Master Gardener Blog
Due to circumstances related to the worldwide pandemic, the 2020 UC Master Gardener Conference has been postponed to 2021. The decision to postpone the conference was due to current group size limitations, travel restrictions, speaker availability and cancellations, and reduced staff capacity.
We are happy to report that we were able reschedule the conference at the same location, the Granlibakken Resort in Lake Tahoe for Sept. 28 – Oct. 1, 2021.
2020 Alternative Online Conference Activities
Planning is ongoing to move some immediate conference activities online. Stay up to date on the latest conference news by reading this blog and checking your email for updates from the statewide office. Stay tuned for information on online lunchtime horticulture themed webinars, photo contest and the announcement of 2020 Search for Excellence winners!
2020 Search for Excellence in Full Swing
The Search for Excellence (SFE) competition is an opportunity to celebrate and showcase the tremendous talents of UC Master Gardener volunteers from across the state. County programs were invited to submit educational and innovative projects for consideration, the application window closed on April 28 with 17 applications.
The published online SFE timeline for judging, awarding and presenting have been adjusted to accommodate a new celebration and recognition plan. Typically, SFE winners are featured on the statewide blog and in-person at the statewide conference through poster and breakout sessions. SFE winners will still be celebrated on the statewide blog as planned. New this year, we are going virtual with online webinars for all top three SFE winners to share their projects.
We thank you for your support as we all work through this! We are grateful for the understanding of UC Master Gardener volunteers, coordinators, advisors and county directors as we continue to work hard to ensure that our future event is met with the same enthusiasm and learning opportunities. Sincere gratitude to our conference location the Granlibakken Resort and several tour providers who were able to work with us to reschedule such a large event.
UC Master Gardener Volunteers are excellent teachers and community educators whether they've been with our program for one year or twenty! The two extraordinary volunteers featured in this article are early in their UC Master Gardener Volunteer involvement but have already made themselves indispensable.
Borah Lim – Los Angeles and Yolo Counties
“My biggest dream is for humans and humus to dwell in harmony and community among all living things in our ecosystem.” – Borah Lim
As a Korean-American, born and raised in the suburbs of Los Angeles, Borah reports that she was not interested in agriculture until she attended Williams College, a small liberal arts school located in rural Massachusetts. After graduating, she was inspired to reconnect youth with the soil in her home state by her friends and colleagues at the Garden School Foundation.
Borah completed the UC Master Gardener Program training in Los Angeles County, with a special interest in teaching gardening and cooking classes at Title I elementary schools. Borah's desire to connect with people and the land did not stop there. In 2019, Borah moved to Yolo County to pursue a graduate degree in International Agricultural Development at UC Davis. Upon arriving in Davis, Borah transferred to the UC Master Gardener Program in Yolo County and dreamed up a project to bring gardening and food systems education to populations with inadequate access to healthy, fresh produce.
Food access and food insecurity have recently emerged as severe and pervasive problems at college campuses across the United States. Through gardening workshops at the UC Davis Student Farm, Borah hopes to increase direct access to healthy, affordable, sustainably grown produce for the UC Davis student community. Borah's optimistic these workshops will bridge this UC Master Gardener Program with the UC student community – inspiring college students to pursue the UC Master Gardener Program training and join its volunteer network of gardeners and environmental advocates in the future.
After graduating, Borah aspires to expand the field of agricultural education and food and faith movements, working alongside communities towards sustainable solutions and agricultural justice within our local and global food system. With the First-Year Seminar she's planning to offer this fall at UC Davis, Borah's “biggest dream” is off to a healthy start!
Ted Hawkins – Stanislaus
“Do all Master Gardeners have this much fun while teaching and learning?” – Ted Hawkins
In 2019 when Stanislaus County offered its inaugural UC Master Gardener Program Training, Ted Hawkins was first in line. Ted has always been interested in gardening and sharing information with community members. The UC Master Gardener Program was a great fit!
