- Author: Maria Murrietta
- Author: Marisa Coyne
For the past three months, COVID-19 and social distancing requirements have changed the way the UC Master Gardener Program serves our mission to extend trusted gardening information. With a resurgence of interest in gardening, UC Master Gardener volunteers adapted to the pandemic using new and innovative ways to share gardening support and help.
This is the fourth feature of a four-part blog series. Read our earlier posts about how volunteers in Amador County learned new skills and quickly brought program resources online in Part 1 of this 4-part series. Explore how volunteers in Alameda and Contra Costa Counties created the “Great Tomato Plant Share' in Part 2 of this 4-part series. San Diego County was featured in Part 3 of this 4-part series for how quickly they adapted and brought classes online for UC Master Gardener trainees.
Join us as we celebrate the innovation, creativity, and flexibility of UC Master Gardener volunteers and county staff during this unique time!
SAN LUIS OBISPO
Across the state program coordinators for the UC Master Gardener Program have been working tirelessly to stay up to date on local and state health guidance, support volunteers with the transition to online training, maintain relationships with community partners, and more. In some counties, the ‘new normal' for county-based employees have included work at emergency response facilities.
In San Luis Obispo County, Maria Murrietta is serving her community as a disaster service worker. Twice a week from March through June, Murrietta has delivered food from the food bank to high-risk residents in San Luis Obispo County. These vulnerable residents are unable to venture out to get supplies or groceries because they are following strict self-quarantine guidelines. The disaster service program is the result of a collaboration between the Food Bank Coalition of San Luis Obispo and San Luis Obispo County.
At noon every Tuesday and Friday, Murrietta joins delivery drivers at one of five food delivery hubs throughout the county. Once Murrietta reaches her pick-up location, she collects two bags of food (one full of dry goods, the other packed with produce) for each adult, in each home on her list. Site leaders provide delivery drivers with route information, special instructions, and face masks, gloves, and hand sanitizer to ensure their safety and the safety of residents.
Upon arrival at each residence, Murrietta makes contact by phone or at a safe distance, with each recipient to ensure they received the delivery. “Having that brief contact with the recipients has been so gratifying,” says Murrietta. “I've visited many of them multiple times and they were all so appreciative of the extra help. Lots of ‘bless you' and ‘thank you' and reminders to ‘be careful out there'. Even neighbors of the recipients have thanked me for helping their community members. One home in particular always leaves a different handwritten thank you note taped to her front door. I take a photo of each one. One resident at a senior facility told me about the wonderful soup she makes with the big bag of produce she receives.”
Murrietta is confident that the produce being delivered is of high quality – because a portion of it is grown by volunteers in San Luis Obispo County. The UC Master Gardener Program of San Luis Obispo County has been harvesting and donating fresh fruits and vegetables to the food bank since 2016. Last year was its best year yet with more than 1100 lbs. of fresh produce donated from its vegetable beds and fruit orchard.
“UC Master Gardener volunteers have been working hard to keep this up during the statewide shelter-in-place order. They were among the first groups to be approved as essential workers - according to the early UC ANR guidelines - so they could continue this vital work,” says Murrietta. “They continue to adjust as the procedures continue to change, even when, for a short time, the food bank stopped accepting donations from non-commercial growers. During this brief break, our lead UC Master Gardener volunteer went to work and found two additional locations in our region that were happy to accept fruits and vegetables - the Salvation Army food pantry and our local homeless services center!”
Murrietta reports that demand at the food bank has tripled since March 2020 and that seed racks at two local nurseries are nearly empty. “Food insecurity is not a new topic, but is a new concern for many people for the first time,” explains Murrietta. In San Luis Obispo County, residents can benefit from UC Master Gardener Program harvests, in the form of produce donations, and from gardening education that the volunteers provide to the public. “I think this time of COVID-19 has highlighted the importance of what UC Master Gardeners can offer a community, and it has reminded UC Master Gardener volunteers of how important their work is,” notes Murrietta. “Their skills and knowledge and their desire to contribute go beyond helping other gardeners have a pretty landscape!”
While COVID-19 has affected all communities and volunteers differently, the resilience, creativity, and flexibility, of UC Master Gardener volunteers and coordinators alike, continues to inspire and impress. The stories featured in this four-part series here are a small snapshot of the innovation and strength that this food community and garden education community has to offer.
