Posts Tagged: volunteers
In April, we celebrate National Volunteer Month, honoring all of the contributions that volunteers make in our communities. All month long, the UC Master Gardener Program featured stories of exceptional volunteers, or Gardeners with Heart, making a difference in California's community, school, demonstration, and research gardens. While the past program year presented many challenges to program delivery, the surge of interest in gardening has never been higher. The passion and support of UC Master Gardener volunteers have been essential in the program continuing to serve our mission.
This past year, with COVID-19 stay-at-home orders and limited safe activities, the UC Master Gardener Program saw a rush of gardeners looking for help and advice on starting a garden. Calls and e-mails poured into UC Master Gardener Program hotlines, Facebook groups, and websites. Today, we celebrate Gardeners with Heart, whose commitment to continuing program extension over the past year using new digital platforms and technology has helped the program stay connected to our communities.
Allen Buchinski – Santa Clara County
Allen Buchinski joined the UC Master Gardener Program in 2003 because of his love for gardening and its sense of community. “I joined the Master Gardener program in 2003 because of my interest in learning more about gardening and to become part of a like-minded community, looking ahead to the day I'd retire. I worked full time while also volunteering for thirteen years before retiring in 2016. I've continued (and stepped up) my UC Master Gardener activities since then,” says Allen.
Allen has played an instrumental role in the development and ongoing maintenance of the UC Master Gardener Program in Santa Clara County's website. He became the chair of the website team following his retirement in 2016 and took on the role of co-chair for the program's help desk. On the first Friday of each month since 2003, Allen has helped answer gardening questions from the public at the help desk. Since COVID-19 and the surge of interest in gardening, Allen helped the program quickly switch its help desk to be a remote, virtual space. “The help desk has been especially interesting during the past year because of the pandemic. We needed to adjust our processes to work from home as well as deal with a 50% increase in the number of questions. We answered more than 2,100 questions from March 2020 to February 2021!” says Allen.
Not only has Allen helped bring the program's help desk online, but he also coded an online storefront for the program's support group to sell seedlings and schedule pick-ups. “[Allen's] website know-how and swift action saved thousands of plants from the compost pile,” exclaims Katherine Uhde, program coordinator, “these sales bring in tens of thousands of dollars to our partner non-profit, Friends of Master Gardeners, used to support outreach and our demonstration garden Although both sales were limited to UC Master Gardeners, friends, and family last year, all of the plants were sold or donated to non-profit agencies throughout Santa Clara County. This would not have happened if it weren't for the quick work of Allen and his team. Because of their efforts, the demonstration gardens and the advisory board had funding in 2020-21.”
Michele Willer-Allred, Ventura County
“Social media has been a great tool, especially with promoting our virtual workshops and interacting with other Master Gardeners throughout the country. But there is so much more we want to do,” explains Michele, “We plan to start an e-mail newsletter; create educational gardening videos and virtual tours of local gardens; profile more of our amazing garden volunteers; and go outside our county and visit with other UC Master Gardener Programs. We also hope to increase our reach to a broader, more ethnically diverse audience, as well as younger gardeners in our community, since they are indeed our future!"
With all in-person events and limited activities due to COVID-19, Michele felt it was important to still communicate about all of the dedicated volunteers still making such an impact in the community. She developed a series of interviews with UC Master Gardeners to learn from them and share their advice with the public. With so many people starting “victory gardens” during quarantine, she also felt it was important to continue sharing gardening resources and science-based gardening information with the public.
Rita Evans - Fresno County
Since 1993, Rita Evans has been an active UC Master Gardener volunteer in Fresno County. In her 28 years with the program, she served many roles and shared her many talents and skills to serve the program's mission. “I am a born volunteer and the program gave me wings to serve, to stretch and grow. I have strong organizational skills and love team building,” says Rita, “the UC Master Gardener Program has allowed me to use those skills to create and serve in many leadership positions.”
When the pandemic hit and COVID-19 forced the closure of the UC Cooperative Extension Fresno County office and most volunteer activities, Rita immediately came up with a plan on how volunteers could stay connected and continue to earn hours. “Rita shared her idea on how we could offer a UC Master Gardener “refresher course” similar to the new training course for our current volunteers. She quickly began to gather a group of volunteers to transfer course classes online to a digital format,” says Denise Cuendett, program coordinator in Fresno County. UC Master Gardener volunteers immediately started pulling together tech teams and presenters and scheduled bi-weekly classes on Zoom.