Ted's extensive knowledge of vermicomposting and other topics, combined with his outgoing personality, and his can-do attitude immediately drew his fellow volunteers. It didn't take long for Ted to notice how his prior knowledge overlapped with the program's needs. A longtime woodworker, he built beautiful boxes that were we used at a succulent workshop. Proceeds from the workshop raised much-needed funds for the program, enabling the UC Master Gardener Program in Stanislaus to purchase a popup tent for outdoor events.
Now a First-Year Master Gardener, he arrives early on each training day to help with set up. He makes sure the coffee is ready and that all of the Trainees have the materials they need. “I personally benefit from knowing that someone I can count on will be here each week. As a new coordinator, I have been honored to have someone like Ted work with me,” says UC Master Gardener Program coordinator in Stanislaus County Anne Schellman.
While relatively new to the UC Master Gardner Program, Borah and Ted bring a rich set of skills and experiences to the communities they serve. From sustainable agriculture education to carpentry and beyond, First Year Master Gardeners are proof that the students have become the teachers!
About Gardeners with Heart
Special appreciation to UC Master Gardener Program Coordinators Stanislaus (Anne Schellman) and Los Angeles (Valerie Borel) for sharing the stories of these incredible Gardeners with Heart.
Gardeners with Heart: First Year Master Gardeners are Second to None
It's no secret that UC Master Gardener volunteers wear many hats. Fortunately for the UC Master Gardener Programs in Lake, Ventura, and Contra Costa Counties, three extraordinary volunteers bring their work experience with them into their home gardening volunteer efforts!
Merry Jo Velasquez – Lake County
Merry Jo Velasquez is a busy full time medical researcher, a volunteer with her local Resource Conservation District (RCD), and member of the Blue Ribbon Committee for the Rehabilitation of Clearlake, in addition to being an active UC Master Gardener volunteer in Lake County.
“Merry Jo knows how to do research, because that's what she does for a living in the medical field. Applying this skill to horticultural projects comes naturally to her,” says Gabriele O'Neill, program coordinator in Lake County. Merry Jo's ability to do research and her many connections with land-based organizations have been personally and organizationally fruitful. She authored a UC Master Gardener Program in Lake County publication for local gardeners titled the Lake County Ornamental Gardening Guide.
Her community involvement and warm personality helped a strong connection between the UC Master Gardener Program in Lake County and the RCD, leading to collaborations on local restoration projects. Merry Jo's knowledge of California native plants made her an excellent fit for fellow volunteer Jerry Marquis' rehabilitation effort on of the grounds of a historical stagecoach stop and museum.
Balancing work and volunteer commitments is innate to Merry Jo – you might say she wrote the book on it!
Harry Lee – Ventura County
Harry Lee is a lifelong vegetable gardener, full-time accountant and a UC Master Gardener volunteer in Ventura County. Harry joined the UC Master Gardener Program because he was looking for a volunteer opportunity that aligned with his interests and provided a contrast from his professional life in finance. Fortunately for his fellow volunteers, Harry did not leave his personal and professional skills at the garden gate.
Harry has extensive experience as an accountant and utilizes those skills as the Ventura County program's treasurer. Harry's extensive home gardening trials and experiential garden knowledge make him an incredibly successful teacher, both for new UC Master Gardener trainees and members of the public. His impeccable home trials have also made him a great fit for helping Ventura County's farm advisors with research projects.
Harry's diverse skill set and comprehensive education, from number-crunching to bed preparation, have made him a true asset to the UC Master Gardener Program in Ventura County. “Harry wears more hats than anyone else in the program - literally and figuratively. The man owns a lot of hats! Harry's contributions to the program are innumerable and his commitment to the UC Master Gardener Program is unrivaled,” says Alexa Hendricks, program coordinator in Ventura County.
Darlene DeRose – Contra Costa County
Darlene DeRose joined the UC Master Gardener Program in Contra Costa County with a commitment of getting the program out into the community. Darlene was drawn to the UC Master Gardener Program during the same year she earned a certificate in ecotherapy, which focuses on reconnecting people with nature as a form of healing individual and collective suffering. With its focus on research-based education, the UC Master Gardener Program provided a platform and resources for Darlene to venture into the community and reconnect people with the world that surrounds them.
