- Author: Skylar Peters
- Author: Melissa Womack
In 2020 near California's state capital, UC Master Gardeners of Sacramento County awaited with excitement for its annual Harvest Day they organized each year. But the ongoing pandemic forced the cancellation of this much-anticipated event leaving the usual over 1500 attendees disappointed. Each year Harvest Day provided a colorful assortment of speakers, vendors, and food all in celebration of sustainable gardening. In the name of resilience, the UC Master Gardeners of Sacramento County charged a path of embracing change while cultivating accessibility to gardening help and the beloved tradition of Harvest Day.
With grit and determination, the UC Master Gardeners transformed Harvest Day into “Virtual Harvest Day,” an online learning experience that overcame the barriers that Covid created. An incredible video learning experience took the place of the in-person festival. Instead of Harvest Day's typical speeches and demonstrations, UC Master Gardeners created over 20 captivating videos debuting on its newly established YouTube channel.
“Virtual Harvest Day” was an extraordinary success attracting an audience of 4,389 viewers, nearly three times the normal average number of in-person attendees. This victory inspired the program to continue providing gardening support through online webinars and recorded videos. This innovative approach eliminated the many obstacles of the pandemic and welcomed gardeners from around the world. Now, plant lovers, garden enthusiasts and gardening beginners from all walks of life can access UC Master Gardener help.
Since the launch of the YouTube Channel, subscriber counts have skyrocketed to about 22,800 with an astounding increase of +4,500 since April and more than 200 views daily. The comments section showcases gratitude for the helpful content with comments like, “Very informative and helpful video! Thank you” and “I have learned mistakes made previously in my garden. Well done!!!”
The green thumb classroom enriched the lives of the UC Master Gardeners of Sacramento County themselves. Through the video creation process, UC Master Gardeners were able to dive deep into research, writing, and production allowing their gardening knowledge and ability to educate to blossom.
UC Master Gardener of Sacramento County's video project serves as an inspiration across the state and has inspired other programs to create accessible video content. The setbacks of the Covid pandemic demonstrated the UC Master Gardeners of Sacramento County's resilience and dedication to giving back to their community. Volunteers turned a pandemic cancellation into an educational experience that transcends the limitations of time and location and creates an online community space centered around gardening. The program's YouTube channel has opened the doors of gardening education to people who never had access before. Congratulations to UC Master Gardeners of Sacramento County for their dedication and perseverance that won them third place in the Search for Excellence awards competition!
- Author: Melissa G. Womack
In the rolling foothills of El Dorado County, Calif., a beautiful community garden thrives. Not just an ordinary garden plot, but a community space that cultivates life skills, self-confidence, and weaves a vibrant tapestry of community. The architects of this garden are the UC Master Gardeners of El Dorado County and their partners CalFresh Healthy Living, UCCE (CFHL, UCCE) and the Mother Lode Rehabilitation Enterprises (MORE), a non-profit supporting adults with disabilities. Together, they've crafted a pathway to equal opportunities, inclusivity, and engaging experiences for the clients at MORE.
Recently, the team's extraordinary efforts were recognized statewide in the UC Master Gardener Program's Search for Excellence awards for their commitment to expanding the program's reach to a typically underserved audience. “I was moved after reading the El Dorado MORE volunteer project that focuses on teaching adults with disabilities about gardening and growing food. UC Master Gardeners' dedication to creating an inclusive and empowering environment where individuals of all abilities can learn and flourish is inspiring,” commented a Search for Excellence committee member.
Transitioning from childhood to adulthood can be challenging for many people with disabilities. The path to continued learning and independence often becomes foggy and winding. It's a journey that calls for customized support, guidance, and resources. At the heart of MORE's fully inclusive program is a commitment to improving the quality of lives and making dreams come true for the people they serve.
In late 2018, a seed of collaboration was planted as MORE, the UC Master Gardener Program and CFHL, UCCE initiated a partnership built on shared goals—cultivating an enriched life for adults with disabilities. The blossoming garden-based lessons led by UC Master Gardener volunteers perfectly intertwined with CFHL, UCCE's nutritional education and MORE's education and MORE's mission.
In 2020 and 2021, despite the many challenges of COVID-19 UC Master Gardeners continued to provide harvested fruits and vegetables and deliver projects to MORE, even when in-person meetings were on hold. Following the pandemic shutdown, the partnership thrived anew in 2022, breathing new life into their mission with revised plans, fresh goals, and an updated curriculum. The renewed goals of the collaboration were as multi-layered as a well-tended compost heap: providing practical garden and nutritional instruction, introducing sustainable practices, promoting healthy food choices, and fostering skills leading to increased independence.
UC ANR's “Teams with Intergenerational Support” or TWIGS program for gardening and healthy eating curriculum, complemented by CFHL, UCCE's "Harvest of the Month" curriculum, was a perfect fit. This hands-on, research-based approach provided the ideal way for MORE clients to delve into the fascinating realms of botany and nutrition. Traditional methods of assessment often miss the mark when catering to adults with various abilities. Hence, the team innovated, embedding assessments within instruction, using interactive and engaging tools like stickers, thumbs-up/down gestures, and verbal responses. This fluid, dynamic approach ensures each participant can connect with the concepts and apply them to their daily lives.
