UCCE Master Gardeners of San Bernardino County
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UCCE Master Gardeners of San Bernardino County

Posts Tagged: Search for Excellence

Award-Winning Excellence, Community, and Empowerment in El Dorado County

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.

The Sherwood Demonstration Garden is a space where MORE clientele can explore nature, learn gardening skills, and enjoy its beauty. Photo credit, Summer Brasuel

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.

Diane Hernandez, UC Master Gardener of El Dorado County presenting gardening lessons on the parts of a plant at MORE. Photo credit: Tracy Celio

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!

At MORE campus garden, Charlene holds up a fava bean root to show nitrogen nodules on cover crop. Participants get to help with everything from planting and harvesting to eating the food grown. Photo credit: Tracy Celio
Posted on Monday, August 14, 2023 at 7:37 AM
Tags: El Dorado (2), gardening (22), Search for Excellence (9), SFE (7)
Focus Area Tags: Food, Yard & Garden

From the Classrooms to the Garden, Transforming Education in Placer County

Student gardeners dive into a hands-on lesson on composting and soil health with UC Master Gardener, Loren Fefer. Photo courtesy of UC CalFresh program

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!

Rock Creek Elementary School offers its bountiful harvest for students and families to take home and enjoy. Photo courtesy of UC Master Gardener Program, Placer County and Rock Creek Elementary.

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.

Students plant seeds in a garden bed that serves as a hands-on outdoor classroom with UC Master Gardener, Sally Johnson. Photo credit: Carol Holliman

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!

Posted on Monday, August 7, 2023 at 10:29 AM
Focus Area Tags: Food, Yard & Garden

Riverside County’s Project on the Soboba Cultural Garden Wins Grand Prize!

Congratulations to the UC Master Gardener Program of Riverside County on winning first place in the 2023 UC Master Gardener Search for Excellence competition. Their work within the Soboba Cultural Garden stood out as an extraordinary testament to the power of gardening in honoring cultural heritage and nurturing a vibrant community.  The Search for Excellence competition takes place every three years and allows UC Master Gardeners to showcase their projects for a chance to win recognition and a cash prize. After careful consideration by the judges, three winners were selected with Riverside County taking the top prize, winning $1500. 

The synergistic relationship behind this wonderful project all started with a simple misunderstanding. The Soboba Band of Luiseno Indians had reached out to the Riverside University Health System for help with their garden. In return, a team was sent to the tribe's meeting. The Soboba tribe was surprised when they found the UC Master Gardeners of Riverside County at their meeting instead of the 4-H volunteers they had been expecting. Despite this misunderstanding, Joseph Ontiveros, the Tribal Historic Preservation Officer, asked the Master Gardener, MG, team for their help on the garden, and they enthusiastically agreed to join the project.

Thurman Howard, Master Gardener (left), discussing cover crop of daikon radishes with Joe Ontiveros, Tribal Historic Preservation Officer. (right)


The goal of the Soboba Cultural Garden was and is still “To develop a cultivation system that is grounded in traditional tribal knowledge and connection to the land, while promoting food sovereignty and providing accessibility to health and wellness for its members.” Not only was the goal to provide food for the community but also to honor native plants, as well as medicinal herbs. The tribe had been gardening for countless generations here but needed some assistance getting back to the large crop yield they once had. 

To help the garden reach its full potential, the MG team joined in on the project. Jessica Valdez, a tribal archaeologist, and cultural resources specialist, and Eloyd Rodriguez, the Cultural Garden Specialist, became two invaluable members who joined the MG team in the project. While being mindful that they were guests and needed to integrate tribal traditions into the plan, the MG team got to work. The crew conducted weekly visits to the garden and kept journals to record progress and make seasonal planting goals. To meet the tribes' goals, the team had to first revitalize the garden's soil. During this process, the Master Gardeners taught the tribe as they implemented different healthy soil techniques such as soil tests, compost, manure, and vermiculture. The next step was updating the water system to not only save water but also to increase hydro percolation.

UC Master Gardeners supervise unloading of 20 tons of compost


To ensure the protection of crops once they had grown, several Integrated Pest Management (IPM) practices were implemented in the garden. The team decided to bring in natural predators to reduce plant pests and use more effective trapping techniques. Just as the tribe had requested, the MG team emphasized sustainable and organic gardening practices that coincided with the tribe's traditions and would benefit the garden in the present and future. 

