in her grandparents' basement in Nebraska. Her grandmother taught her everything that she knew about farming and seed saving. Meredith learned how to operate farm equipment and plowed areas on the farm. She and her grandmother planted the collected seeds in the cultivated areas. When she was only 10 years old, she produced a large flower garden in Nebraska and won her first garden award (from the Spanish American War Auxiliary that her grandmother was a member of.)
One of the many things I hear Master Gardeners say that they like about being in the group is meeting life-long friends with common interests. It must have been "serendipity" that Meredith met UCCE San Bernardino County Master Gardener Dana Marchica-Herring. She was attending a San Bernardino County Master Gardener composting class presented by Dana in Wrightwood. After the class was over, she and Dana "hit it off," talking about their mutual gardening interests. Dana encouraged Meredith to apply to the Master Gardener program. Dana moved and she and Meredith did not see each other for over 20 years, but Meredith always remembered Dana's encouragement and applied and was accepted into the Master Gardener program years later. After all those years of not seeing each other, Meredith and Dana “ran into each other” giving talks at a Whole Life Celebration in Wrightwood. Dana was representing the San Bernardino County Master Gardeners and Meredith was giving a talk on GMOs. As Meredith likes to say, their friendship came full circle.
Meredith encourages people to think about becoming a Master Gardener by saying, “it is easier than it looks.” Having an interest in gardening and a little gardening experience is a good start. The desire to help others become better gardeners is necessary, but it is also the most fun! She says that becoming a Master Gardener is a commitment, but there are many resources available through the Master Gardener Program that provide ongoing training.
The motto of Meredith's Valhalla Farm is, “A wee small farm with lots of animals, gardens, and penchant for independence.” I think it epitomizes the spirit of Meredith!
The UCCE San Bernardino Master Gardeners thank Meredith for her enthusiasm, diverse gardening knowledge, and dedication to creating a more sustainable future!
- Author: Brenda Spoelstra
I became a University of California Cooperative Extension (UCCE) Master Gardener in San Bernardino County in January of 2019. I had learned about it from a friend who is an instructor with the UCCE Master Food Preserver program. She knew I liked gardening and suggested I look into it to see if it was something I would like to do. At the time I was working for a City Parks and Recreation Department in Planning and Design and my interest was increasing public open spaces and parks and gardens, knowing how essential they are to a healthy lifestyle. In another way, I was looking for an opportunity to get involved in the community. My interest in gardening and garden design just seemed like a natural fit for the UCCE Master Gardener program.
Within the UCCE Master Gardener program, I have volunteered in the San Bernardino School District (SBUSD), informational tables at farmer's markets, and more recently, with a non-profit after school program in Redlands called Micah House. There are two locations but the Micah House program on Oxford Street has been my main connection in the community, working with the mothers of after-school students on their vegetable boxes.
(The UCCE Master Gardener program would like to express gratitude to Micah House Executive Director Alison Anderson and the Chapel Street Micah House team for opening their doors to allow us to offer our 18-week training class there. In turn, Master Gardeners partnered with Micah House staff, families of their after-school program, and the community at large to transform a grassy area in their front yard into a lovely drought-tolerant garden through a grant from the Inland Empire Resource Conservation District.)
In one of my first UCCE Master Gardener activities with the SBUSD, I quickly became aware that it would be imperative to know Spanish well if I wanted to contribute to the UCCE Master Gardener mission to, "develop and extend practical research-based information in agriculture and natural resource to the residents and workforce of San Bernardino County." The US census states that 54% of San Bernardino County is Hispanic, and that 37% of the population speaks Spanish as their first language.
Thus, the story of how I needed to re-learn Spanish led to becoming the on-site UCCE Master Gardener at Micah House on Oxford Street. It began when I reached out to an extended family member who previously taught an immersive Spanish program and is the program director at Micah House on Oxford Street, for Spanish tutoring. After a couple of sessions, she asked if I might be interested in leading some gardening workshops in their vegetable beds started by the previous program director. Well of course! One hiccup. The mothers I would be instructing in gardening speak only Spanish and I want this to be inspiring, not complicated.
In the fall of 2019, with interpretation help from the program director, we set off together in planning the cool season vegetable garden with four mothers of children in the program. We were able to discuss the appropriate cool season vegetables and they selected the desired plants to grow over the winter. None had grown any of their own vegetables but were superb at gardening techniques such as weeding and planting. Much of gardening workshops can be a physical demonstration and then accomplished by the attendees, and I'm thankful for that because at this point my Spanish is still not up to a working standard!
With Spring coming, the program director had an idea how to include the children. We had an activity for them to plant seeds in recycled egg cartons, to be grown indoors as starts for the Spring garden. Again, the mothers were in the lead with selecting the warm season vegetable types and decided on a salsa garden.
With the help of the seed supply in the UCCE Master Gardener office, the kids were able to plant onion and jalapeno peppers. The mothers decided what to plant, install, regularly maintain. Harvest from the vegetable boxes are generously shared with their neighbors. Even with a few Spanish words, my sub-par communication skills seemed to go a long way with building rapport within the community and the workshops seem to be exciting for the kids and the vegetables are growing well! Fast forward to January, they are now harvesting cilantro, radish, lettuce, kale, and soon beets, carrots, and broccoli.
I like the personal benefits of gardening, doing something outdoors while getting a little exercise. Also, the learning and the organizational skills built on from one season to the next as you learn more about how plants behave in changing seasons. Watching plants form and develop over time makes it an activity of patience, as well, along with the maintenance lessons and mistakes. Before becoming a UCCE Master Gardener, I had experience in developing my backyard from a dead lawn to trees, shrubs, and flower garden (along with vegetable patch gardening). I believe the most outstanding thing I learned is the number of people volunteering in the community and the free resources UCCE Master Gardeners provide. I had not heard of the program up until then, and I think the program has many more ways to develop and transform in the coming years.
What I like best about the UCCE Master Gardeners program is the access to the science-based peer reviewed information regarding growing, pest management, and resources on plants and their requirements. It gives more confidence to the advice and recommendations I give in the community, which supports the work, rather than just relying on someone's personal experience with gardening. I think the first thing I would ask people interested in becoming a UCCE Master Gardener is whether they have a personality that likes to engage with the community. You can't stay sheltered away from the public while being a UCCE Master Gardener and you can't just have an interest in more information to be an arm-chair expert without experience. We test our knowledge in the community with questions they have or with activities which go along with instruction.
You may not have a natural desire for teaching, but you will need to have some interest in passing along knowledge with an open mind and appreciation for varying levels of experience in others. I tell people just because I have the UCCE Master Gardener badge does not make me a master of gardening -- it's the process of mastering, which never ends. I have a list of community service, both domestic and international. I've been involved with a City's Arts commission, 5k founder and organizer, an overseas director's assistant on a construction project, installed California Native gardens, community garden volunteering, and various past volunteer work with churches and work.
The purpose of this brief article is, even though you may think a little isn't enough, your efforts extended to the community can go a long way and grow into something you may not have planned. Stay open to opportunities and activities; you just never know where 'yes' will lead you.
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.”