- Author: Marisa Coyne
- Author: Melissa G. Womack
In April, we celebrate National Volunteer Month, honoring all of the contributions that volunteers make in our communities. All month long, the UC Master Gardener Program will feature stories of exceptional volunteers, or Gardeners with Heart, making a difference in California's community, school, demonstration, and research gardens. While the past program year presented many challenges to program delivery, the surge of interest in gardening has never been higher. The passion and support of UC Master Gardener volunteers have been essential in the program continuing to serve our mission.
Today, we celebrate four Gardeners with Heart whose community stewardship kept their fellow volunteers engaged during the pandemic and maintained strong connections with other UC ANR programs and community partners. Because of the nature of COVID-19 restrictions, many of our Gardeners with Heart nominated in the community stewardship category also display outstanding technological skills, using new virtual platforms and approaches to support their efforts.
Tom Farrell and Kris Bonner - Orange County
Also in Orange County, volunteer Kris Bonner had a similar notion. “Kris has worked tirelessly over the past couple of years to increase public awareness about the UC Master Gardener Program by contacting local municipalities to offer our educational services,” said Randy. “WhenCOVID-19 struck, Kris jumped in immediately to find a viable way to continue to educate the public and even increase our outreach.” Once Tom's effort to shift to an online speaker's bureau proved successful, Kris provided training to improve Zoom skills. Kris collaborated with the City of Mission Viejo's senior center to offer various gardening programs to the community and recruited fellow volunteers to facilitate and deliver these presentations. “Due to his involvement and the shift to Zoom, attendance at our workshops more than doubled!” said Randy.
Pam Bennetts - Amador County
In Central Sierra's Amador County, UC Master Gardener Program volunteer and leader Pam Bennetts kept the program meetings and partnerships running without skipping a beat. When California shut down, the UC Master Gardener Program of Amador County made a move from in-person to virtual membership meetings, “Pam, didn't miss a month! She jumped right into learning how to use Zoom,” said program coordinator Tracy Celio. Pam's commitment to program continuity didn't stop there. She kept the collaboration between the UC Master Gardener Program, local school districts, UC CalFresh, and the California Dairy Council alive by teaching online classes and developing YouTube tutorials to accompany contact-less, take-home garden kits distributed through local schools. One of the videos, focusing on growing plant starts at home, guided 500 students and families in Amador County through the process of growing radishes at home!
Barbara Mattice - Madera County
When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, the Madera Community College campus closed, but the on-campus garden kept producing. Closely following local and state guidelines and under the direction of program coordinator Denise Cuendett, Barbara harvested the produce, donating it instead to the local food bank. When local and state guidelines allowed, Barbara adapted the Madera Juvenile Hall garden training program - providing experiential lessons on identifying weeds, bed preparation, irrigation, seeding, transplanting, and use of garden tools. She organized fellow volunteers to grow plant starts, including tomatoes that youth residents and staff can plant in their on-campus garden.
About National Volunteer Month and Gardeners with Heart
Special appreciation to UC Master Gardener Program coordinators, Randy Musser, (Orange County) Tracy Celio (Amador County), and Denise Cuendett (Madera County) for sharing these stories.