“When the pandemic hit, our online refresher course was born. It is a 16-session 'refresher' using the UC Master Gardener Handbook with our own UC Master Gardener volunteers being the featured speakers. It is providing a path for volunteers to earn their required hours, to socialize virtually with a study buddy and to refresh their horticulture knowledge ... it's a win-win,” explains Rita.
After seeing the success of the Zoom classes, Rita was inspired to continue the county's annual volunteer awards program on Zoom last December. Rita is part of a team of volunteers that created a “party-in-a-bag” that included a dinner, mask and other small gifts to awardees. The creative planning provided a way to celebrate the volunteer impacts COVID-19-style, but still in a festive way.
Digital Superstars Team, Marin County
The UC Master Gardener Program in Marin County recently completed a huge renovation of its public website, marinmg.ucanr.edu. The new website launch was made possible by a team of more than 40 volunteers, who spent eight months to make sure the site was visually appealing, easy to read, and navigate. Three key members of the team were recently nominated by Nanette Londeree for their hard work and dedication to the project, Kathryn Parkinson, Roxanne Ansolabehere, and Linda Stiles.
“This past year, a group of us decided to transform and rebuild our organization's entire website. We started as a small group, which ultimately grew to nearly 60 volunteers. It became a focused and vigorous goal for all of us, and I felt lucky to have been involved in the endeavor. The result is a beautiful and well-organized website that richly serves our community,” shares Roxanne Ansolabehere.
Roxanne developed numerous digital organizational tools to layout the new website navigation, schedule writers and editors, track progress, and allow for submission and retrieval of documents and photos. These tools were vital to the success of the new website project.
Linda Stiles, a gifted graphic designer, helped make the project “sparkle.” Her knowledge of technology, incredible aesthetics, ability to visualize the final product, and generosity of time were elemental to the success of this project. Linda designed the overall look and feel of the website and built every page using the existing required platform, focusing on user appeal and ease of use for all devices. She developed nearly a hundred unique banners, chose photos that promoted diversity, and did it all with grace and wry humor.
About National Volunteer Month and Gardeners with Heart
Special appreciation to Nanette Londeree, UC Master Gardener volunteer leader in Marin County, Alexa Hendricks, program coordinator in Ventura County, Katherine Uhde, program coordinator in Santa Clara County, and Denise Cuendett, program coordinator in Fresno County, for sharing these stories./h3>/h3>/h3>/h3>/h3>
As 2020 comes to a close, I'd like to express my deep appreciation and thanks to all of our UCCE San Bernardino County Master Gardener volunteers who have given the ‘gift of their time' to provide credible information to the gardening public. Even during COVID, they've found creative and safe means to continue reaching the public by converting face-to-face classes and workshops to online opportunities.They've gone above and beyond their expected volunteerism by helping those in need during these difficult times by working with our partners to distribute free seeds, trees, and wattles (for erosion control) and ensuring a happy holiday season for children and adults in need through a gift drive. Through COVID, the UCCE Master Gardeners have maintained their email and phone helplines to help county residents solve their gardening quandaries (linked here) email@example.com and (909)387-2182.
Master Gardener volunteers helped thousands of county residents landscape more sustainably, grow food in home, community, and school gardens, and deepen their appreciation of nature. They:
- Taught classes on drought-resistant landscapes and growing food in home, school, and community gardens
- Hosted ‘Ask the Master Gardener' sessions
- Provided education to community and school gardeners
- Distributed gardening information and answered questions at Farmers' Markets, community fairs and other events
- Answered home gardening questions via email and phone helplines
- Shared gardening information through social media
- Helped promote planting trees to cool urban heat islands in underserved neighborhoods and communities
- Helped take research data on the 'trees for tomorrow' project
- Published the monthly Master Gardener newsletter (thanks Phoebe, Debbie, Maggie, Robin, Sue and contributing authors!)
A special ‘shout out' to our monthly 2020 ‘Spotlight' Master Gardener volunteers for their extraordinary service:
I'd also like to recognize our dozens of non-profit partners including Inland Empire Resource Conservation District and the County of San Bernardino.
And, last but far from least, I'm forever thankful to UCCE San Bernardino County Master Gardener Coordinator Maggie O'Neill whose passion, heart, and expertise keeps the program thriving!
Happy Holidays to All!
MG citizen scientists
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.
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!
Program coordinators, volunteer leaders and the statewide staff gathered at the UC ANR building in Davis, CA for the UC Master Gardener Program's annual coordinator meeting. Photo: Melissa Womack
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.