2017 Innovative Projects 1st Place – Composting and Worm Composting Video Series, Orange County, CA

UCCE Orange County Master Gardeners harnessed the outreach strength of their website (http://mgorange.ucanr.edu/) to accomplish the Master Gardener educational mission by teaching the public to successfully compost in their backyards, community gardens, and other gardening locations.  Master Gardeners prepared materials to illustrate the process and assist home gardeners in their composting efforts with as a series of videos with step-by-step instructions on how to compost, build a bin, start and maintain a pile and troubleshoot problems.  The short and concise videos provided demonstrations with verbal explanations. A second set of similar videos was prepared to address composting with worms.  By strategically keeping the videos short and covering a single topic in each one, the Master Gardeners offered the viewer the option of finding the exact information needed to answer a specific question, or of watching the entire series to understand the complete process.

Use of the website in this manner for public outreach placed the resources of the University within reach of anyone who visits it.  Viewing the videos prompted visitors to explore other resources such as the Master Gardener Hotline, Radio Podcasts and the Gardening Event Calendar.  The website also provided links to University of California Agriculture and Natural Resources sites, and other reliable gardening information. To date, visits to the site number more than 22,000.  Since January 2015 there have been more than 9,796 views of the composting video series and the traffic keeps increasing.

Only University of California Cooperative Extension (UCCE) Master Gardener educational material and guidelines were used to create the videos. The preferable UC method of composting, the Hot or Rapid Method, was emphasized in the composting video series. Also, because gardeners may be limited by backyard space, availability of materials, or other considerations, an alternative video series, Composting With Worms highlighted its advantages and benefits. Having videos on both methods provided gardeners with choices and helped ensure success for a wider audience.

The team responsible for this project has extensive computer and video filming expertise as a result of their work experiences.  For this team, and for any others with this kind of background, the project is straightforward.  Beginning as an assignment for students in the Master Composting certification class, it consisted of a series of nine videos on the composting process and six videos on worm composting. Taped live in a composting environment, the videos featured narrators who are members of the Master Gardener Speakers Bureau and have experience in giving group lectures.  Once the scripts were written using the guidelines from the Master Composter manual, the videos were shot on site, edited and uploaded to the website.

The availability of these videos addressed the growing questions on the Master Gardener hotline for information and speaker requests on composting, especially in light of the management of solid waste requirements of California Assembly Bill 939. One goal was to reach a wide audience – a must in any gardening active community where time demand is greater than volunteer staff can manage. Using you tube-type capabilities in the form of quick and easy videos allows the information to be made available to a large audience on-demand in an easily recognizable and usable format. 

The decisions on which aspects of composting to highlight, what to cover in the videos, and how to keep it simple, were determined by the members of this team.  To our knowledge, there are no published guidelines for this type of project for Master Gardeners. All videos are available at http://uccemg.com/Soils-Fertilizers-Compost/Composting-Video-Series-386/



2017 Youth 2nd Place (tie) – Science With Attitude (SWAt), Denton County, TX

Who we are? Beginning in 2009, the Denton County Master Gardener Association (DCMGA) began partnering with Elm Fork Master Naturalists, 4-H and Denton County School Districts to offer a summer in-service teacher training program focused around the Junior Master Gardener curriculum. Each year after the inception, additional course material was added. In 2013 teachers, who completed the enhanced summer training program, requested an outreach program for their students to ensure year-around education about horticulture, the environmental impact of human behavior and general nature topics.

set up for the fish demostrationIn 2014 because of requests from our trained teachers, the team created a plan to expand our efforts by establishing an educational outreach program providing research-based gardening and environmental education directly to children using guided observation and demonstrations.  The Science With Attitude (SWAt) Educational Outreach program launched in 2015 offering 17 topic choices selected or suggested by the teachers during their SWAt training.

What we do? Any educator in Denton County may request a presentation or demonstration from SWAt by registering and selecting a topic from the menu maintained on the DCMGA website. Available topics include but are not limited to: vegetable gardening, honeybees, worm composting, wildlife observation and habitats, birds, wildflowers, saving water and understanding the environmental impact of human behavior. Depending on the selected topic, Master Gardeners, Master Naturalists, 4-H youth or a combination of these volunteers conduct the presentation or demonstration. Each training or demonstration topic has associated materials and instructions stored in the DCMGA resource room.

Before the presentation: After receiving the educational outreach request from an educator, the scheduling coordinator identifies an event leader who confirms date, time and location with the requester. Additional volunteers are requested depending on the class size and the nature of the activity. Just prior to the training event, the leader picks up the training materials from the DCMGA resource room, confirms the completeness of the contents of the topic storage bin, and signs out the materials from the resource room.

The project event team reviews the lesson plan with particular emphasis on the interactive activities that include interaction with the children and reinforces the lessons to be learned.

During the educational activity: In addition to covering the training materials, event volunteers strive to ensure enthusiasm, fun and interaction opportunities for attendees. Some activities lend themselves to hands-on interactions for the students, while others may be a presentation. Questions are encouraged and students are gently quizzed about what they lelearing about native plants and butterfliesarned and how they might change their future behavior after learning the lessons.

