Note from UC Cooperative Extension (UCCE) San Bernardino County Master Gardener Management:
By Elizabeth McSwain
There is something magical that happens when you enter a garden. The stress of the day goes away as you take in the beauty of a flower or plant. When my son Troy III and I visited our first community garden in 2017 it felt euphoric. UCCE San Bernardino County Master Gardener Valerie Dobesh was teaching a class on using herbs for medicinal purposes. We tasted the elderberry syrup she created, and I was hooked. Food can be medicine! After the workshop concluded I visited the info tables and that's when I met Master Gardener Program Coordinator Maggie O'Neill. I had so many questions and Maggie patiently answered many of them. I was intrigued by Maggie's professionalism, knowledge, and enthusiasm for the Master Gardener program. She inspired me to apply to the program and I am so very happy that I got accepted and that I get to interact with her throughout my gardening journey.
I didn't have a lot of gardening experience prior to becoming a UCCE San Bernardino County Master Gardener in October 2020. Our “Caramel Connections” nonprofit had a plot at a local garden and several of our volunteers facilitated organic gardening workshops. However, I did not feel knowledgeable enough to teach classes. I was part of the first Riverside Food Waste Ambassador training cohort. As part of the training, I visited my first landfill/recycling plant. After that visit, I was determined to decrease the amount of waste that my family and nonprofit would create moving forward. The UCCE Master Gardener vermicomposting training was interesting to me because it reinforced my belief that if I mastered this concept, I could help the community divert food waste from landfills.
I am excited about the opportunities ahead of us, and I cannot wait to see the garden flourish! Elizabeth McSwain showing first harvest vegetables at Seeds of Joy Community Garden Since I was a little girl, my mother Laureen instilled a joy of making food for the soul. She would make dishes that were always filled with fresh fruits and vegetables. Now alongside my husband, Troy II, our mutual passion for the culinary arts became a staple in our home as we raised our two sons, Alex and Troy III. It was in the kitchen while cooking and sharing meals together that our family bonded most - sparking unforgettable memories. Our love for food and serving the community compelled us to open Beola's Southern Cuisine in Ontario, CA.
Ultimately, we longed for families throughout the Inland Empire to experience the same joy for the culinary arts that we shared with our own family. In 2016, the McSwain's founded the Caramel Connections Foundation (CCF) to empower families throughout the Inland Empire to do just that. All CCF activities promote mental and physical wellness to help parents and their children discover the fun of healthy eating together. I began offering cooking classes and healthy beverage pairings at The San Bernardino Boys and Girls Club and Options House Transitional Homes. It was then that I quickly realized the needs of these families were much deeper.
Not only were they unaware of what healthy food options were available to them, but many of them also struggled with knowing where their next meal was coming from. I soon found that the health issues many parents and children were struggling with, such as high blood pressure and diabetes could be prevented if they knew how to make better food choices and where to access healthier options. Elizabeth
The Seeds of Joy Community Garden 1240 W. 4th Street, Ontario CA 91762, 909 697-9017, www.caramelconnections.org has conducted programs and held events to introduce Inland Empire families to a myriad of healthy activities, beverages, and meal options. CCF programs promote health, wellness, and education in the areas of physical fitness, mental wellness, literacy, organic gardening, nutrition, and combating health challenges such as
Other community service volunteer activities include:
• Abundant Living Family Church – Children's Ministry 2003-2007 • Healthy RC Steering & Compassionate Communities Committees 2015 – Present
• Caramel Connections Foundation 2016 – Present
• Black Chamber of Commerce Inland Empire
• Ontario Montclair YMCA (Board Member 2017 – 2020). The benefits of gardening stretch far beyond just the growing of food. Although growing your own food can help you eat healthier by forming the foundation of better food choices and thereby lead to a healthier lifestyle. We will be offering an extensive array of nutrition and cooking sessions here. But even deeper than that, the act of gardening offers physical activity which can lead to lower blood pressure, reduce stress, enhance mental well-being, and build self-confidence.