One rewarding highlight includes clients adopting fruit trees at the Sherwood Demonstration Garden orchard, learning about seasonal changes, and assisting with pest management. This sense of ownership and responsibility is a profound result of the program's influence. Clients are actively involved in the food cycle—harvesting crops, preparing healthy meals, and understanding the nutritional value of what they eat.
In a world often focused on individual achievement, the story of the UC Master Gardeners of El Dorado County, CalFresh Healthy Living, UCCE, and Mother Lode Rehabilitation Enterprises serves as a reminder of the transformative power of community and collaboration. As their clients and garden continue to flourish, we are reminded that the journey to excellence is best undertaken together. This is a celebration of their award-winning work, a testament to the importance of community, and a heartwarming reminder of how we can all grow together!
- Author: Melissa G. Womack
As parents across the country start preparing for the next school year, the UC Master Gardeners of Placer County are demonstrating the extraordinary impact that school gardens can have on the community. UC Master Gardeners' dedication to nurturing a love for science and gardening in the youth shows us that every seed sown in these school gardens represents not just a plant but a life lesson, a commitment to sustainability, and a step towards a healthier future.
Every three years, UC Master Gardener Programs across the state have an opportunity to showcase their incredible projects, with the goal of inspiring others on how gardening can transform people and communities. The award-winning second-place project, "Engagement + Education + Enthusiasm = School Garden Success!" has touched the lives of numerous young learners in Placer County.
Over the last few years, the UC Master Gardeners of Placer County have provided valuable support to more than thirty schools. Last year they ramped up their support in seven of those schools by implementing a program to recruit principals and parent garden leads to revive or enhance school garden classes. In partnership with UC CalFresh Healthy Living, one of their focus areas was partnering with Title 1 schools where a high percentage of students are from low-income families. UC Master Gardener volunteers have created engaging, outdoor garden activities that go beyond traditional textbooks, sparking a love for nature and healthy living in students. The program delves into exciting topics like plant care, photosynthesis, the role of worms in soil creation, and the delicious benefits of eating fresh vegetables. Some of the delicious vegetables grown in school gardens are fresh spinach, lettuce, peas, fava beans, and carrots!
Additionally, parents are becoming an integral part of the project, fostering closer relationships between the schools and families. Parents' involvement ranges from assisting in classroom gardening sessions to leading discussions about nature, plant life, and sustainability. "The partnership with UC Master Gardeners of Placer County has been invaluable. It's inspired me to get more involved with the Parent Teacher Club and attend quarterly meetings. I am so much more involved with all of the parents and staff at Skyridge because of the inspiration and encouragement I have knowing the UC Master Gardeners are involved,” one parent remarked.
The rewards of this initiative are truly inspiring! “Our Larry Ford Outdoor Classroom and Garden is a focal point of teaching and learning on our campus. Our amazing team of Garden Docents, who are directly supported by Placer County [UC] Master Gardeners, have created a beautiful outdoor space for learning,” says Skyridge Elementary Principal Wright. “Students and staff enjoy visits that include academic lessons, planting seeds, harvesting crops, eating fresh vegetables, and taking a quiet break from the day to walk through the Mindfulness Maze. Providing opportunities for our students to learn in our Larry Ford Outdoor Classroom is a priority for our school community, and the [UC] Master Gardeners have become an instrumental piece in making that dream a reality.” Many students have started experimenting with new fruits and vegetables and gardening at home. Of the students surveyed, 53% ate a fruit or vegetable that they had never considered trying before, and 44% are now gardening at home.
The UC Master Gardener team is working to build valuable partnerships to continue expanding the number of school gardens across the county every year. By partnering with school boards, garden clubs, and community non-profits, they are working together to create a more sustainable, greener future for Placer County and its youth.
Congratulations to the UC Master Gardeners of Placer County for coming in second place in the Search for Excellence competition. Your hard work and dedication to excellence are truly commendable. Well done!
- Author: Lauren Snowden
Congratulations to the 2017 UC Master Gardener Search for Excellence winners! UC Master Gardener Programs in Los Angeles, Orange and Marin counties are the top three winners of the Search for Excellence competition. The triennial Search for Excellence coincides with the 2017 UC Master Gardener Conference taking place Aug. 22-25 in Long Beach, Calif.
The three winners were selected from a field of 27 outstanding entries, representing counties from throughout the state. The overall high quality of the projects submitted for review demonstrate the commitment that UC Master Gardener volunteers have to fulfilling our mission to extend UC research-based knowledge and information on home horticulture, pest management, and sustainable landscape practices to the residents of California. Congratulations to all that participated!
The winners are!
UC Master Gardener staff and volunteers in Los Angeles County noticed that the UC Master Gardener helpline was receiving more calls from beginning vegetable gardeners, reflecting a new trend documented by the National Gardening Association. In response to this trend the Grow LA Victory Garden Initiative was created to meet the needs of beginning vegetable gardeners. Using a curriculum developed by staff, UC Master Gardener volunteers lead the four-session workshop series at community sites including libraries and schools. First piloted in 2010, the Grow LA Victory Garden Initiative became popular with volunteers and participants alike. UC Master Gardeners lead more than 20 series annually. To date, more than one hundred UC Master Gardener volunteers have led or assisted 229 four-week classes at 40 community partner sites. This project has reached 3,140 participants to date.
