Posts Tagged: Master Gardener Program
A volunteer recovering from a drug addiction gives time regularly to help stay sober. An older person uses outdoor spaces to stay active, physically and socially, despite mobility issues. And a mother of four strives to teach her children what carrots look like before they become capsules in plastic bags.
While these San Bernardino County residents enjoy their hours within their community garden, the lessons and inspiration they derive travel much farther – forming the branches and roots of a stronger, healthier community.
Hence the name of this unique place in Ontario, the Seeds of Joy Community Garden.
“The goal is to not just grow in the garden, but to grow the community outside the gates as well,” said UC Master Gardener Elizabeth McSwain, whose nonprofit, Caramel Connections Foundation, has nurtured this project from its beginnings in 2018 as a small plot within the Huerta del Valle Garden.
The programs and classes were so well-received that McSwain and her partners and volunteers opened in April 2021 a much larger, 1-acre space within Anthony Muñoz Hall of Fame Park.
As a self-described “green heart with a brown thumb,” McSwain said the success of the garden would not be possible without the support of UC Agriculture and Natural Resources (ANR) staff and volunteers.
McSwain, a restaurant owner, founded Caramel Connections Foundation in 2016 to offer culinary and healthy eating classes at the local Boys & Girls Club. During her first-ever visit to a community garden to attend a “herbs as medicine” class taught by UC Master Gardener Valerie Dobesh, McSwain had a life-changing conversation at an information table.
Maggie O'Neill, the UC Master Gardener program coordinator for UCCE in San Bernardino County, patiently answered McSwain's many questions about the program, which trains volunteers to spread research-based knowledge on home horticulture, pest management and sustainable landscape practices.
“In regards to planting the seed in my heart, I can never say enough about Maggie,” McSwain said, “because Maggie's passion and her knowledge about gardening made me feel like…even though I didn't have the skill set, she made me feel as if I would be a good candidate for the Master Gardener program.”
McSwain graduated from the program in March 2021, equipped with the expertise to better support the volunteers and participants in an ever-blossoming variety of programs that serve a broad swath of the community.
“One of the key founding principles of this garden from the very beginning has been inclusivity and making sure that all community members feel welcome, celebrating many cultures, ethnicities and religions,” O'Neill said. “Elizabeth has made sure that the partners and organizations that are supporting this garden are equally diverse and inclusive so that the community members are able to see themselves represented in the people who are helping to bring this garden together.”
Seeds of Joy now features a Zen garden with succulents to raise drought awareness, a Read in Color Little Free Library emphasizing diverse cultural connections, a composting/vermicomposting bin system to highlight waste diversion (with a small orchard), a story time area for children, an outdoor classroom, a space for yoga classes, and an outdoor community kitchen that helps produce meals for facilities serving individuals and families experiencing homelessness.
“With food insecurity being such a major problem for San Bernardino County in general, even prior to COVID, the current epidemic of poor nutrition in our children is weakening the strength of our community,” McSwain explained. “We hope to play a part in helping to fix that in some way – healthy food and fitness are powerful essentials that are often overlooked.”
Residents of low-income housing units across the street will have priority for reserving plots in the heart of the garden – approximately 30 raised beds for growing fresh, organic produce. Although completion of those beds has been delayed due to COVID impacts, applications have already been coming in.
“Ultimately our goal is to teach Inland Empire families what's involved in maintaining an edible garden,” McSwain said. “We provide them with the basic tools.”
In addition to UC Master Gardener-led classes, other UC ANR programs are contributing to this educational hub within a historically underserved neighborhood. The Master Food Preserver Program volunteers will be offering workshops on how to safely preserve the community garden's harvests, while EFNEP (Expanded Food and Nutrition Program) educators will teach about eating nutritious, delicious food in a budget-conscious way.
“Our programs are a great complement to the garden and to each other because we teach people how to grow their own food, then teach them how to preserve it and how to make lifestyles changes for healthier, happier families,” O'Neill said. “With all of these classes offered free to the community through the UCCE, we are able to add incredible value to an already great project.”
Already, O'Neill has been showing community members how to “companion plant” – maximizing the limited space residents have to work with, by placing ecologically compatible plants next to each other so that they can mutually flourish.
