Hero Image

The Latest Dirt - Nov 2023

The Ties that Bind!

By Laura Brainin–Rodriguez

I became a member of the Executive Leadership Team in July 2023, after being a Co-Lead for the Ask a Master Gardener Project since 2018. I’m now partly responsible for the whole organization rather than a single project. I get a sense of the breadth and scope of what we do for the residents of Contra Costa County by attending Executive Committee meetings.

For this article, I received input on what makes UC Master Gardeners so unique from leads of 11 of the 18 projects and those CoCoMGs leading incubation/larval projects. I also contacted the Finance Chairs since what they do serves the entire organization in a way that makes the rest of our work possible.

I asked them to answer three questions:

  • What is your primary contribution to the UC Master Gardeners and your reach?
  • How do the relationships you have developed with other volunteers help to sustain your engagement with CoCoMGs?
  • What is most meaningful about your work on behalf of CoCoMGs?

What became clear is that what keeps folks coming back and staying engaged are the relationships they have developed with other UC Master Gardeners. They all recognize that it takes a team to move the work forward and that the people they work with have much to offer and are fun to be with.

It is also clear that the work is demanding, that current leads need more support, and some projects will need new leads in 2024. What makes the work meaningful is deeply rooted in our contributions to the community and how we improve life for Contra Costa County residents. I am proud to be part of the Contra Costa County UC Master Gardener Program and am humbled by the dedication shown by our leads and volunteers.

The project leads responses are listed in alphabetical order.

Finance, Suzanne Miller and Richard Schmidt

The Finance co–chairs prepare the monthly expense reports and annual budget. Also, the Finance co–chairs support project teams on cost estimates and budget requests throughout the year.

We work on all projects and have many CoCoMG members. We enjoy building those relationships and helping make their projects successful financially.

We strive to make finance matters easily understood and limit the administrative work. We strive to support finance transparency so decisions can be made using the most relevant information.

Ask a Master Gardener, Laura Brainin–Rodriguez, Greg Doyle and Bill Miller

AAMG leads oversee farmer’s market tables and a table at Our Garden. We’ve reached over 8,000 individuals in 2022-2023. We interact directly with the public, providing gardening education and seeds.

It has been easy to make friends and acquaintances with other UC Master Gardener volunteers since we share many of the same values and concerns about climate change and good gardening practices that respect the earth.

What is most meaningful is that we are volunteering with other UC Master Gardeners who have love and great respect for nature. What better group of people to be with? And each of us, in our own way, is helping improve the planet, one trowel at a time.

Community Gardens, Karen Maggio

The Community Gardens Project supports seven gardens in Central County - Lafayette, Monte Verde, Belle Terre, Monarch Garden, Adaptive Learning Center, Gehringer Community Garden and Native Demonstration Garden and Roger’s Ranch; four gardens in East County – Ambrose, Family Harvest Farm, Wolwonja Ecocultural Garden and Healthy Hearts Farm; and five gardens in West County – Discovery House, Mira Flores, Hana, Veteran’s Administration Hospital and Casa Ujima.

As the program grows, it requires more resources and support. Although we have wonderful teams of UC Master Gardeners in various locations, more glue and support are needed to keep everything humming. Please consider sharing a lead position and helping to create an even better experience for our gardens and gardeners. Karen has held the project lead position for three years and is looking to step down at the end of the year.

Growing Gardeners, Ann Howard and Ann Ramirez

We offered four courses for 2023, averaging 36 students per session. We have had as many as 65 people register for a given course, but not all attended.

We have a very dedicated and supportive team that works well together. Most of our interactions are on Zoom. It is nice to have an in-person session within the four-session series when we can be together in person.

What is most meaningful is how grateful the students are for the information provided. You know they will add to their gardens with new vigor and hopefully a bountiful harvest.

General Equipment and Maintenance, open positions

The General Equipment and Materials (GEM) project manages items that various projects in the organization share. GEM most frequently works with projects concerning Plant Sales, Speakers Bureau, and AAMG.

The GEM project exemplifies “Many hands make light work.” The folks in the project are a collegial group that comes together to provide the items the organization needs to accomplish its mission. The relationships among the members flow from a sense of shared interests and responsibilities and appreciation and respect for each other.

The most meaningful aspect of working with CoCoMGs is knowing that we are providing reliable gardening information to the County’s residents. We serve as a trusted, nonprofit resource.

As a reminder, Michele Jones and Keith Silva have resigned from GEM. There is an announcement for new leads in the Jobs! Jobs! Jobs! newsletter here: https://ccmg.ucanr.edu/CoCoMGHub/Jobs-Hub/

Help Desk, Susan Heckly

The Help Desk responds to approximately 1000 people each year by email, phone, and in person.

I’m not sure that the relationships I have with other volunteers are what keep me connected, although I appreciate working side by side with talented and intelligent people.

The work of helping people understand their gardens and the environment with scientific backing is what keeps me hooked.

Jardineros, Anne Sutherland

I regularly teach potting classes in Spanish, doing about four classes yearly. There are about 7 to 12 students per class (mothers of elementary school children). I also teach a summer school class at Monument Crisis Center of 30 to 50 kids. I also contacted the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce in Concord and the Latin Bay Area e-newsletter and set up AAMG-type tables at events I find that way. I reach 50-100 clients this way. I also run the Concord Farmers Market AAMG table. I will be teaching gardening classes at a San Ramon school this Spring.

