- Author: Sophie Loeb
Over 2,000 attendees, first-time and returning customers alike, attended the UC Master Gardeners of San Mateo and San Francisco Counties Spring Garden Market on April 16th, some of whom lined up at 7:45 A.M. before doors opened at 9:00. The Master Gardener volunteers took demographic information while participants were waiting in line and found that 40% of attendees had been to a previous Master Gardener sale and 60% of attendees were new to the sale. The majority of attendees were from San Mateo, San Carlos, and Redwood City including frequent returners who like the quality and variety of plants.
“Several returning customers commented that they come back to our sale year after year because our seedlings are healthy and thrive in our area gardens. This was very gratifying to hear, since I know the growing teams are extremely committed to ensuring we can offer plants that are in prime condition at the sale,” commented UC Master Gardener Shilpa Thanawala.
The goals for the Spring Garden Market are to encourage more Master Gardeners to participate in volunteer activities, expand the promotion of the event, and increase the educational opportunities offered to the community. Approximately 100 UC Master Gardener volunteers worked to transport plants, set up displays and education tables, and work the “day of Sale”. Work for the market begins wells in advance with a Marketing/PR team publicizing Master Gardener events and educational opportunities throughout the year. From the Half Moon Bay Journal to local coffee shops, Master Gardeners worked tirelessly to notify an assortment of community niches about the opportunity to purchase quality plants.
The Spring Garden Market would not have been possible without the generous support of our sponsors: the San Mateo County Event Center and Lyngso Garden Materials. In addition, Terry Lyngso, provided information about top soil and soil mixes, compost tea and mycorrhizae, mulch, and soil amendments. Many of our partner organizations participated in the Spring Garden Market, including: the educational table run by BAWSCA provided information concerning water-wise gardening, the Lawn-Be-Gone program, and drought-tolerant plants; Mary Vollinger of UC CalFresh provided a table with nutrition related materials; Collective Roots, Najiha Al Asmar provided an educational table on communal growing, sharing, and eating of nutritious foods; the Office of Sustainability (Formerly Recycle Works) manned an educational table regarding renewable energy and resource conservation; and the Beekeepers Guild worked on an educational table to educate “newbee” beekeepers.
This year, the Master Gardener growing teams raised approximately 5,000 plants to sell at the market with more vegetables and herbs offered this year than in previous years. There were less than 180 plants left at the end of the sale, which were taken to Elkus Ranch to be donated to school gardens, urban gardens, and senior center gardens. Some of the many market highlights included Master Gardeners educational tables, such as: How To Grow Tomatoes/Tomato Information, Irrigating Edibles from Rainwater Storage Tanks, UC Master Food Preservers, and Deer and Gopher Control in the Garden.
Spring Garden Market Coordinator volunteer, Cynthia Nations, began planning the market last December. Nations commented, “The growers, the transport and set up team, and all the volunteers who worked the market made the planning experience pleasant. We have gathered both quantitative and qualitative data to begin planning the market for 2017.”
- Author: Sophie Loeb
The San Mateo Farm to School Summit, held on April 20th at Elkus Ranch, and sponsored by the Community Alliance with Family Farmers, was a chance to bring leaders in the school nutrition together to discuss best practices and procurement of farm fresh products for school cafeterias. Representatives from UCCE Nutrition, San Mateo Health System, and Food Service staff from partner schools, as well as other stakeholders, banded together to create a local purchasing strategy and goals for food service directors.
Some of the major objectives of the Summit included: building future bid strategies that encourage local purchasing, compiling a list of resources and options for doing direct farmer purchases, and forming collaborative working plans with institutional partners. Sessions spanned discussions on Cooperative Purchasing Groups, Marketing and Institutionalizing Farm to School Programs, and Wellness Policy as a Tool for Sustainable Programs, among others.
In attendance was Erin Primer, Food Services Supervisor of Millbrae School District, who oversees the child nutrition activities and programs for 2500 students in all five district schools. Primer's role includes menu planning, recipe writing, procurement, and growing food.
“It is critical to build community coalitions around school lunch reform so that likeminded folks can share ideas and be a united front to make significant changes to our school meal programs. Individually we can do some great things, but together sharing resources and exchanging ideas, we can move mountains,” commented Primer.
Primer emphasized collaboration: namely, combining five or ten districts to collectively purchase farm fresh products can substantially impact the market, and provide serious buying power to the entire group. As with any new shift in purchasing habits, some implementation challenges arise with ensuring availability of produce, food safety guidelines, and cost effectiveness.