Companion gardening is a fitting analogy for the power of collaboration – with local officials, community and corporate partners, and organizations such as UC ANR – in growing spaces and resources for the benefit of the entire community.
“Partnering with the Master Gardener program and the Master Food Preserver Program and EFNEP is the perfect partnership in that we're all trying to do the same thing,” McSwain said. “We're trying to help people make better choices and to give them the tools so that they can live better lives, and not necessarily have to rely on spending $500 at the grocery store to get organic products, and making a choice between paying your light bills or buying food.”
McSwain welcomes all community members to participate, engage, and visit the Seeds of Joy garden, located at 1240 W. Fourth St. in Ontario.
“I don't want it to be a secret garden,” she said. “We want the community to know that it's there for them, that it's there to enhance their life – to reduce the disparities in our community and to be able to just spark a love of gardening and bring joy.”
In addition to support from UC ANR programs, Seeds of Joy is made possible by the City of Ontario (Mayor Paul Leon, City Council, and former City Manager Al Boling), American Beverage Association, Beola's Southern Cuisine, CalRecycle, Huerta del Valle Garden, Inland Empire Health Plan (IEHP), Inland Empire Resource Conservation District, Kellogg Garden Products, Mercy House, San Bernardino County, SLJ Pro Audio Services – among a host of other community partners.
The Marin Municipal Water District has saved nearly 30 million gallons of water since it initiated a partnership with UC Cooperative Extension's Master Gardener program in Marin to teach residents how to conserve water.
The program, Garden Walks, was established in 2008 to help Marin conserve water in a district with limited supply. MMWD purchases about 75% of its water from reservoirs on Mt. Tamalpais and in west Marin, and the rest from Sonoma County's Russian River water system.
Garden Walks provides personalized information and advice to water district customers focused on improving their irrigation practices to conserve water. The part-time coordinator sets up about 150 appointments a year for UC Master Gardener volunteers to visit the homes of Marin County residents and teach them how to manage their outdoor water usage with conservation in mind.
“When we finish our visits, I hope that the client is more confident about being proactive in their garden,” said Pam Polite Fisco, the program coordinator. “We hope they will be saving water, will use natives and will encourage wildlife in their gardens.”
The volunteers, dispatched in pairs, spend about an hour at the homes. They walk the garden and talk with residents about grouping plants with similar water requirements, adding mulch to the soil surface and composting clippings, leaves and other green waste so it stays on the property.
The UC Master Gardeners teach the residents how to check their water meters and use the meter to help determine whether there are leaks in the system. They provide advice on water-conserving plants, such as natives or other drought-tolerant plants. They ask the residents to run their sprinklers and other irrigation systems to ensure they know how to manage the controls.
The majority of the water savings realized by the program stems from repairing leaks and cutting back on overwatering, said Steven Swain, UC Cooperative Extension horticulture advisor and the technical advisor to the Marin County Master Gardener program.
As part of their agreement with UC Cooperative Extension, the Marin Water District monitors changes in water usage and reports them annually on their website, allowing Swain to determine the program's impact.
The majority of water savings during the life of the program is attributable to just one quarter of the houses Master Gardeners visited; three quarters of participants were managing water sustainably.
“Sometimes, our volunteers just give the residents a pat on the back and compliment them for a job well done,” Swain said.
About 6% of the clients visited have hidden water leaks in their irrigation systems. These leaks can waste huge amounts of water if not caught, and account for a large portion of the water savings. Another 18% of clients are overwatering, which accounts for much of the rest of the savings.
Considering the value of the water conserved by the Garden Walks program, the $40,000 annual cost to hire the coordinator is more than offset by the reducing amount of water the district must provide.
This program has received a number of awards, including the Marin Conservation League's Ted Wellman Water Award in 2010. In 2011, it received first place in the UC Master Gardener's Search For Excellence awards and the Community Outreach Award at the National Extension Master Gardener Coordinating Conference. Marin County residents have also praised the program.
“The Master Gardener team was friendly, professional and helpful and shared their positive attitude to their garden and their outreach,” said Fairfax resident ‘Julie' in a follow-up survey
‘Jean' of San Rafael said, “I'm a beginning gardener. They helped me figure out how to start off right.”