Please note: Reappointment for the 2020/2021 Program Year began on June 1st and ends July 30th. The UC Master Gardener Program celebrates and appreciates ALL volunteers, regardless of their ability to contribute hours during this unprecedented time. Volunteers who choose to remain active and reappoint will be approved, regardless of the number of volunteer or continuing education hours completed this year. Volunteers will not be responsible for making up any incomplete volunteer and continuing education hours in the following program year. However, all volunteers must complete reappointment to remain active or limited active in the UC Master Gardener Program.
- Author: Marisa A Coyne
The UC Master Gardener Program is well known for its volunteers' prolific extension of home horticulture, sustainable landscaping, and pest management to California residents. At times behind the scenes and at other times front and center, UC Master Gardener Program Coordinators and lead volunteers work diligently to ensure that volunteer cohorts have the skills and resources they need to succeed.
Last month UC Master Gardener statewide staff, program coordinators, and volunteer leaders gathered for their annual coordinator meeting. This year the annual coordinator meeting included two packed days full of training, sharing, and enrichment centered on volunteer engagement.
Volunteer engagement is an approach to volunteer leadership that attempts to support volunteers throughout the volunteer lifecycle – from identification and selection through orientation and training to program recognition and evaluation. Presenters delivered informative presentations focusing on generation-informed approaches to volunteer engagement, best practices in adult and land-based learning, program evaluation, communication with government officials, and new resources.
The group re-convened bright and early the next day for a presentation by UC Davis Student Farm Associate Director, Carol Hillhouse. Drawing on her 30-year career in outdoor experiential learning with UC, Hillhouse outlined eight best practices for adult and land-based learning. “Adults come to education experiences with prior knowledge and with expectations,” said Hillhouse. “Successful volunteer engagement includes the acknowledgement and application of prior knowledge and an ability to meet adult learning goals.”
Next, Melissa Womack, Statewide Marketing and Communications Coordinator and Tamekia Wilkins, Statewide Evaluation Coordinator, led the group through an activity designed to help folks share program evaluation data using storytelling and data. As daily communication moves increasingly online, networks like Twitter and Facebook create opportunities for sharing impact with community members and community leaders.
A list of coordinators can be found the UC Master Gardener Program website. Note: Some counties do not have UCCE staff coordinators. In these cases, UCCE Advisors or County Directors are listed as the lead contact per UC ANR policy.
Thank you to all who attended and presented at this year's coordinator meeting!
- Author: Lauren Snowden
It may seem odd to see seventy-five people at a hotel conference center learning about insects and rats on vegetables, but not if you are a UC Master Gardener. The UC Statewide Integrated Pest Management Program (UC IPM) in partnership with the UC Master Gardener Program just wrapped up the Vegetable Pests and Solutions train-the-trainer series. More than 340 UC Master Gardener volunteers from across the state took part in the regional trainings offered in Fresno, Orange, Placer, San Luis Obispo and Sonoma counties.
The advanced UC IPM training offered a hands-on, train-the-trainer experience that increased participants' knowledge of insect pests of vegetables, vegetable plant diseases and disorders, and vertebrate pests of gardens and homes. One of the highlights of the training was Human-Wildlife Interaction Advisor, Niamh Quinn, showing a taxidermy collection of vertebrate pests at the Orange and San Luis Obispo County workshops. Being able to handle and observe the different markings, colors and claws on certain animals makes future identification easier as participants learned the signs to look for when identifying vertebrate pest damage in the vegetable garden.
UC Master Gardener volunteers were lead through exercises that mimic questions commonly received from the public. Some of the questions had a photo, others just a sparse description that volunteers worked together to solve using online IPM resources and materials provided at the training. The exercises were designed to challenge and expose the learner to different types of scenarios and tools they can use in the future.
Outreach and Education
The UC Master Gardener Program's mission is to extend research-based information, by attending advanced trainings such as this, volunteers are even more prepared to contribute to the program's mission. With exposure and practice using new resources and materials training attendees have the tools and knowledge needed to educate the public on vegetable pests and solutions including scripted PowerPoints, activities, handouts, and vegetable pest identification card sets. One attendee reported “As a first year UC Master Gardener, this training helped me become more comfortable and more confident researching answers for pest management questions.”