Under her leadership, the UC Master Gardener Program in Contra Costa County has grown to support more than twenty diverse community gardens - at residential treatment centers, sober living facilities, and affordable housing communities.
During her time as a UC Master Gardener volunteer, Darlene has assembled and inspired a dedicated group of UC Master Gardeners, inspiring them to commit to teaching their communities about growing food and empowering them to generate new ideas to accomplish this goal. “Darlene is simply amazing -- she's a great listener and innovator. She observes community needs, asks questions, and creates space for ideas to percolate, grow and evolve,” according to Dawn Kooyumjian, program coordinator in Contra Costa County. Darlene's ecotherapy training has had a positive impact on community members, fellow volunteers, and program leadership.
The UC Master Gardener Program is exceptional because volunteers like Merry Jo, Harry, and Darlene bring their unique skills and strength to the everyday work of extending home horticulture information to Californians. As we celebrate the work of volunteers during National Volunteer Week, we also celebrate the breadth and depth of knowledge brought by volunteers with careers.
About Gardeners with Heart
Special appreciation to UC Master Gardener program coordinators in Contra Costa (Dawn Kooyumjian), Ventura (Alexa Hendricks), and Lake (Gabriele O'Neill) for sharing the stories of these incredible Gardeners with Heart.
National Volunteer Week
A longtime elementary school teacher with a love of succulents, Jessica was attracted to the UC Master Gardener Program by a desire to share her interest in unusual plants and her experience in education. Jessica and a team of UC Master Gardener volunteers created an oasis of succulents with paths, benches, and educational signage. Jessica approaches every walk through the garden as an opportunity for a visitor to learn. As one volunteer observed, “Jessica is incredibly good at educating as she goes. Just working alongside her in the garden you learn a lot."
In addition to the original Mediterranean and succulent gardens, the ever-evolving demonstration gardens currently include a California native plant garden; a fragrant bee garden; a habitat garden with an emphasis on pollinators and beneficial insects; a diversity garden demonstrating water-wise practices and a moon garden - a quiet refuge of grey and white foliage designed to reflect the light of the moon in the dark of night. Along the way, Gail and Jessica have combined their strengths and unique skills to develop the teaching gardens, and assembled teams of enthusiastic UC Master Gardener volunteers to continue to support the project's needs.
Thanks to Gail and Jessica, the Falkirk Cultural Center demonstration gardens have become an interactive educational space where UC Master Gardeners conduct workshops and host educational events for the public. Using the seven gardens as an outdoor classroom, UC Master Gardener volunteers teach Marin residents about a wide variety of sustainable gardening practices.
Even though Gail and Jessica and their team have built seven demonstration gardens, they are not finished. Gail is currently designing an eighth garden at the Falkirk Cultural Center to demonstrate landscapes that help reduce the risks presented by wildfires. Jessica continues to educate new volunteers about succulent propagation and care – feeding a sense of wonder and curiosity that these volunteers will, in turn, share with Marin residents. Gail and Jessica's story of collaboration is further proof of Gail's sentiment -- that making something together IS more fun!
About Gardeners with Heart
During National Volunteer Week (April 19 – 25), the UC Master Gardener Program celebrates the contributions of its 6,000 incredible volunteers. The UC Master Gardener Program is excited to share stories of special volunteers Gardeners with Heart from across the state. Gardener's with Heart volunteers were nominated by their local county leadership for their creativity, strategic thinking, passion for the program's mission and commitment to program delivery. To nominate a Gardener with Heart in your program or county complete this online survey.
Gardeners with Heart will be celebrated throughout the year on social media, in blog posts, on our website, and in the 2019 annual report!
Thank you to UC Master Gardener Program in Marin County Co-Presidents Kathy Hunting and Rod Kerr for submitting Gail and Jessica for Gardeners with Heart recognition. Look out for more great stories of Gardeners with Heart throughout National Volunteer Week (April 19 – 25, 2020).