After the presentation: The event leader thanks the teacher and students and offers support for any follow-on activities the teacher has planned. The materials are inventoried to determine if orders need to be placed to refresh the supplies and the entire kit is returned to the DCMGA resource room.

Where we have been?

  • Fifty-Nine Master Gardeners supported the SWAt program at some time during 2015-2016 with nine contributors providing continuity from the beginning. The SWAt team reported 3,689 volunteer hours in 2015-2016 of which approximately 50% were in support of educational outreach to youth projects.
  • Thirty-Five Master Naturalists volunteers provided over 1,000 hours of service in support of SWAt Educational Outreach.
  • In 2016 volunteers engaged 2,601 youth at 48 elementary and pre-schools.
  • In 2015 volunteers engaged 3,795 youth responding to 44 requests from 8 school districts.

Where we are going? Each year the team receives excellent suggestions from teachers and team members about how we can make SWAt Outreach more responsive to the needs of our community. As we plan for the next semester, we list potential additions and changes, consider the ability of the team to implement each and then rank and schedule. In the near termstram trailer demostration, we are considering:

  • Increasing the data collected during presentations or demonstrations and reported on the SWAt evaluation form
  • Adding evening classes and activities
  • Tailoring some of the demonstrations to support graduated levels of complexity
  • Tying our educational activities into the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skill standards program
  • Automating some of the registration, contact hours and attendance tracking and tying registrations to the SWAt calendar and material’s inventory

2017 Youth 3rd Place (tie) – Hands on Horticulture, Brunswick County, NC

Description: For the last three years, South Brunswick Middle School 6th graders have arrived at the Brunswick County Botanical Garden for a full day of “Hands On Horticulture”. The 300-350 students arriving each year, rotated through learning stations in the Botanical Garden to take part in engaging and fun activities which align with the North Carolina Science Common Core Standards. The learning stations were spread around the garden in areas that corresponded to the lesson. For example, ‘Water Quality’ was taught at the edge of a Rain Garden and ‘Everyday Foods’ was taught among the raised vegetable beds. Other specialty areas included Roses, Southern Living Live Oak, River Birch Natives, Edible Landscape and the Pollinator gardens.


  1. Anticipation: Our Horticulture Agent and Master Gardeners visited the middle school  to meet with all the 6th graders and generate excitement about the upcoming field trip. Props included an insect collection, poisonous plants and a vermiculture bin! A pre-test was given on science curriculum topics covered throughout the year and student teams designed and drew  their own imaginary Botanical Gardens in anticipation of what they hoped to see.
  2. Action: Small teams of students visited each station as they were  guided through the garden by Master Gardener volunteers
    1. Seed Bombs for Guerilla Gardeners Purpose: Explore new techniques for spreading seeds on the home front; help re-establish native plants for pollinators
    2. Every Day Foods Purpose: Review basic plant anatomy and function while eating examples of each plant part; emphasize fruits and vegetables as healthy food choices.
    3. Plant scavenger Hunt Purpose: Identify plants based on certain physical characteristics and describe how these traits are helpful adaptations.
    4. Our Local Landscape and Water Quality Purpose: Understand how human activity affects water quality by collecting water runoff over turf and bare soil; what is their personal responsibility for protecting our water?
    5. Eco Tower Purpose: Students connect ecosystem processes using wooden building blocks and describe how various actions may disrupt or benefit our environment.
    6. Beekeeper Purpose: Recognize the importance of insect pollinators; learn about a career as a beekeeper and making honey
    7. Compost and Vermiculture Purpose: Observe how composting, recycling and worms can help humans adapt their behavior to promote a more self-sustaining environment.

Significant Learning and Impacts:
Pre-and post- test evaluations indicated a 70% increase in student knowledge after the test. The students were prepared for end-of grade testing. Teachers earned CEU credits after the first year was judged to present relevant information to enrich their curriculum. For 100% of the students, this was their first visit to a Botanical Garden and many promised to return and bring their families.  The budget for this exciting day of learning was minimal:

  • Fresh fruits & vegetables – $50
  • Wildflower seeds & clay – $100
  • Eco Tower blocks handmade and painted on used lumber
  • School  paid for bus transportation

Results for BCMGVA: 

Hands On Horticulture is a middle school educational program that fulfills the mission of NC State Extension and the Extension Master Gardener Volunteers, to provide science based information to the public. Since 2014, over 1,000 6th grade students have participated in the Hands On Horticulture program with nearly 80% showing an increase in applied knowledge. At least three students have since contacted Extension to gather more information on vermicomposting and three are currently enrolled in a 4-H Club in Brunswick County. Teachers have been so impressed with the program that they have requested it for other grade levels. Word of the possibilities of taking part in such an exciting educational program has spread throughout the county and we recently hosted our first home school group. One teacher stated that, “Your program was better than we could have asked for – I even learned some things that I plan on using in my own classroom.

The Hands On Horticulture also fulfills the Vision of the Botanical Garden Committee that the Botanical Garden will reflect beauty, excellence and inspiration for all visitors to learn about plants and the varied environments in our southeastern  NC  coastal plane. Each day approximately 15 Master Gardener Volunteers and Extension staff enthusiastically participated in seeing the world of nature through the eyes of children.