At the conclusion of the training volunteers convened with their fellow county volunteers to talk about their plans to take new found knowledge back into their communities. Some of the great ideas generated were:
- offer seasonal pest problems workshops
- include a “Need Help Solving Pest Problems?” flier for all events
- add IPM tips to newsletters and social media
- integrate IPM into presentations as appropriate or relevant to topic
- add signage for damaged or diseased plants with IPM solutions in demonstration gardens
- share IPM toolkit at farmers markets and demo garden events
How We are Making a Difference
One portion of the agenda was focused on how the UC Master Gardener community is making a difference. With 6,000+ volunteers serving more than 517,000 Californians per year the impact of the UC Master Gardener volunteer effort is truly amazing. Through statewide program evaluation efforts the impact in sustainable landscaping, food gardening and community well-being is now being analyzed and reported in the programs annual report. Volunteers can see the impact they are having statewide and be proud of being part of a group that social changes they are seeing in their local communities.
As active volunteers and life-long learners UC Master Gardeners are a powerful educational tool and inspiration for others not only in the garden but in the volunteer community. Statewide educational offerings like UC IPM's train-the-trainer series help hone the diagnostics skills while building confidence in the subject matter.
The next statewide training opportunity for UC Master Gardener volunteers will be the 2020 UC Master Gardener Conference, Sept. 28 –Oct. 2, 2020 at the Granlibakken, Tahoe. The conference is the beginning planning stages and taking speaker and topic suggestions, click here to suggest a speaker or topic.
- Author: Donna Valadez
The UC Master Gardener Program is pleased to announce the winners of the 40th Anniversary UC Master Gardener Photo Contest. Thank you for helping tell our story by submitting over 480 photos and to all the people who voted.
“People's Choice” Winners
1st - “Lettuce Grow”, My Thanh Kim, San Diego County
2nd - “Early Head Start Students”, Marti Lindsey, Los Angeles County
3rd - “Stairway to a Heavenly Garden”, Leora Worthington, Monterey County
First, Second and Third place winners were notified by email and will receive prizes and be showcased on the statewide UC Master Gardener Program website, UC ANR Repository, UC Master Gardener social media channels, program marketing materials and the 2019 annual report. Winners will also be recognized by having their photo displayed in a gallery at the 2020 UC Master Gardener Program statewide conference.
Thank You for your Support
Thank you to everyone who participated in the Photo Contest! The gallery of submitted photos represents what it means to be a UC Master Gardener. The photos will be used to communicate our impact, message and mission through the use of imagery.
Together we are making a difference!
4th - “Kids+tools= Cool School Garden”, My Thanh Kim, San Diego County
5th - “Drip Irrigation or Dripping in Paint”, My Thanh Kim, San Diego County
6th - “Queen Bee surrounded by her Entourage at the Master Gardener booth, Amador County Fair”, Betty Olson-Jones, Amador County
7th - “Master Gardener Butterfly Garden (Alice Keck Memorial Garden Santa Barbara)”, Karen Twibell, Santa Barbara County
8th - “MG Coordinator, Maggie O'Neill is also a cake decorator! Celebrating Volunteers”, Robin Rowe, San Bernardino County
9th - “Future UC Master Gardener!”, Lauren Snowden, Yuba-Sutter Counties
10th - “Working Together for better gardens”, Julie Enberg
- Author: Katelyn Ogburn
While the UC Master Gardener Program has been around since the 1980s, thankfully our technology has changed with the times. Most recently, the Volunteer Management System (VMS) received its long overdue upgrade – we've launched version 3.1!
Great feedback was collected from volunteers and coordinators to lay the foundation for the new system. VMS 3.1 maintains all the functionality of the old system with up-to-date branding and design. Additionally, VMS 3.1 has many of the new features YOU requested.
Check out what's new!
- Updated hours display (year and lifetime)
- User-centric navigation
- Automatic alerts and reminders
- Search bars
- ... and so much more!
It's exciting to have a system designed specifically to meet the needs of the UC Master Gardener Program. Enjoy the new features built just for you! If you have any feedback for future improvements, please submit your comments through the Feedback Survey at ucanr.edu/vmsfeedback.
If you have any questions about the new system, help is only a click away. Check out our VMS help page, which includes a new VMS User's Guide and How-To videos for commonly used functions. See for yourself at: ucanr.edu/sites/vmshelp.