Partnering with Extension 2013

[from the 2013 accomplishment report]

The Master Gardener (MG) Program was originally created to develop a volunteer staff to assist overwhelmed Extension agents in answering gardening questions. The program has since expanded to encompass many activities besides just answering questions at the Extension office — although this is still a component of many local MG programs. MGVs are the face of UW-Extension Horticulture in many counties. Oftentimes the MGA is the link to the communities the educator serves. Word of mouth is the best advertisement and by making positive impacts it reflects well on the local UW-Extension office. This report focuses on the many ways MG Volunteers (MGVs) directly and indirectly assist their local Extension offices, agents, and educators as part of an Extension team.

Answering horticulture questions coming in to the Extension office is still an important role for the MG Program. In counties that are understaffed, without a Hort or Ag Agent, such as Lafayette and Oneida Counties, they rely on MGVs to respond to home garden questions, greatly enhancing the ability of Extension to assist the public. And even where there is a Horticulture Educator, having MGVs available to answer questions enables the Educator to spend more time on other programs to benefit the community. In some locations there are set hours when MGVs are available to assist walk in clients during the growing season, or reply to phone calls and email messages. In Jefferson Co. and Winnebago Co. MGVs trained as Plant Health Advisors staff the offi ce on a set schedule during the season to support their Ag Agents. In other places, questions are answered remotely by phone or email. There may be dedicated “hotlines”, such as the Garden line in Portage Co. In Marathon Co. Garden Clinic is a seasonal service offered by MGVs at the Extension office and the Weston Farmer’s Market. Their Garden Line is a year-round hotline for the public to phone or email their gardening questions and photos, which MGVs respond to within a few days. Southeast Wisconsin MGVs trained as Plant Health Advisors staff the Waukesha Co. Hort Help Line and the Milwaukee Co. Hort Help Line, as well as answering questions and providing information at the UW-Extension Horticulture Center at Boerner Botanical Gardens and at UW-Extension’s Model Backyard at the Wisconsin State Fair. In some counties, the Agent forwards selected messages to particular MGVs to answer based on their expertise or interests, or might email the entire group to get a response. MGVs also answer questions at other venues or in other ways. MGVs in Vilas Co. staff the UW-Extension booth at the weekly Farmer’s Market in Eagle River to answer gardening question. A Juneau Co. MGV writes a horticulture Q&A column for their newsletter which is distributed county-wide.

Collaboration with Extension at events reduces the workload for both Extension and MGVs. In Wood Co. MGVs had their booth at the Green Living Expo in Marshfield right next to the UW-Extension booth so that both would be covered at all times. Columbia MGVs worked with the Extension Ag Educator to create and staff a display at the county fair. By working together they were able to save money by investing in one booth instead of two, and have a more visible presence by having more than just Extension employees to staff the booth. MGVs were able to direct fair-goers to Extension resources as well as promote their MGV activities.

Farming on the square

Green Co. MGVs partnered with Ag Agent Mark Mayer to plan and implement this collaborative project of UW-Extension, MGVs, and the Monroe Main Street Committee to transform an abandoned corner lot on the square in Monroe, WI. Flower gardens, vegetable gardens, and mini fi eld plots of corn, oats, soybeans, and alfalfa not only beautified the area, but educated the public.

All MG programs are involved in teaching about gardening, and often offer programs in lieu of the Agent doing the actual teaching. In most counties MGVs give presentations to various outside groups. In Douglas Co., Lake Superior MGVs formed a team to teach Level 1 MG training in collaboration with their Hort Educator. They developed reinforcing activities consistent with their own teaching skills including games, videos, PowerPoints, and demonstrations, that were reviewed by the educator. Waushara Co. MGVs also did presentations for Level 1 training classes to enhance the classroom experience The Vilas Co. MGA partnered with their UWEX offi ce to have a micro greens display at the ‘Youth Coalition Career Days’ for 6th grade students to taste the greens and plant a pot to take home.

Beginner garden workshop

Grant Co. MGVs co-sponsored a workshop focused on soil testing and site selection. The Ag Agent covered the topics on soils, while 4 MGVs spoke on other topics and other MGVs handled reservations and refreshments. The 25 attendees went home anxious to start using their new basic gardening knowledge and get their soil test ed through the University of Wisconsin-Madison Soil Testing Laboratory.

Many MGAs provide a consistent horticulture educational presence in their county, conducting demonstrations, workshops, providing resources, and assisting in a large number of community projects. UW-Extension and the local MGAs frequently partner to offer community education programs that would be hard for either to do alone, such as the Chippewa Valley MGA’s Think Spring gardening seminar. In Wood Co. the MGA and the Hort Educator co-sponsored an apple grafting workshop at Auburndale High School, with the workshop led by their ag instructor. Columbia Co. MGVs worked with their 4-H and Family Living educators for Dig Into Food, a family event created by the Portage Library and Extension to promote healthy living by engaging families and children in activities about healthy foods. Participants were asked to set a goal of how they were going to eat healthier as a result of the event, and the follow-up evaluation showed that all participants said they planned to plant vegetables, and 92% of them actually did. The Dunn Co. MGA participated in UWExtension’s Chippewa Valley Farm-City Days (an educational, interactive one-day event on a working farm in Elk Mound to expose families to agriculture and how food is produced). They discussed composting, gave gardening tips, and shared their knowledge of invasive species. At one of the Vilas Co. MGA’s monthly public presentations, the Nutrition Educator spoke on Gardening and Nutrition, with Extension providing the literature and the MGA providing veggies and fruit to taste. Juneau Co. MGVs assisted their Family Living Agent with the SEA of Change Coalition (a group which purchased a home to be used by homeless families for up to three months while local agencies help fi nd permanent housing) by helping with landscaping and planters for the front entry of the house. The Southeast Wisconsin MGA and Extension sponsor several youth programs, including the Buds n’ Sprouts summer youth gardening program for 75 children at the DNR’s Havenwoods State Forest and a Junior MG program led by VISTA students at the Pan-African Community Association garden.