Gardens are not just about plants - they are also about people. Gardens create a learning space, help reduce stress and anxiety, and offer a place to connect back with nature. Over the last few weeks there have been many concerns voiced about garden spaces needing essential maintenance during the COVID-19 outbreak. While we recognize the importance of gardens in our communities, there is nothing more important than the safety of our volunteers.
The UC Master Gardener Program is taking all precautions possible to help minimize exposure and spread of COVID-19, following all guidelines and recommendations from Public Health officials and the CDC. Taking these recommendations carefully into consideration the following requirements have been developed to help volunteers and staff manage essential garden maintenance needs in their local community, demonstration or school gardens. Please connect with your local Program Coordinator, Advisor or County Director for approval before providing any essential garden maintenance activities. Allowable activities may differ county by county; approval must be given by the County Director.
UC Master Gardener volunteers and staff must obtain approval from their County Director prior to providing essential maintenance in demonstration gardens. All work is voluntary. Limit garden maintenance to only activities required to ensure survival of plants and infrastructure, including water systems and fences. UC Master Gardener volunteers age 65 years or older, or at a high risk for COVID-19, may not be considered for essential maintenance in accordance with state guidelines.
Working in Shifts
Work in the garden must be coordinated and staggered between volunteers to allow for required physical distancing. Shifts are scheduled in advance in the Volunteer Management System (VMS). If an assigned shift is missed, please contact your team to discuss reassigning duties. You must sign up for an alternate shift before returning to the garden. Physical distance requirements require six feet or more at all times. Individuals showing symptoms of illness, including: coughing, sneezing, feeling feverish or even experiencing seasonal allergies may not work. In addition, if any household members are showing symptoms of illness or you have been notified you have been in contact with someone that is suspected of having contracted or tested positive for COVID-19, you must follow public health guidelines for self-quarantining prior to returning to the garden.
Volunteers will bring their own hand tools to use, do not share hand tools. Personal work gloves must be worn when using larger tools and equipment housed at the garden – shovels, wheelbarrows, mowers, weed-whackers, hoses, irrigation equipment, etc.
Handwashing requires rubbing hands together with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, followed by rinsing and drying with a clean, disposable towel. More info: cdc.gov/handwashing
Individuals will wash their hands when arriving at the garden before beginning any work, and before leaving the garden. Hand soap and paper towels are available at the outdoor sink in the garden. Notify your UC Master Gardener Program Coordinator if the supply runs low. Disinfecting wipes will be available (as supplies allow) to wipe down large tools before and after use.
Wash hands properly before and after work breaks, before and after eating or drinking, or using the restroom. If you leave the site for a break, wash your hands before leaving the garden and upon returning. Follow all CDC recommendations, food sharing is strictly prohibited.
No other persons are allowed into the garden, including friends and relatives of UC Master Gardener volunteer and staff. All gates, where applicable, are to remain locked while approved essential maintenance activities are being conducted.
Harvesting and Deliveries to Food Bank
Harvesting produce from the garden and delivering to food banks requires prior approval from the County Director. Harvesters must follow protocols set by the food bank and local or state Public Health guidelines.
Disposable gloves must be worn when harvesting fresh produce. Refrain from touching your face, hair or clothing with the gloves. When harvesting tasks are complete and the delivery is loaded into a vehicle, discard all disposable gloves and wash hands before leaving the garden. Replace gloves when you take a break. Disposable gloves will be available on site.
Social distancing must be exercised when delivering to the food bank, wash your hands after making a delivery.
Seeking Approval for Essential Work
All essential work must be approved by UC ANR leadership. Contact your UC Master Garden Program Coordinator, Advisor or County Director.
Special thank you to Maria Murrietta, UC Master Gardener Program Coordinator of San Luis Obispo, who spearheaded the development of safety guidelines for essential demo garden maintenance. Many thanks for Maria and contributors Katherine Soule, Chris Greer and others for creating this great resource!