A number of California counties were inspired by the success of the Marin County Garden Walks program and have adopted similar efforts to visit homeowners and assess irrigation efficiency.
View a video about the Marin Garden Walks porgram:
Successfully supporting farming, homemaking and youth development with science-based solutions during UC Cooperative Extension's first 60 years in California prompted UC Agriculture and Natural Resources leaders to consider other ways the same concept could improve American lives.
One of those was the development of the UC Master Gardener Program in 1980, which recognized the need for science to inform sustainable and safe home food production for healthy diets, physical activity, education and mental well-being.
Over the years, the program has trained tens of thousands of UC Master Gardener volunteers to support residents of more than 52 California counties with environmentally sound ways to manage garden pests, reduce water use and grow fruits and vegetables. Today, there are more than 6,000 active UC Master Gardener volunteers.
Each of the 52 counties within the UC Master Gardener Program has unique projects that support its community needs, from reducing water use in home landscapes, diverting green waste from landfills and creating pollinator habitats to support pollinator populations. All counties answer gardening questions for free using a telephone hotline or email inquiry system. Master Gardener volunteers in many counties support community, school and demonstration gardens to share knowledge and spark inspiration. All focus their efforts on education.
To make still greater gains in outreach efforts, the UC Master Gardener Program enlists community partners that share its values. For example, the UC Master Gardener Program in Contra Costa County works with the County Department of Behavioral Health, Bi-Bett Corporation, Eden Housing and the Veteran's Affairs campus to provide gardening lessons to older adults, behavioral health patients and veterans.
“Gardens bring people together, regardless of race, color, age, sex, disability or religion,” said Missy Gable, statewide director of the UC Master Gardener Program. “Our volunteers in Contra Costa County carefully identified key gardening topics and the best delivery options for a variety of learning styles.”
The lessons covered vegetable gardening, soil health, composting, supporting pollinators and garden pest management.
UC Master Gardener volunteers in San Diego County worked with residential memory care communities and Alzheimer's San Diego to offer sensory gardening activities to people with dementia. The ‘Reminiscence Gardening' project in San Diego County was funded with a community grant and donations.
“Participants explored herbs, fruits and vegetables to activate the senses of sight, touch and smell,” Gable said. “In doing so, they worked their brains and their bodies, connecting their senses with memories, all the while also working on fine motor skills and muscle tone.”
In Santa Clara County, UC Master Gardener volunteers developed science- and nutrition-based field trip activities to present at their demonstration garden and, with local grants, help pay to transport children from low-income neighborhoods to the garden for a day of hands-on learning.
Children learned about the plant life cycle and planted sunflower seeds to take home and watch grow. They tasted vegetables and discovered the benefits of eating fresh produce of many colors. After learning how to collect insects and identify them, UC Master Gardener volunteers invited them to release beneficial insects at the park.
“UC Master Gardener volunteers encouraged the children to return to the garden with their families to share their experiences,” Gable said. “Children are often an important driver of both food and recreation choices for families so encouraging them to continue their gardening journey is key to seeing change at the family level.”
During the COVID-19 crisis, when many families and children had to stay at home for their protection, interest in home gardening surged. UC Master Gardener volunteers and coordinators sought out safe ways to reach new gardeners with research-based information.
In Calaveras County, UC Master Gardener volunteers provided gardening kits for school children distance-learning at home. UC Master Gardeners in San Bernardino County offered monthly gardening sessions via Zoom to their community. UC Master Gardeners in Contra Costa and Alameda counties donated vegetable transplants to students and families in the Oakland Unified School District. In Santa Barbara County, volunteers taught local residents how to grow an abundance of high-demand fruits and vegetables for food banks.
“Our volunteers didn't skip a beat,” Gable said. “They live and work in the communities we serve, so they can identify where needs are and connect with like-minded partners to provide the widest possible distribution of trusted gardening information.”
The UC Master Gardener Program and other UC ANR statewide programs rely on donor contributions. To learn more about how to support or get involved with the UC Master Gardener Program in your community, visit mg.ucanr.edu.
With winter soon upon us, it's a good time to treat your garden bed just like the one where you tuck in at night, says Dustin Blakey, UC Cooperative Extension advisor, director and UC Master Gardener coordinator in Inyo and Mono counties.
