- Author: Melissa G. Womack
UC Master Gardener programs in Riverside, Santa Clara, Orange and San Diego counties have won the program's Search for Excellence competition, announced Missy Gable, director of UC's statewide Master Gardener Program. The triennial Search for Excellence awards afford county programs the opportunity to share successful projects, including demonstration gardens, workshops, presentation or hands-on programs, community service, horticulture therapy, research or youth programs.
Educating the public was the focus of the Search for Excellence 2014 competition. The entries were judged by a team of experts selected from throughout the state.
"Congratulations to all the Master Gardeners involved in carrying out these innovative projects," Gable said. "This competition celebrates the hard work of dedicated UCCE Master Gardener volunteers across the state."
The Search for Excellence competition winners will be honored at the 2014 UC Master Gardener Conference, Oct. 7-10 in Fish Camp, Calif. The next Search for Excellence competition will be in 2017.
“There's Gold in them thar hills!” Riverside County is a big county, stretching from the Los Angeles metro area to the Colorado River. The main challenge of the UC Master Gardener Program of Riverside County was how to better fulfill their mission of educating their community on sustainable gardening practices. The answer – “Gold Miners.” Riverside County was divided into nine geographic areas with a UC Master Gardener volunteer in each area actively pursuing volunteering opportunities for their peers. Since the program began in 2011, “Gold Miners” has increased the presence of UC Master Gardeners throughout the county, giving volunteers the opportunity to provide outreach closer to home, engage new members of the public and increase the number of certified UC Master Gardeners from all regions of the county.
UC Master Gardeners of Santa Clara County developed a one-acre teaching and demonstration garden on the grounds of St. Louise Hospital in Gilroy. The demonstration garden was designed to create educational outreach opportunities in the far southern portion of the county. UC Master Gardener volunteers provide hands-on public workshops in the garden as well as classes in both the hospital boardroom and community libraries. The objectives of the St. Louise Hospital garden includes teaching residents about low-water vegetables, fruits, and ornamental plants well-suited to local growing conditions, and modeling sustainable gardening practices reflective of UC research-based horticultural principles.
Passionate volunteers from the UC Master Gardener Program of Orange County developed a series of 15 educational videos. Nine videos provide a comprehensive overview of the composting process and six videos concentrate on worm composting. Each series begins with an explanation of what composting is and shifts into how to start, maintain and troubleshoot a compost pile or worm bin. The videos are designed to instruct and encourage the gardening public to compost either at home or in community gardens. All of the educational videos were filmed and narrated by UC Master Gardeners. The videos are published on the UC Master Gardeners of Orange County public website.
First Runner-up - Orange County
Recognizing the need to reach a significantly larger number of home gardeners than demonstration booths and Farmers Market tables were engaging, the UC Master Gardeners of Orange County developed a speakers bureau. The criteria was simple: fulfill the mission of disseminating up-to-date, research-based information and to deliver "wow" presentations for the public. UC Master Gardeners created teaching plans, incorporating the statewide program mission and the ANR Strategic Vision to cover important topics such as gardening for improved nutrition and healthy living. Additionally, the UCCE Master Gardeners of Orange County engaged the help of Toastmasters International, an undisputed authority for training speakers.
Second Runner-up - San Diego County
UC Master Gardeners of San Diego County created a program called MG Growing Opportunities (MG-GO) which provides research-based horticulture education to teenage youth involved with the juvenile justice system. Under the guidance of UC Master Gardeners and a vocational horticultural therapist, incarcerated youth learn about ecosystem friendly, sustainable gardening. In the process, the youth acquire vocational and life skills, such as teamwork, problem solving, self-esteem, and leadership. The goals of MG-GO are to introduce sustainable gardening practices to an under-served population, highlight gardening as a healing endeavor, and develop a replicable model for statewide use.
The UC Master Gardener Program provides the public with UC research-based information about home horticulture, sustainable landscaping, and pest management practices. It is administered by local UCCE county-based offices that are the principal outreach and public service arms of the University of California Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources.
The UC Master Gardener Program is an example of an effective partnership between the UC Division and passionate volunteers. In exchange for training from University of California, UCCE Master Gardener volunteers engage the public with timely gardening-related trainings and workshops. With programs based in 50 California counties and 6,048 active members, UC Master Gardener volunteers donated 385,260 hours last year and have donated more than 4.2 million hours since the program inception in 1981.