The farm-to-table movement has, without a doubt, permeated much of the mainstream culture, whether it is citing local farms directly on the menu, or supplying a wider selection of local produce in grocery, and so- it is only a natural shift to see schools become the new stewing pot for the local food movement.
“Kids are asking mature questions about their food system – where did it come from, how was it grown – they are the consumers of tomorrow and it all starts at school where they begin asking these questions,” commented Primer.
A part of the battle of incorporating local foods into cafeterias is ensuring that students will actually be receptive to new foods, and of course, eat them! Young people today have discerning palates, are not afraid to ask where their food is from, and actively seek choices in the types of food available to them.
“The most rewarding aspect of what I do is working with students – they amaze me all the time! Speaking with students about what they like, what they want to see on the menu, talking with them about the challenges I face makes it easier for them to understand and work with me on how we can make great menus together,” commented Primer.
Primer along with Mary Vollinger of the UC CalFresh program recently tested the impact of local foods on their toughest sell: the kids! The two teamed up for a mini taste testing of Tangelos, which by and large, the kids loved (only 7 did not like the Tangelos according to the survey). Vollinger has worked on a number of school-related nutrition programs including the Smarter Lunchrooms Movement which seeks to make simple shifts to cafeterias that will promoting more nutritious eating habits (i.e. making chocolate milk less visible behind white milk).
“With the USDA ½ cup fruit/vegetable mandatory ruling, it can be hard to get students to eat something they “have to” – but if we make it something that they want, something that is delicious and wanted, they are more likely to consume it rather than throw it away,” commented Primer.
Overall participants from the Summit left with connections among collaborators in procuring and implementing Farm-to-School policies. For many of the participants, the next steps to integrate farm fresh produce into schools might look like networking with local farms, utilizing resources from CAFF, and of course:
“Have fun, get students involved, and taste the products!”- Erin Primer
- Author: Sophie Loeb
Bruce Knoth is a software engineer by day, and has been a longtime volunteer with the San Carlos 4-H program in his spare time. Knoth became involved in 4-H over eight years ago when his son joined the 4-H club as a second grader and a few years later, continued his service once his daughter joined the program. Knoth and his wife each served as co-community leaders of the San Carlos Club and were tasked with managing both student members and adult volunteers.
“4-H is a youth development organization, but also an adult development organization,” commented Knoth.
When Knoth began his post, the club included 67 members, and has now grown to around 150. Managing such a sizable group, Knoth has learned important tactics for building a cohesive and functional organization: delegate tasks and maximize volunteers' skills.
“We want a lot of adults involved, we want a strong volunteer base, but every year there is a lot of turnover, so we need to identify the up and coming adults and train them,” elaborated Knoth.
Part of Knoth's role is to ensure that 4-H members have a solid foundation so they can grow within the organization. There are a number of critical projects Knoth manages including beginning 4-H forays into project-based learning (i.e. sewing skills, learning to cook). Since these projects are foundational to the success of 4-H longevity and to the health of future projects, Knoth oversees a dedicated team of parent volunteers who recognize the importance of starting strong.
4-H focuses on far more than agriculture; from developing communication skills, to building leadership roles, Knoth has directly witnessed how empowering the 4-H experience can be. He has written a number of college and career letters of recommendation for former 4-H'ers, and has reviewed a number of personal statements elaborating on 4-H experiences. Both Knoth and his wife, Maeve, have developed personal relationships with teens that have spanned five to ten years. In fact, Knoth recently received a phone call from a former 4-H'er who had graduated from the program four years earlier and was seeking out a career opportunity.
“She called us for interview tips and she got the job! It is rewarding to have a relationship with teens who ask our input and update us on their lives,” commented Knoth, who added: “About a year or two ago we asked the leadership why do you come back to 4-H and some of the responses included: developing leadership skills, building strong community, sharing experiences, and raising animals.”
The 4-H San Carlos Club has brought great benefits to Knoth, his family, the student members and adult volunteers he supports, and the community at large. Often times transitioning straight from summer fairs into the next academic year without a break, Knoth's dedication to service has been consistent and important to the growth of San Carlos 4-H.
What has kept Knoth, after nearly a decade of service, committed to the 4-H program?
“Great rewards. We've had a positive impact on the teenagers we've worked with, and sometimes they give us a fair amount of credit for helping them get into college. Their 4-H experience has had a huge impact on their choice of majors, and in building really strong relationships.”