Blakey hosted a webinar on Facebook during Healthy Soils Week 2020 (Nov. 30 – Dec. 5) to advise home gardeners how to promote healthy soils to maximize their gardening success.
“Some genius suggested we call garden plots ‘beds,'” he said. “It makes sense. Mom was right. Don't stand or walk on the bed. Keep it neat and tidy. And cover it, in the case of a garden bed, with organic mulch.”
The goal is to end up with garden soil that holds adequate water, nutrients and air, supports soil life forms, like worms, insects and microorganisms, and is convenient to work with.
“If I have to get a mallet to bang a trowel into the ground, it's not healthy soil,” Blakey said.
As a first step, designate permanent walkways in the garden so only those areas become compacted by foot traffic, leaving the plots where vegetables will be grown undisturbed.
“Along parts of the Oregon Trail, almost 200 years later you can still see the ruts where the wagon wheels rolled, and plants aren't growing there,” Blakey said.
He recommended gardeners cover their walkways with gravel, decomposed granite or organic materials like wood chips, bark or grass. Installing raised garden beds is an ideal way to differentiate growing and walking areas. In his own garden, Blakey built the beds four feet wide to have easy access to all the plants while standing on the walkways.
Add compost to the soil inside the beds to reap a variety of benefits.
“It's often said, no matter the problem, compost is the solution,” Blakey said.
Compost provides a food source for beneficial microorganisms in the soil. If soil is sandy, compost helps it hold water and nutrients. If the soil is clay-like, compost loosens the soil, making it more friable.
Covering the garden soil surface with mulch or cover crops is also critical to soil health, Blakey said. The topping moderates the soil temperature, supporting the organisms living below ground. The covering helps prevent weeds, and as the mulch breaks down, it adds organic matter to the soil.
“You can also grow cover crops,” Blakey said. “I'm surprised how few gardeners use cover crops. Put some seeds in the ground instead of buying a bag of amendments.”
Cover crops can be part of a healthy garden crop rotation, keeping roots growing in the soil all year long.
“Grasses scavenge nutrients. Legumes fix nitrogen. I grow sweet potatoes. They shade everything and keep the weeds at bay. A daikon radish cover crop penetrates deep into the ground, naturally tilling the soil,” he said.
Blakey discourages a common habit of some long-time gardeners, frequent rototilling with a heavy machine, and rather encourages what he calls “gentle tilling.”
“You don't need power equipment. Experiment with using a shovel,” he said. “My soil is loose and easy to work. Some beds, I don't even turn. I just plant directly in the healthy soil.”
View a recording of Blakey's one-hour webinar on healthy soil on the UC Master Gardener Program Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/UCMasterGardeners. The UC Master Gardeners offer many online gardening resources and programs in most California counties. Find your local program at http://mg.ucanr.edu/FindUs.
Gardening is fun…and it's an important activity. What we grow in school, home and community gardens can improve our health, and the health of our families and communities. What we grow can increase the resiliency of food systems in our communities. And what we grow, ultimately, can connect us more closely with the earth that sustains us. There are valuable lessons in gardening…too many to list here.
Even if you live in a small apartment, you can grow food. If you have a yard, you can grow quite a lot of food. View the transformation of a front yard in an urban area…from lawn to lush, productive food garden in only 60 days. You'll love the progression photos, and the simple explanation about how the garden came together.
Need more inspiration? Roger Doiron, founder of SeedMoney, talks about his (subversive) garden plot in this remarkable TedX talk. Roger created and led the social media campaign that called for a garden at the White House. This campaign ultimately led First Lady Michelle Obama to plant a vegetable garden at the White House. (And it may have also inspired the People's Garden at the USDA, which broke ground on Abraham Lincoln's birthday 10 years ago. Lincoln referred to the USDA as the “People's Department,” so it makes sense that the USDA would refer to its garden as the “People's Garden.”)
Need practical advice? The UC Master Gardener program has more than 5,000 certified volunteers ready to assist if you live in California. UC has also created a California Garden Web portal that provides a treasure trove of gardening resources for all parts of the state. It's not too early to begin planning your Fall garden, and you'll find information about that, too.
If you're interested in school gardens, read this brief history, written by UC ANR's UC Food Observer.