Vegetable nutrition lessons

The Columbia Co. MGA worked with their local Wisconsin Nutrition Education Program (WNEP) to help 5th graders learn more about the importance of vegetables. The WNEP educator planned a series of fi ve nutrition lessons on eating more vegetables so MGVs brought their micro-farm to the classrooms. MGVs taught the students how to plant and grow micro-greens, and gave them tips for the care of their gardens they would need for the next month. Each classroom had one tray in the garden, and kept the garden in their room for one week, watering all the trays. At the last lesson, MGVs returned to help the students harvest, rinse and prepare their “micro-farm salad.” Students sampled the salad and enjoyed comparing the tastes of different greens, especially of vegetables that are not normally consumed as greens, such as carrots or radishes.

MGVs are instrumental in taking the resources of UWEX in their communities and increasing the visibility of Extension. A Crawford Co. MGV met with the staff of a local school to work on a school garden project while another volunteer met with the group Mom’s Like Me, sponsored by the Family Resource Center, to share gardening expertise. MGVs in Marquette Co. provided educational resources, including UWEX publications, to help other organizations start community gardens.

In the past few years community gardens have become very popular throughout the state, and working in community gardens in collaboration with Extension educators is fairly common. Vilas Co. MGVs worked with their Nutrition Educator in the Northland Pines Community Garden, while Chippewa Valley MGVs assisted UWEX in developing 3 community gardens in Chippewa Falls, Bloomer, and New Auburn, with raised beds and standard beds at each location. Wood Co. MGVs helped organize the Marshfi ld Community Gardens in 2010, which has now expanded to 3 different sites with a total of 80 plots. MGVs continue to provide education to the participants there, including working with a local school at one site where 4th graders learn to grow vegetables. This year they assisted their Hort Educator in forming community gardens in Nekoosa and Wisconsin Rapids.

MGVs in several counties are involved in their local 4-H programs —another Extension program— as well as the statewide 4-H Plant and Soil Science Day where 4-H kids from around the state learn about identification, judging, and more related to plants and soil, houseplants and flowers. MGVs offer presentations, activities, projects, and courses for 4-H members. Calumet Co. had classes on growing vegetables, flowers, and houseplants, then other classes before the Fair on displaying those projects and how to impress the judge with their entries. They also provided planters to any 4-H Club to enter in the Fair, with the best one receiving a $25 award from the MGA. During the Fair the planters are displayed around the fairgrounds and after the Fair they are placed at the courthouse entrances.

Most county Extension offices have a role of some sort at the county fair, especially in relation to 4-H. Many MGVs assist Extension staff at their local County Fair to receive and organize 4-H fair entries, work with judges to rank exhibits, attach ribbons and record results. MGVs also monitor fair buildings to answer questions and safeguard 4-H projects. Others serve as superintendents in various horticulture-related departments, serve as judges or assist with youth and adult judging, help in receiving open-class fair entries, and provide a large volunteer base before, during and after the event. Chippewa Valley MGVs staffed the UW-Extension Agricultural activities for kids at the Northern Wisconsin State Fair which included vegetable races and an interactive pollinator display.

Almost all MGAs have a booth at their local fair to promote the MG program, answer gardening questions, and provide education to participants. Clark Co. MGVs had rain barrel and composting demonstrations as part of their booth at the Clark Co. Fair, while Marathon Co. MGVs conducted a seed starting demo, so children could go home and start planting their own garden.

Some MGVs help maintain University of Wisconsin Agriculture Research Stations (ARS) and other Extension plantings. Marathon Co. MGVs transformed a weed bed in the middle of the Marathon Co. Extension’s parking lot into a bed of native plants that attracts butterflies and beneficial insects. Waushara Co. MGVs and others maintain the 5-acre display gardens at the Hancock ARS and participate in the annual garden fi eld day there. In spring they hosted a grape pruning demonstration at the Station which not only helped the ARS staff get the vines pruned, but offered hands-on education for the participants. The North Country MGA redesigned the official All-America Selections (AAS) Display Garden in the Teaching and Display Garden at the Spooner Ag Research Station and won an award in the nationwide AAS Landscape Design Contest. The Green Co. MGA did a major renovation and planting project at the entrance of the UW-Extension Office to enhance the image of UW-Extension.

MGVs have played an important role in the transition from one educator to another. For example, in Calumet Co., after the long time Ag Agent retired, MGVs participated in a visioning session to develop the new job description, one MGV was on the interview committee, and since hiring the new agent, MGVs assisted not only by continuing to answer horticulture questions, but also accompanying him on calls, including to a new commercial apple orchard. And the support goes the other way as well, with Agents offering education, timely information on current issues and local pest outbreaks, and oftentimes involvement in Association meetings and activities. MGVs often inspire the local Educator to improve their programing, educate on new topics and keep up with the latest research.

These are just a few examples of the many ways MGVs throughout Wisconsin are partnering with Extension to improve the lives of our citizens. For more examples of how MGVs are making a difference in their communities, please read the individual association pages in the full Wisconsin Master Gardener Program 2013 Accomplishment Report.