- (Public Value) UCANR: Promoting healthy people and communities
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!
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!
Lynn Brown-Summers and Tim Summers are a dynamic husband-and-wife team. Their differing strengths have made them an inspiring team in serving their local community wherever they are needed. UC Cooperative Extension (UCCE) San Bernardino County Master Gardeners since January 2019 (Lynn) and July 2017 (Tim) and UCCE Master Food Preservers (since 2017), they enjoy spending time together gardening and preserving their own food.
Lynn's strength is to connect with like-minded individuals to accomplish mutual goals. She has the mind, heart, and soul of an activist, which comes as no surprise since most of her family members are involved in public service, politics, and publishing. Her mother, Cheryl Brown, is a former Assemblywoman of the 47th District and current California State Commissioner on Aging who has devoted most of her life to public service. In 1980, Lynn's father and mother founded Brown Publishing Company to produce Black Voice News. This weekly newspaper focuses on local news in Riverside and San Bernardino counties.
Lynn knows how to “make things happen” and the right people to help in that effort. As Tim says, “My wife is one of those forces of nature. Tell her what, you point her in the direction, and she will get it done.” A self-proclaimed “gardening nerd," Tim is the “nuts and bolts' implementation force of the team. He enjoys the hands-on part of their collaboration, and it shows through his gardening. Together, they are unstoppable in their goal to make the world better through the Master Gardeners' mission, “To extend research-based knowledge and information on home horticulture, pest management, and sustainable landscape practices to the residents of California.”
Learning the researched-based approach to sustainable gardening taught in the Master Gardener program has helped Lynn and Tim fulfill their strong desire to help others. They believe that the program provides supportive credibility to their Master Gardener and Master Food Preserver presentations. It gives them a greater depth of knowledge and background of information to pull accurate and useful information. Lynn and Tim believe that research-based knowledge is especially critical for integrated pest management (IPM). They took a UC ANR IPM class a few years ago. They recommended that anyone interested take one of the online courses or workshops https://www2.ipm.ucanr.edu/master-gardeners/.
Before COVID restricted activities, Lynn and Tim were active in presenting Master Gardener and Master Food Preserver workshops at the Rialto Community Garden at 539 Acacia Avenue, Rialto. They are passionate about teaching people the safe way to preserve and store food they have grown.
Lynn and Tim are involved in so many projects that I am amazed at how they find the time and energy to keep “all the balls they are juggling in the air.” They are currently finishing a new (second) Rialto Community Garden at 150 Palm Avenue opposite City Hall. They are proud that they were asked by the City of Rialto to work on the garden for the past two years from start to finish. They served as the UCCE Master Gardener experts for the project, helping develop and implement a garden plan. They represented the community garden project as advisors, attending city planning meetings and spoke at city council meetings regarding the project.
They are also working with the Mayor of Rialto to start a seed bank there. There is a beautiful old adobe building at the Bud Bender Park that Lynn and Tim think would be a perfect spot to start a seed bank. The early 19th-century structure is the oldest building still standing in Rialto. It has been used for many purposes over the years. The internal temperature of the adobe structure is perfect for storing seeds. The Mayor would like to use it for the seed bank, but it needs some repair work. The project is currently in the planning stage “on paper." The city likes the idea and is reviewing the budget for available funds. Lynn and Tim don't easily give up, so if the adobe site doesn't work out, they will find another location for a Rialto seed bank. It may be at the community garden at Bud Bender Park if the idea to use the adobe structure doesn't work out.
Lynn thought having an American Girl Victory Garden workshop would be fun and educational for young girls and attendees to learn about gardening. Stations were set up where the girls made paper, planted seeds, and made a berry jam. The UCCE San Bernardino County Master Food Preservers made food to sample, such as finger sandwiches, cakes, cookies, and other goodies from the American Girl cookbook.
Several people donated American Girl dolls and books to the San Bernardino Public Library. Any of the children who were not able to afford the American Doll event could check a doll and book out of the library and journal their thoughts before returning the library items.
The American Girl Victory Garden workshop that Lynn organizes each year is a well-attended, popular event. The organizers were sad they were not able to hold a workshop this year due to COVID restrictions. However, everyone is looking forward to having another workshop as soon as possible.
Lynn and Tim are highly skilled at helping people feel comfortable to think outside the box to come up with creative gardening solutions. They recently discussed how property at the St. Paul African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church in San Bernardino can be converted to a garden with a minister's alliance group. The AME Church does a lot of outreach on self-sufficiency, sustainability, and how to give back to the community. Having their own garden would be a promising avenue for them to sell their product and help the community.
The first step is to help them develop a design concept for the designated area that takes water constraints at the property into consideration and choose the best plants for their needs. They have asked the alliance group to consider planting berries or grapes. Lynn and Tim would also like to teach them how to preserve food and make jams and jellies. Knowing Lynn and Tim, they will make the garden a success!