- Author: Sophie Loeb
As a new Master Gardener, Cynthia Nations (class of 2015) has certainly jumped into the organization with both feet. She was elected Secretary last fall, and this year is the Succulent Grower for the Spring Garden Market. “Last year I was directing traffic!” she chuckles.
A powerhouse with a background in education and a passion for sustainable gardens and drought-tolerant plants, she has single-handedly propagated almost all of the succulents that will be on sale for this year's Spring Garden Market. In the past, Master Gardeners have sold individual plants, but this year a variety of arrangements will be available, both in pots and bell cups on sticks. Nations says, “I went to Ace Hardware and matched the paint on the pots for the bell cups.” She hand-painted them with fellow Master Gardener Jill Smith to make true works of art.
Succulents typically take 4-6 weeks to take root, so Nations started planning well over two months ago. “I went to people's yards!” she laughs, including Master Gardeners Patty Hontalas, Ann Gazzano, and Judith Dean (not to mention her own). The smaller arrangements are in 4-5” pots, with larger ones in 7” pots.
For those who are unfamiliar with succulents, she recommends indirect sunlight for the best growing conditions and “water very infrequently—mainly succulents die because people overwater them!” If you live in a foggier climate like Nations, who has made her home and drought-tolerant garden in Half Moon Bay, you may only need to mist them. “I'm from Texas,” she says, “so this growing climate is like a little heaven… I don't even have a drip system!” she confides.
While one of the few non-edible items for sale at the Market, these water-wise arrangements will add a bit of greenery to even the driest spots!
—Arwen Griffith, MG 2015
For more information please visit: http://bit.ly/MGPlantSales
- Author: Sophie Loeb
Some Like it Hot
As you know if you've been to the Spring Garden Market before, tomatoes are not the only stars of the show. Master Gardeners Nancy Grove, Cindy Burgdorf, and Tina Roushall lead a team of growers to bring a variety of eggplant and pepper starts to the market as well. Grove, who lives in her childhood home, added a greenhouse a number of years ago and generously uses it to propagate seedlings for the sale each year. "There was always an orchard out back," she says, "and my mom taught me to can when I was 8."
How do they choose which varieties to frow? Each of these gardeners has extensive personal experience with vegetable gardening--Burgdorf has 12 raised beds for fruits and veggies in her Atherton yard and grows 25 different tomato bushes! They also take into account "feedback from what our customers are interested in," says Grove. "That's one of the things I really enjoy about being at the market day of.... we recently added Pimientos de Padron and Guajillo by request." They grow a range from sweet to "really quite hot" peppers.
The growers start their seeding in January. As Grove puts it, "we do it a little bit differently than the tomato folks." With a few exceptions, the hotter the pepper is, the slower it germinates and grows, so they do their seeding over a period of five weeks with a different batch each week. By the time the last sweet peppers are being seeded, the first are ready for up-potting, so there is often some overlap. They use heat mats for germinating seeds but have found that too much heat later on makes for leggy starts.
Burgdorf, who has been a Master Gardener since 2008, advises that for those of us who live in the foggier coastal areas, "you will do better with a sweet pepper rather than an extremely hot one....You might even want to use a floating row cover to make it a little warmer for them." She also had some other growing tips: "for both tomatoes and peppers it's important to plant them really deep, up to the first set of leaves." For example, if you have an 8" tall start, plant so only 2 inches are visible. "It may look like you're setting them back," she admits, "but they'll grow faster because they grow more roots." The little hairs along the stem are actually adventitious roots that develop if they're under the soil. pick off leaves towards the bottom. She also suggests picking off the lower leaves as the plant grows, eventually leave 12-18" of bare stem at the bottom. This will protect from the spread of soil-borne diseases.
Sadly, this will be the first year that Nancy Grove won't be at the market due to a travel conflict, but Burgdorf, Roushall, and the other volunteers have years of experience and will be able to help all comers! Burgdorf spoke highly of “Satin Moon” eggplant and said she likes to have a mix of peppers, like a really hot pepper, a jalapeño style like “Holy Mole” and a sweet one, like the yellow “Sweet Banana.” Whether you plan to use fresh in cooking or preserve, you won't want to skip this section of the Spring Garden Market!
—Arwen Griffith, MG 2015
For more information, please visit: http://bit.ly/MGPlantSales