- Author: Debbie LeDoux
A passion for gardening inspires many gardeners to want to learn more so they can become better gardeners. This desire to learn more leads many gardeners like Gretchen Heimlich-Villalta to the University of California Cooperative Extension (UCCE) Master Gardener program.
When she learned that the Master Gardener program provides trainees with a solid science-based foundation for growing plants sustainably as well as teaching their communities to do the same, she decided it would be a perfect fit to accomplish her goals. She applied and was accepted into the 18-week intensive training program, graduating in July 2014 as a UCCE Master Gardener.
Gretchen's training as a Master Gardener was also been a significant factor in her decision to pursue a degree in Integrated Pest Management (IPM) ucanr.edu/Integrated Pest Managment at Mt. San Antonio College (Mt. SAC) where she also teaches IPM classes. Master Gardener training also helped Gretchen make a career change to an arborist position at the Disneyland Resort. Currently, she is a Plant Pathology PhD student at UC Riverside.
Gretchen has had the opportunity to work on many exciting Master Gardener projects. For the past two years she has been teaching UCCE Master Gardener trainees about the Invasive Shot Hole Borer. She is also excited about a recent opportunity to write Integrated Pest Management (IPM) blogs for the UCCE Master Gardeners of San Bernardino County Newsletter. Gretchen is an accomplished and engaging writer, so it is no surprise that she was asked if she would be interested in writing blogs for the newsletter. Be sure to watch for her blogs in upcoming issues. I am sure you will find them interesting, well-written and informative!
Most Saturday mornings, you will find Gretchen and other volunteers working at the garden. They provide socially distanced, hands-on instruction in sustainable gardening practices to people interested in growing food in their own gardens. The volunteers and visitors help plant, manage pests and harvest food that is also consumed by them. Gretchen enjoys the social aspect of seeing people come together and eat the food they have helped produce at the garden.
Many events such as workshops, classes, Girl Scout events, food swaps, and potlucks, to name just a few, have been held at the garden.
Like many Master Gardeners, Gretchen has had an interesting gardening journey. Her love of gardening started when she tried growing vegetables in sections of her parent's yard. That was where she discovered root knot nematode. She says that pretty much everything she grew back then was eaten by beetles and slugs. She has certainly come a long way in her gardening knowledge!
Gretchen did not have any prior public speaking or presenting experience before becoming a UCCE Master Gardener. Although she is still getting comfortable with presenting, she enjoys it more as her presentation experience grows. She has discovered that attendees of her presentations are eager to learn about gardening. Their enthusiasm during her presentations inspires her to share her gardening and IPM knowledge with them. She connects with her audience in a way that makes her an engaging presenter. The realization that nearly everyone has had stage fright at some time helps her relax and enjoy presenting, something we can all relate to.
Master Gardeners continually learn new things to make them better sustainable gardening volunteer educators. For Gretchen, this happened when she attended a presentation by Yvonne Savio, retired Master Gardener Coordinator for the University of California Cooperative Extension in Los Angeles County after 21 years. During the presentation, Yvonne said, "You're going to be shocked by this..." as she pulled a vegetable out of its pot and began removing the roots that had begun circling the perimeter. Seeing a plant's roots being pruned was especially enlightening to Gretchen.
After years of working as an arborist and seeing trees fail because they were pot-bound before they were planted, Gretchen has learned to be bold when pruning a tree's roots at planting time. It took Gretchen a long time to accept that pruning a plant's roots can be as beneficial to it as pruning the canopy. She says this process “helps trees know that they are no longer in a pot—and that they frequently live to tell the tale, as well!”
Gretchen says one of the best things about being a Master Gardener is that it connects one to a network of people with similar values and passions. Her many accomplishments, dedication to sustainable gardening, and knowledge and love of science-based gardening inspires us all to be better gardeners and volunteer educators. The Master Gardeners of San Bernardino County are proud to have Gretchen as part of our growing Master Gardener community!