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 Innovative Projects 3rd Place – The Mentor Approach: Building Community, Snohomish Cty, WA

“My mentor was crucial to my learning experience: she was encouraging, helpful and made me feel a part of a process that I, at first, found a little intimidating. She brought extra material to class and always made sure we had the tools we needed. A truly helpful person.”–Intern “She wasn’t an instructor, but a resource if we needed her.” — Intern

Where We Started: We realized that our MG retention rate was low, particularly after the second-year commitment was met. Interns expressed concern during class and volunteer time:  They had challenges understanding the content, program requirements and where they fit in with the program.

“We had the opportunity to get to know our classmates over a period of three months, as well as some veterans. Making connections is what builds community.”–Intern “Our mentor was an excellent help in explaining things that weren’t clear, helping in hands-on sessions and was available both at the table and on email.” –Intern

Our Solution: We developed a program to use our most valuable resource, our veteran MGs. During the twelve-week training course, each mentor was responsible for three to four students.  They also followed their students’ progress through their first year of volunteer service.  We held training sessions for the mentors on their responsibilities: communicating weekly, monitoring their students’ progress and mastery of course content, leading morning table-talk sessions, and acting as the liaison between students and class coordinator. Each mentor developed his/her own method tailored to their students’ needs.


“Always fun to see my mentor and table mates at the demonstration gardens!”—Intern “I had been through Master Gardener training in another state previously and we only met with our mentor a couple of times and they didn’t communicate with us much during the training. This was much more welcoming.”–Intern/Transfer MG “Each intern brought their own interests, questions and experience to discuss which makes the MG training a true exchange of learning.” —Mentor

Results: We experienced a significant jump in program retention. All students completed their minimum first-year requirements and in fact, many earned their hundred-hour pin. Many interns and veterans have requested to become mentors in the future.  Our students graduated knowing more veteran MGs, friendships blossomed and people found their niche.  Several unplanned benefits:  Mentors appreciated the refresher course, the community developed in class extended to the entire Master Gardener community and the Snohomish County Master Gardener Foundation membership grew significantly.  All of this was done with minimal cost.

2015 Search for Excellence Awards – Innovative Projects — 2nd Place Winner

Sarah’s Garden

garden ISarah’s Garden is an original, restored 142-year old treasure at the David Davis Mansion State Historic Site in Bloomington, Illinois. The University of Illinois Extension Master Gardeners of McLean County, through a May 2007 Memorandum of Understanding, partner with the Illinois Historic Preservation Agency and the David Davis Mansion Foundation Board on Sarah’s Garden restoration, care, educational programming, tours and outreach.

This collaboration resulted in Master Gardener development of ever-expanding educational efforts for youth and the public while restoring this unique historic quarter-acre flower garden as a living museum with 7 plants original to its 1872 creation and 70 more documented heirlooms.

While the historic Sarah’s Garden could not be replicated, other Master Gardener groups could easily utilize the educational programs and techniques in their own public or private gardens for local classrooms and youth groups including 4-H. This sharing would contribute to our common goal of teaching adults and children about gardens and gardening.

4H in the garden
This year 23 Home Spun 4-H Club members and their leaders learned about garden care during 6 half-day summer work sessions in Sarah’s Garden mentored by Master Gardeners.

The project exemplifies Extension goals for Master Gardeners to: Distribute horticultural information, Enhance educational programs, and Develop Master Gardener leadership. Specific goals for the project: 1) Promote the historic garden for intergenerational visitors. 2) Restore the garden to its original documented design and plants. 3) Preserve the documented heirlooms 4) Interpret the garden for youth educational programs. 5) Provide Garden access for the public.

The Garden Restoration Committee of Master Gardeners and Davis Mansion staff plans for, implements, documents and evaluates the ongoing restoration, research, and plant cultivation of Sarah’s Garden. It also develops and implements the interpretive educational programs in cooperation with teachers and Illinois State Learning Standards and with the use of University of Illinois Extension research and resources including Jr. Master Gardener materials.

A mentor/mentee program, training manual, hands-on experiences, and prepared program and tour resources assist new Master Gardeners in becoming future project leaders. Nine Master Gardener Mentors lead the program with 29 more Master Gardeners engaged in restoration and educational programming. The Garden is open April through October for Master Gardener work sessions, impromptu tours, educational youth programs and scheduled group tours. Research on the plants and garden restoration as well as power-point presentations continue through the winter. Sarah’s Garden and its programs are free and available with accommodation for all.