UC Master Gardeners of Orange County host a weekly radio show on a multitude of garden-related topics targeted at the general public. The goal of the show is to distribute UC research based gardening, pest control, and water use best practices in an entertaining, season appropriate and informative manner. In the Garden with UC Master Gardeners reaches a population of more than 1.5 million people. The show is broadcast on the UC Irvine public radio station every Thursday morning at 8:30 a.m. from the on-campus UCI radio studio; however, podcasts (digital audio files) of each show are available on-demand on the UC Master Gardener Program of Orange County public website. Clientele enjoy this easily accessible method of getting gardening information and expert tips.
Dig it, Grow it, Eat it is a two part portable field trip that engages school-age youth in learning about garden ecology and interdependence. UC Master Gardeners of Marin County lead learning stations that focus on growing edibles from seed to harvest. Students learn about edible plant parts, seed science, propagation, soil science, and pollination. These concepts teach and utilize mathematical skills and botanical concepts including germination and dissection. UC Master Gardener volunteers meet with classroom teachers before and after the field trip to help them learn about the science on display and conduct follow up lessons back in the classroom. Evaluation shows that Dig it, Grow it, Eat it increases knowledge of growing edibles, scientific method, healthy eating, happiness in gardens and the diversity of plants.
Amador County - Multiple Youth Programs
In response to inquiries from local schools and community groups asking for UC Master Gardener volunteers to provide hands-on garden education for youth Amador County UC Master Gardeners launched three successful youth programs. To address this need for youth education volunteers began assisting with field trips, public classes and a 4-H project. The program goal was to reach 200 young people in 2015 and have every 5th grade class in Amador County offer a field trip to a local farm. UC Master Gardeners collaborated with a variety of locations throughout the county including the UC Cooperative Extension office and teaching garden, Amador County Fairgrounds for Farm Day and Hundred Acre Farm. UC Master Gardeners partnered with local schools, Farms of Amador and the 4-H Youth Development Program.
Ventura County - Asian Citrus Psyllid Action Team Model
In response to the Asian Citrus Psyllid (ACP) threat, the UC Master Gardeners of Ventura County created an outreach and education program that includes speakers. ACP and the Huanglongbing (HLB) disease that it vectors has the potential to destroy the citrus industry in California; which produces 41% of all citrus grown in the United States, generating in excess of $3.4 billion in revenue. Through partnering with local agencies and taking advantage of speaking events UC Master Gardeners are distributing printed ACP/HLB information as well as attending neighborhood meetings to educate the public.
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 UC Cooperative Extension county-based offices that are the principal outreach and public service arms of the University's Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources (UC ANR).
The UC Master Gardener Program is an example of an effective partnership between the UC Division and passionate volunteers. In exchange for training from the University of California, UC Master Gardener volunteers engage the public with timely gardening-related trainings and workshops. With programs based in 50 California counties and 6,297 active members, UC Master Gardener volunteers donated more than 328,540 hours last year and have donated more than 5 million hours since the program inception in 1981.
- Author: Marcy Sousa
There's still time to send us your best work!
Search for Excellence is a statewide competition designed to recognize outstanding counties and volunteers for projects that support the mission of the Master Gardeners Program. This competition is a unique opportunity to celebrate and share our accomplishments, by showcasing the tremendous talent of Master Gardeners throughout the state in creating innovative outreach programs. This year the stakes have been raised and the prizes are bigger than ever before!
The extending deadline means programs have more time to submit their best work and allow those who did not previously consider this opportunity a chance to assemble an application. The extended deadline is May 12, 2017 by midnight. Please visit the 2017 Search for Excellence website for guidelines and application details.
Need inspiration? Take a look back at the 2014 Search for Excellence Winners
First Place: Riverside County – Gold Miners
“There's Gold in them der hills!” Riverside County is a big county, stretching from the Los Angeles metro area to the Colorado River. The challenge was how to better fulfill our mission of educating the community of Riverside County on sustainable gardening practices. The answer – “Gold Miners.” The county was divided into nine geographic areas with a Master Gardener in each area actively pursuing volunteering opportunities. Since 2011, we have increased the presence of Master Gardeners throughout the county, giving Master Gardener opportunities to volunteer closer to home and increase the number of people who are Master Gardeners from the entire county.
Second Place: Santa Clara County – South County Teaching and Demonstration Garden – Demonstration Garden Category
Third Place: Orange County – Composting/Worm Composting Video Series
If you think one of your county projects is a candidate, let your Master Gardener Program Coordinator or leader know about it!
(Please include county name in subject line for all email communications)
Southern California (San Luis Obispo, Kern, San Bernardino, and south)
Program Coordinator, San Diego
Northern California (Monterey, Kings, Tulare, Inyo and north)
Program Coordinator, San Joaquin