Marilyn Howard, UC Master Gardener (left), teacher Eloyd Rodriguez, Cultural Garden Manager (right), what to look for in a new crop of lettuce.

The results of the hard work at the Soboba Cultural Garden are astounding. Crop yield has increased almost three times since plan implementation, and more than one ton of produce is available to the tribe every year. This produce is given to the community with an emphasis on elders and also provides lunches at their preschool. The increased crop yield is a direct result of the now healthy soil in the garden where Nitrogen, Potassium, and Phosphate have all increased. Due to the new irrigation system, the garden has reduced its water usage by more than 56%. Most importantly, as was the goal of the tribe, the garden is currently 100% organic. Joe Ontiveros, the Garden's Administrator stated that “the technical assistance and guidance [Master Gardeners] give is the best” when asked about the impact of the team. The MG team has also learned much from the Soboba tribe including the observation of the land's pests and predators. Through pest and predator observations, the tribe learned to plant corn in late June since by then the squirrel population had been depleted by coyotes.

Vegetable harvest from the Cultural Garden ready to be delivered to Preschool Chefs for lunches for students and Elders.

This wonderful partnership has not only resulted in improved garden yields but also resulted in the first application from a Soboba tribe member to become a UC Master Gardener volunteer in Riverside County. The improved garden has become a vital element of the celebration of Soboba Earth Day and receives visitors from all over trying to learn better gardening techniques. Cultural Garden Specialist, Eloyd Rodriguez says the success of this project makes him “feel very blessed and honored to be a part of [the] teamwork.” SFE judges were wowed by the wonderful story behind the project “From an accidental meeting to a bountiful harvest both in the food and relationships built.” Many members of the tribe have since been inspired to start home gardens of their own. The impact of this project is sure to inspire countless generations of not only Soboba tribe members but the greater gardening community.

Once again, congratulations to the UC Master Gardeners of Riverside County on this well-deserved recognition. We celebrate their remarkable work within the Soboba Cultural Garden and commend their unwavering commitment to excellence.

Posted on Monday, July 17, 2023 at 9:38 AM
Focus Area Tags: Yard & Garden

UC Recognizes Outstanding Master Gardener Projects ‘Search for Excellence’ Awards

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!

First Place, $1500 award:
Los Angeles- Grow LA Victory Garden Initiative

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.


Second Place $1000 award:
Orange County – Radio Show: In the Garden with UC Master Gardeners

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.


Third Place $500 award:
Marin County – Dig it, Grow it, Eat it

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.

First Runner-up:
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.

Second Runner-up:
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.

About us

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.


Posted on Wednesday, August 9, 2017 at 9:26 AM

Search For Excellence deadline has been extended!

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

This one-acre teaching and demonstration garden on the grounds of St. Louise Hospital in Gilroy, Calif. was built for the purpose of extending our educational outreach to the far southern portion of Santa Clara County. Master Gardener volunteers provided hands-on public workshops in the garden as well as classes in both the hospital boardroom and community libraries.  Objectives of the garden include: teaching residents about drought tolerant vegetables, fruits, and ornamentals well-suited to local growing conditions, and modeling sustainable gardening practices reflective of research-based horticultural principals.

Third Place: Orange County – Composting/Worm Composting Video Series

Master Gardeners of Orange County narrated and filmed a series of nine videos on the composting process and six videos on worm composting for their online video library. The videos are a step-by-step series explaining both pile composting and worm composting. Each series begins with an explanation of what composting is, as well as how to start, maintain and troubleshoot a compost pile or worm bin. The videos are posted on the Orange County Master Gardener public website. The videos are designed to instruct and encourage the gardening public to compost either at home or in community gardens or other gardening groups.

If you think one of your county projects is a candidate, let your Master Gardener Program Coordinator or leader know about it! 

Questions? Contact: 
(Please include county name in subject line for all email communications)

Southern California (San Luis Obispo, Kern, San Bernardino, and south) 
Scott Parker 
Program Coordinator, San Diego 
Phone: (858)822-6932 
Email: mgsfe@ucanr.edu 

Northern California (Monterey, Kings, Tulare, Inyo and north)
Marcy Sousa 
Program Coordinator, San Joaquin 
Phone: (209)953-6111 
Email: mgsfe@ucanr.edu 


Posted on Wednesday, May 3, 2017 at 4:49 PM

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