I was so inspired by Lynn and Tim, their strong partnership, and their drive and passion for teaching the world how food insecurity can be alleviated. They were such an exciting and engaging couple that I could have spent many more hours chatting with them. UCCE San Bernardino County Master Gardeners and Master Food Preservers are thankful to Lynn and Tim for their dedication and support. They are an inspiration to us all!
Sometimes you meet people that energize you with their enthusiasm and friendly, approachable manner. I recently had this experience when I interviewed Kit Leung, this month's UC Cooperative Extension (UCCE) San Bernardino County Spotlight Master Gardener. Kit became a Master Gardener in January of 2019 and has already made many valuable contributions to the Master Gardener program.
One of the many things that makes Kit so special is his generosity sharing his gardening knowledge with others. He believes that sometimes the world is changed by making a difference in just one person's life. He asks himself “what is my sphere of influence and how can I change the world in a meaningful way?” His generosity extends to creating opportunities to promote others. He is a star presenter who likes interacting with others and seeing the “light come on” in other people when he presents. It was a pleasure getting to know Kit. I hope you get the chance to meet him soon at a Master Gardener (online) event!
Kit is not only a great communicator through his presentations, but also through his writing. I interviewed him face-to-face via Zoom and a written questionnaire.
1. You are a great presenter, Kit! I have always enjoyed your Master Gardener presentations very much. Do you have any prior experience in public speaking and presenting? Do you have any tips for Master Gardeners interested in giving presentations but are hesitant to take that first step?
a. Thank you for your kind words. A lot of my work for my "day job" requires presenting virtually and, at times, in-person. I had to learn how to give presentations and speak effectively in front of groups through a Zoom/Webex call or an in-person workshop or presentation. It has taken me several years to become comfortable with presenting. More often than not, I still feel anxious and nervous before each presentation. For anyone interested in giving presentations, I would say some combination of the following could be helpful. Ultimately, it's up to each individual on what they would be comfortable doing, and it will take a little time to get comfortable with presenting:
i. Start off small by giving a short presentation on a topic before undertaking a larger endeavor, such as a full 1-hour workshop.
ii. Choose a topic that you are passionate about or that you are familiar with.
iii. Buddy up and co-present on a topic with another person.
iv. Prepare for each presentation and practice.
v. Solicit feedback after you present and make adjustments for future presentations.
vi. Don't be too hard on yourself. Learn from your missteps and move on.
2. What or who inspired you to join the Master Gardeners?
a. The Master Gardeners of Orange County, who were at the Farm + Food Lab at the Great Park in Irvine, inspired me to become a Master Gardener. I visited the Great Park to have an afternoon out in the early 2010s and came across the Farm + Food Lab. I spoke to a few Master Gardeners about composting and the apple trees they had planted and trained on espaliers. They made a positive impression on me because they were so friendly, knowledgeable, and encouraging. A few years later, when my son was born, I wanted to ensure he ate the most nutritious and freshest vegetables. So, I researched how to start a vegetable garden and recalled my positive experiences with the Master Gardeners of Orange County. I found out that all our local counties had Master Gardener programs, which encouraged me to research which Master Gardeners to join. I researched the local Master Gardener programs and found that the San Bernardino county program held training classes close to where I live. The county itself had many volunteer and service needs and opportunities.
3. What gardening experience did you have before joining the Master Gardeners?
a. I had roughly 5 years of gardening experience before joining the Master Gardeners. We had some unused space in our backyard where some small palm trees and unhealthy citrus trees grew. I converted this space into a vegetable garden to grow food for my family. I have had many years of mixed results but continue to love gardening in my backyard.
4. What is the most interesting gardening concept you have learned through being a member of the Master Gardener program?
a. There are so many. I learn something new every time I hear Maggie, Janet, fellow Master Gardeners, or people affiliated with Master Gardeners (faculty, industry experts, community partners, etc.) Integrated Pest Management stands out as an interesting gardening concept that I have learned about through the Master Gardening program. Knowing that we do not have to immediately spray for pests to manage them is very reassuring. I prefer to garden as naturally and organically as possible since my family and I eat the food we grow at home. Master Gardeners encourage the public to grow their own food!
5. The readers would love to hear about your volunteer activities with the Master Gardeners. Can you share your experiences with the readers?
a. I started off small and gradually eased my way into the volunteer role and increased my involvement over time. I really enjoy learning and trying different things, so my experiences have been all over the place.
i. Helpline: I started by taking Helpline shifts to familiarize myself with the types of questions we get from county residents and the public. This experience also helped me learn about the vast array of resources available to us as Master Gardeners and the public.
ii. Staffed event tables/info booths: I took shifts at various Master Gardeners information booths such as the Ontario Home Show and the San Bernardino County Museum October "Spooktacular."
iii. I worked with fellow Master Gardeners to develop information table materials and kids' activities related to worms and vermicomposting for the San Bernardino County Museum October “Spooktacular” Halloween event.
iv. Started a school garden: Converted an old unused gardening area into a usable garden for my son's elementary school (before the COVID shutdown).
v. Exam Grader: I worked with a fellow Master Gardener to help Maggie and Janet grade Master Gardener trainee midterms and finals.
vi. Online gardening presentations: I recently started working with Maggie to hold online workshops on various gardening topics like ‘Vermicomposting' and ‘Planning a Fall Garden'. vii. Vegetable planting calendar: Created San Bernardino county-specific planting calendar and monthly gardening task resource documents and handouts.