My relationships with other UC Master Gardeners are very enriching. As with soldiers, we are often in the trenches for each other. I am a Help Desk member and treasure those brilliant folks and the knowledge we share. I am motivated to help my fellow CoCoMG and agreed to serve on the ELT. I love working side by side with my fellow volunteers for the GTPS. As many know, my husband died during COVID-19 a few months after I became a CoCoMG volunteer, and Zoom meetings sustained me.

What is most meaningful is seeing a client’s face light up with a free seed packet, stickers for their kids, or a solution to a gardening problem.

I am concerned that the latest decisions from above without inclusion will alienate volunteers, impact their enthusiasm, and they will leave the program.

Low Water Use Garden Richmond, Brian Kerss and Dan Lent

UC Master Gardeners helped create and maintain a low–water use demonstration garden, utilizing locally available plants, which is open to the public and provides a space for education. The garden is divided into six smaller gardens demonstrating different plant combinations of California Native and Mediterranean plants.

I know that fellow CoCoMGs interested in limiting water use will always be there each Friday, offering their perspective on developing and maintaining a pleasing show of plants.

What is most meaningful is creating a visual learning experience for the local community, demonstrating how somebody can create an attractive garden with low–water plantings as an alternative to having a high–water use landscape.

Plant Sales, Mary Jo Corby

I volunteer primarily on two projects: Our Garden workdays and the Great Tomato Plant Sales. GTPS generated $118,814 in 2024 from 2639 transactions where we sold 29,904 edible plants.

Our Garden workdays are filled with great, friendly people who love the outdoors, getting their hands in the soil and learning about gardening. As a demonstration garden, we are always trying new garden ideas, which everyone is willing to try, and it’s fun to see the results of these trials and share the good ideas with the public.

In the past few years, as the GTPS has grown significantly, both in size and, in some years, the process (online sales), I have been fortunate to find some great CoCoMG volunteers to assist me with the admin efforts of the GTPS. It is their friendship, willingness to step up and great attitudes that enable me to continue to do what I love to do for CoCoMG.

For both projects that I work on, it’s the public’s response that is most meaningful to me. At Our Garden, the public loves our Wednesday talks, followed by walks through the garden afterward to see the progress with each season. They ask good questions and are interested in home gardening.

For the GTPS, I am always amazed at how early people get in line to get their summer veggies and how long the line gets! The UC Master Gardeners put in long hours for the sale. Still, they are energized by the people coming through the gates with their smiles and eagerness to find their favorite varieties of tomatoes, peppers and other summer favorites!

Speakers Bureau, Gail Burt

In 2023, the Speakers Bureau has to date offered 10 webinars, with 2925 attending; we delivered 30 in–person presentations, attended by 775 individuals; we had 30 presentations at Our Garden with just under 1000 attendees; and we had 2471 viewings of recorded webinars in our YouTube channel.

As co-lead of the Speakers Bureau, I could not perform the purpose of the Speakers Bureau without relationships with other UC Master Gardeners. Each webinar production involves several people - the CoCoMG volunteers who coordinate talks, the speakers who create their presentations and share their knowledge, the subject matter experts who answer questions during the sessions, and the technical team who help deliver the session so professionally.

Since we present 10–12 webinars yearly, I recruit several speakers and subject matter experts. It is through the relationships and the generosity of the CoCoMGs that this is all possible. I personally ask each speaker to present their topic, and I am eternally grateful when they agree.

I constantly return to our mission: “To extend research–based knowledge and information on home horticulture, pest management and sustainable landscaping practices to the residents of Contra Costa County.” The Speakers Bureau epitomizes this statement. We typically reach a few hundred people during each of our incredibly educational webinar talks.

Volunteer Support, Jon Dwyer and Virginia Safer

Volunteer Support is one of three “projects” that are 100% “inward facing” (no interactions with non-UC Master Gardeners). We are currently working on the year–end recognition event. We are responsible for semi–annually reviewing new badge upgrades and the pin recognitions for 100, 250, 500 and 750 volunteer hours at the Holiday and June Business meeting. In early 2024, we will form a Nominating Committee and solicit members for the ELT positions for 2024–2026. Our most significant and time–consuming work is the Annual Reappointment process.

Our best news is that we now have a Co-Lead, Virginia Safer!!! What is most meaningful is that I get to enjoy being a line worker instead of a “Chief.”

Water Conservation Garden, Liv Imset and Liz Rottger

Our primary contribution to CoCoMG is furthering the goals and activities of our organization in West County, specifically educating UC Master Gardeners to support community outreach and education.

The Pacific Oaks Community Garden, renamed the UC Master Gardener Water Conservation Garden, provides a West County location for CoCoMGs to both practice and, in the future, teach the principles of water conservation for edible gardening to the community. Water conservation principles include rainwater harvesting, increasing soil-water-holding capacity and utilizing subirrigation systems in raised beds. We are also using small–scale, solar–derived power systems for moving water around the garden.

Without the support and hard work of our fellow volunteer UC Master Gardeners, we couldn’t have done the work we already have at the Water Conservation Garden to meet our goal of transforming a weed-covered, vacant lot into a thriving garden. UC Master Gardeners are the engine of our organization. As we work towards our vision of becoming an accessible, public UC Master Gardener Demo Garden, more UC Master Gardeners will enthusiastically join us.

Our work is about the future. We all face an increasingly drier climate due to global warming. The Water Conservation Garden offers a tremendous educational opportunity for UC Master Gardeners to demonstrate and teach the citizens of West County how to strengthen their communities by creating healthy and sustainable environments and gardens.