Prior to 2013, the Speakers Bureau made presentations in response to specific requests from a garden club or civic group. That all changed in 2013 when a librarian at one branch of the Knox County Library System approached the Speakers Bureau with a request for monthly talks on organic vegetable growing. She had observed that many adult branch patrons were checking out organic vegetable gardening books. Planning began for a series of presentations in cooperation with the Knox County libraries.
The organic vegetable series began in April of 2013, with monthly talks through November. Attendance confirmed the librarian’s observation about the local interest. We began planning seasonally appropriate talks and “pushing” them to the public, rather than waiting for a request.
In 2014, we scheduled seasonally appropriate talks for January through October, on both vegetable and ornamental topics. By April, attendance at the vegetable series was regularly exceeding the library meeting room capacity (25) and we had to change locations. We moved to the Master Gardener Demonstration Garden, where hands-on activities could be implemented. One YMCA, with 12 raised vegetable beds, asked that the monthly presentations be repeated at their site. Presentations on ornamentals were given at another local library and several local garden clubs and civic organizations.
Also in 2014, feedback forms were implemented. On the front, the audience assesses the presenter(s) as well as the content. On the back, there is a list of possible topics for future talks, and attendees are asked to mark the topics of interest. We also started to use a sign-in sheet, so that we could track attendance and collect email addresses from those who wanted to receive notices of upcoming events.
In 2016, we stopped scheduling separate vegetable and ornamental talks as separate series and simply decided to do talks that were seasonally appropriate for either vegetable or ornamental gardening activities. Each month usually has a vegetable topic and an ornamental topic. (Some topics, like composting, apply to both vegetable and ornamentals.)
There was a lot of interest in pruning, so 2016 had a “Pruning 101: Rules & Tools” early in the season. Later on there was a “Pruning Hydrangea” talk as well as a “How to Prune Foundation Shrubs”. And for the first time, we did a “Fall Lawn Repair”, for which the attendance totaled 47 people.
In 2016, we did a total of 80 public talks, with a total attendance of just over 1750 people.
In 2017, because of the blazingly hot 2016 summer, followed by a fall drought, we added a “Spring Lawn Repair”. This talk had to be given twice. Next, because of a high interest in blueberries, we added “ABC’s of Blueberries”.
All of this supports one of our basic goals: to be aware of where the community interests are, and to develop new talks to address those interests. People come to our talks to learn something, and our evaluation/feedback form lets us know if we hit the mark.