- Author: Marisa A Coyne
Each year, UC Master Gardener program coordinators from across the state gather together to engage in professional development, share successes, troubleshoot challenges, and connect with UC ANR resources to improve program delivery. Originally intended to be an in-person session the day before the triennial UC Master Gardener Program statewide conference in Lake Tahoe, the 2020 meeting took place via Zoom on Monday, Sept. 27, 2020.
The gathering's core themes included diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) as well as best practices for remote and/or virtual garden education and program administration.
Why we meet and the current gardening climate
Statewide program director, Missy Gable, began the annual coordinator meeting by providing a comment on program outlook for the 2020-21 year. Gable noted the increased interest in gardening content, citing that Google searches for gardening related terms increased dramatically during the pandemic period. A bit closer to home, she shared that submissions of the ‘Become a UC Master Gardener' interest form have risen by nearly 50% while counties have reported a huge surge in attendance at online workshops and events. She also highlighted the tremendous creativity and innovation of volunteers and program personnel alike, qualities that allow the UC Master Gardener Program to share gardening content in new and inclusive ways.
Increasing diversity in the UC Master Gardener Program
The 2020 annual coordinator meeting keynote was delivered by Dr. Maria de la Fuente, county director (UCCE Monterey) farm advisor and UC Master Gardener advisor (UCCE Monterey and Santa Cruz Counties). Dr. de la Fuente is a longtime UC Master Gardener advisor, first with UCCE Santa Clara and currently with UCCE in Monterey and Santa Cruz Counties.
Maria's presentation was grounded in social psychology research but peppered with personal anecdotes related to inclusion leadership. De la Fuente highlighted the work of two Dutch scholars and father-son duo, Geert Hofstede and Gert Hofstede, who advanced a theory of national culture based on factors such as individualism versus collectivism as well as long-term orientation versus short term orientation. She suggested that understanding dimensions of national culture may help the UC Master Gardener Program, and UC ANR more broadly, connect with and serve all Californians including those from immigrant communities.
Inclusive volunteer selection
Like any hiring or recruitment process, the volunteer selection process can be a space where bias, stereotype, and preferentialism can occur. The UC Master Gardener Program is engaged in a process of attempting to reduce selection biases, ensuring that all prospective volunteers receive appropriate and equitable treatment.
Last August, the UC Master Gardener Program offered a webinar for program coordinators focused on inclusive volunteer selection. In this webinar, attendees explored best practices for improving volunteer selection materials such as program applications, volunteer interview questions, and volunteer position descriptions. The 2020 annual meeting built on this important foundational work. Coordinators, in breakout rooms, provided feedback and directly edited template applications, interview questions, and positions descriptions to update with best practices in volunteer selection. These edits will be reviewed by the UC Master Gardener Program statewide team, advisory committee and UC ANR colleagues with interest in and expertise around volunteer engagement and DEI.
Click here to view the August 2020 Inclusive Volunteer Selection Brown Bag Webinar via YouTube. Click here to view the UC Master Gardener Program statewide blog post on implicit bias and related continuing education resources.
Gardeners with Heart
During the annual coordinator meeting, coordinators had the opportunity to preview a special video featuring photos and quotes from/about special volunteers. These volunteers, Gardeners with Heart, were nominated by coordinators during National Volunteer Week in April 2020. Gardeners with Heart, use creativity, strategic thinking, passion for program mission, and commitment to diversity to improve our program delivery.
Anne Schellman, program coordinator in Stanislaus County, Randy Musser, program coordinator in Orange County, and Maggie O'Neill, program coordinator in San Bernardino hosted coordinator-led discussions about demonstration gardens and training in the COVID-19 era. In these discussion sessions, program coordinators and leadership shared suggestions about demonstration garden infrastructure, remote mentoring strategies for trainees and new volunteers, and tech innovations for program delivery.
Click here to learn about the Zoom annotation tools used during Anne Schellman's demonstration garden session.
Many thanks to all of the UC Master Gardener program coordinators, advisors, county directors, and lead volunteers who attended the 2020 annual meeting and special appreciation to our presenters and discussion facilitators.
A note on the annual meeting audience
The UC Master Gardener Program Coordinator Annual Meeting designed for UC Master Gardener program coordinators. We acknowledge, however, that some counties operate without paid staff. In these cases, representative UC Master Gardener volunteers who are involved in program management are invited to attend with approval from their environmental horticulture advisor (or similar) and/or county director. Academics with UC Master Gardener Program authority are welcome, however, the focus of this meeting is on supporting and celebrating program coordinators.