6. Have you done any gardening projects that you would like to tell the readers about? If yes, do you have any tips or advice for anyone who might want to do a similar gardening project?
a. I have thoroughly enjoyed my experience working with Maggie on doing online presentations for our community members. This project has enabled our program to continue expanding the scope of our workshop offerings and educational opportunities despite the pandemic. It has set up the program to be even more successful at outreach to our communities. It has helped us become more agile in sharing information with the public and has expanded our reach during the pandemic.
7. What gardening activities are you most interested in?
a. I am really interested in sustainable landscaping, edible gardens, California natives, and vermicomposting.
8. Have you participated in any other community service or volunteer activities (besides Master Gardeners)?
a. Not really. I used to do annual volunteer activities through my company, like helping at food banks and Habitat for Humanity, but nothing formal recently.
9. Has your Master Gardener experience helped you participate in a gardening project or get chosen for a gardening project?
a. It has helped me to help start a school garden at my son's elementary school. My Master Gardener experience helped show some knowledge and credibility of gardening. It helped reassure the teachers and school administrators that the garden would be set up for success.
10. If someone is considering becoming a Master Gardener, what would you tell them about the program?
a. I would highly encourage them to become a Master Gardener. I would tell them that the experience is worth the time and effort, and our communities benefit so much from the work that we do. In these challenging times, volunteerism is so important to help support our community. Volunteering as Master Gardeners is a great way to promote growing your own food, sustainable landscaping, and healthy communities. Lastly, it is an excellent opportunity for personal development. As a Master Gardener, you have opportunities to improve your gardening skills and acquire new skills and experiences you can apply in other parts of your life. You will also meet other like-minded people and make new friends.
- Author: Margaret J O'Neill
Fall is upon us, and with the changing of seasons and weather getting cooler we also have an election and are still in the midst of COVID….one sometimes wonders where peace and solace can be found. Many of us have social media that is full of nature posts, plant groups and more, but being on social media can be a double-edged sword, and “reality” seems to seep in even if you to selectively curate your content. Today I just want to remind you of what you probably already know, that the garden is a great “neutral” go to place!
No matter what your political leanings the garden just “is.” There is no political bickering to be had in the garden, no statistics about daily infection rates in the garden…..just the plants….being, existing, and turning the power of the sun into leaves, flowers and fruits (which is pretty awesome if you ask me!!). This time of year, many of us reconnect with loved ones and family, even if it is online or in a modified way and conversation can be tricky, especially this year! My suggestion? Turn to gardening! Perhaps get together some interesting gardening facts, take some beautiful photos of your plants to share, or share resources with your family members who garden, or who are thinking about gardening (for example: did they know that each county and state has a Master Gardener program that can answer their plant questions?).
Does your garden look a little rough around the edges from the summers heat, fire ash and smoke? If so it can make your “happy place” seem a little sad. Not to worry, the summer is hard on the plants just like it is on us, and this is the time to get in there in rejuvenate it! Plant those natives (in So Cal this is the ideal time to do it!), get a compost pile started or get some worms for vermicomposting! Thinking of putting your garden to bed for the fall? Maybe plant a cool season veggie garden instead! Cool season veggies are some of the most nutritious plants we can grow, and they are also so much more flavorful when grown at home. Not sure where to start? Join our class on Nov 14th “From the Garden to the Table” to learn about growing cool season veggies, sustainable landscaping and pest management and also hear from our Master Food Preservers to learn about making freezer jams. Thinking of turning your inefficient yard into a water wise garden? There is info on how to do that on the 14th in the afternoon as well.
Elections and politicians come and go, this pandemic will as well, .but keeping our sanity through it all is key to survival and the garden, small or large, is here to help with that. If you have an older family member who might not be able to get outside, or do much bending, consider getting a tv tray or table and set potted plants up on a bench for them to “groom.” Kids can be great assets in the garden, looking for pests and finding beneficial insects. They can also get drawn in to planting and harvesting their own crops so send them out to plant some sugar snap peas today! Head racing with the “what if's” that come with “adulting?” The garden can help you unpack your fears, thoughts, and concerns by giving you some quite time: just you and the plants…plants that do not judge or confront. Consider them a canvas for your mind: focus on the plants, get into a grooming, planting, or pruning task and just let your mind go. You will find yourself thinking about this and that and the other thing, but your will also start to notice the different colors of green you see, maybe a pollinator flying by or a bug you've never seen before or a flower that is only 1cm wide, but is oh so beautiful, and all of these things will help your head and heart get centered again.
See the importance of gardening, but have questions? We are here to help answer your plant questions, from lawns to trees and peas to bees! Give us a call, or send us an email and unlike social media will stick to the plants and only the plants, giving you the tips and info you need to create and cultivate your own positive space!