The growing success story of Sarah’s Garden is the continued expansion of the Master Gardener-led educational programming in reaching 4 major groups:

  1. Master Gardeners. Sarah’s Garden is a unique educational setting for Master Gardeners to learn about heirloom plants and how to teach audiences about gardens and gardening. Nine Master Gardeners mentored 29 Master Gardeners and 14 community volunteers in the ongoing Garden restoration and care and in the development and presentation of educational programs for youth and community audiences.   Master Gardeners continue research during the winter with 2014 topics focused on spring bulb identification, rose and tree propagation, and a bloom period chart.   Master Gardeners recorded 1377 volunteer hours for the year at Sarah’s Garden.
  2. Youth. Sarah’s Garden provides a unique educational setting in the community for Master Gardeners to teach youth about gardens and gardening. It is our major emphasis for the year.
  3. Adults. Sarah’s Garden is a magnet for adult gardeners and historians in the community. This year, 32 Master Gardeners provided 12 scheduled group educational tours for 407 adults and 39 impromptu tours of Sarah’s Garden for 159 visitors.   Master Gardeners gave added tours for 1374 people during 7 community events at the Mansion including the Glorious Garden Festival, Civil War Days, the Barn Quilt Tour and the Antique Car Show. Each tour taught visitors about the garden, its plants, and its care and also answered visitor questions about their own gardens. Two of the bus tours were Master Gardener groups from other counties.
  4. Historic Garden Outreach. Sarah’s Garden continues as an educational model for other historic garden restoration projects. New in 2014 was outreach to the historic Elijah Iles House in Springfield IL. Master Gardeners presented 2 “Preserving Sarah Davis’ Cutting Garden” workshops for Iles House staff and volunteers, hosted Iles House volunteers to two visits at Sarah’s Garden, and shared techniques and heirloom plants for the Iles House garden.

    GS in the garden
    The Girl Scout Workshops at Sarah’s Garden engaged 141 4th and 5th grade girls in half-day garden-related activities to earn their Flowers and Gardener badges. Master Gardeners utilized Extension Junior Master Gardener materials and new Girl Scout program guides to develop the workshops sessions taught by 18 Master Gardeners. Leaders also benefitted from the programs.


  • The Fall 3rd Grade program reached 247 students from 5 schools and their teachers/ chaperones. The Spring 3rd Grade program brought 285 students from 5 schools and their teachers/chaperones. Developed by Master Gardeners in cooperation with teachers, each of the 10 half-day programs involve Master Gardener-led rotations to 3 garden-related learning activities in the fall and 3 new activities in the spring.
  • New in 2014 was the pilot 4th grade Art and Architecture program where 8 Master Gardeners gave 25 students and their teachers experiences in photography in Sarah’s Garden and an art table creating garden look-a-like flowers in addition to a Mansion experience discovering the influence of nature on Victorian home décor.
  • New this year was a Seed Planting Activity at Illinois State University’s Family and Science Day where Master Gardeners led several hundred children in planting seeds to take home.
  • New this year was development of a Sarah’s Garden interactive power point presentation to be implemented in 2015 for youth audiences and for children visiting the Mansion with parents.


Other Master Gardener developed educational efforts are the Sarah’s Garden power point for community audiences with recorded audio added this year, a Sarah’s Garden brochure, photo albums of all garden plants in bloom, Sarah’s Garden seeds and the power-point for sale in the Mansion gift shop, and Sarah’s Garden plants for the Master Gardener “Plants and More” sale.

Master Gardeners and Extension are recognized for bringing Sarah’s Garden to a prominent status as a community attraction and as an educational center model. The Garden was recognized with a City of Bloomington Beautification Award. Volunteer efforts won the 2010 Illinois State Master Gardener Teamwork Award. sping in the gardenVolunteerism and programming were recognized with a Governor’s Hometown Award in 2011 and was one of 6 finalists for the top award, the Governor’s Cup. The Sarah’s Garden brochure provides visitors with additional interpretation. Sarah’s garden has its own link on the www.daviddavismansion.org website and is regularly featured by posts for 2100 “friends” on the Mansion Facebook page.