master gardeners

Cleanup at Sherwood Island State Park

Friends’ Garden Team weeding and mulching one of the 20 native Acer rubrum and Nyssa sylvatica they planted along the East Beach.
Friends’ Garden Team weeding and mulching one of the 20 native Acer
rubrum and Nyssa sylvatica they planted along the East Beach. Photo: Michele Sorenson

Sherwood Island State Park in Westport was Connecticut’s first state park. It is 238-acres of beaches, wetlands, and forest that serves as a public recreation area. 

Improving Habitat for Wildlife Work & Learn is a year-round outreach project that teaches Master Gardeners, interns and the public to create, improve and maintain a natural habitat for wildlife. The group meets at Sherwood Island State Park three times per week in the growing season and once a week the remainder of the year. In the winter, we focus on removing invasive plants. Areas at the park where we work include the sand dunes, the pollinator garden, the three sister gardens and throughout the park as needed. Park Superintendent, John Guglielmoni, is fully supportive of wildlife habitat improvement using native plants. Visit MasterGardener.uconn.edu for more information on our programs.

By Michele Sorenson, Master Gardener Volunteer and Project Coordinator 

Extension Donor Support is Growing Statewide Programming

high school student sitting with a notebook by the Fenton River
Photo Kara Bonsack

The work of UConn Extension serves thousands of people across Connecticut. UConn Extension educators work in all 169 cities and towns helping Connecticut residents to solve problems in their communities and provide transformational learning experiences to program participants. This couldn’t be done without the financial support of generous donors, many of whom have experienced Extension programs firsthand. 

Donations for Extension programs are made through the UConn Foundation which is an independent nonprofit organization that operates exclusively to promote the educational, scientific, cultural, research and recreational objectives of the University of Connecticut and UConn Health. Housed within the Foundation are funds specifically earmarked for Extension programming that provide critical support to these programs and make it possible to develop innovative programming for Connecticut residents. Here are some examples of programs made possible by the generous contributions of UConn Extension donors.

David E. and Nancy H. Bull CES Innovative Programming Fund

A generous gift from Nancy H. and David E. Bull provides funding to support innovative programming in Extension through a competitive application process open to personnel with a full or partial Extension appointment. Applications must explicitly identify the innovation proposed and the risks involved along with the potential to influence future program delivery. Some of the projects funded include:

UConn CAHNR GMO Team received funding to address the lack of science-based information for citizens regarding genetically modified organisms (GMOs). A multi-faceted educational approach provided unbiased information which included a web site, a panel discussion on the Storrs campus, development of curriculum for youth audiences, and short videos on GMO subjects.

Assistant Extension Educators Abby Beissinger and Shuresh Ghimire received funding to establish a hot water seed treatment program to combat seed-borne pathogens that cause early infections in fields. Identified in 2019 listening sessions as a top agricultural priority in Connecticut, Dr. Ghimire and Ms. Beissinger shared the hot water treatment protocols and workshop curricula and work collaboratively with other states to contribute to best practices.

UConn Natural Resources Conservation Academy program leaders received funding to address equity and inclusion within community conservation practices. NRCA implemented a series of participatory processes to co-design local conservation projects with multiple community stakeholders in the metro-Hartford area. The goal of this project is to allow communities to meaningfully contribute to the development of conservation that is most in demand within their community.

Master Gardener Fund

UConn Extension’s Master Gardener Program began in 1978 instructing participants in science-based horticulture practices and garden management, after which students apply their knowledge by engaging in community education, including lectures, educational displays, demonstrations, and plant clinics, as well as various outreach projects throughout Connecticut. Donations to the Master Gardener Fund within the UConn Foundation are critical to the ongoing training and community outreach that they provide. Donations contribute to salaries of the Master Gardener coordinators housed in each of the local Extension Centers in Connecticut. Donations literally keep the program going and also allow for increased accessibility and flexibility in learning modalities which combines online learning with traditional classroom instruction. 

4-H Centennial Fund

The 4-H Centennial Fund was created in 2002 in celebration of the 100th anniversary of the national 4-H program. Donations to the fund ensure that participants in the UConn 4-H program have the opportunity to participate in unique and exciting state, regional and national 4-H events. Many 4-H alumni remember their experience at Citizenship Washington Focus or National 4-H Congress. These trips provide important leadership and civic engagement experiences that youth don’t get elsewhere. A delegation of youth once again attended the 2021 National 4-H Congress and plans are underway for the 2022 Citizenship Washington Focus. 

Donations to UConn Extension through the UConn Foundation have made it possible to reach more people with unique and innovative programming that solves problems in communities and enriches the lives of Connecticut families. Donors can rest assured that their contributions matter and significantly impact the lives of Connecticut residents. 

Please consider supporting Extension at s.uconn.edu/GiveToExtension

Article by Nancy Wilhelm

Volunteer Spotlight: Dr. Lynn Keller

UConn CAHNR Extension typically holds Bug Week in July; however, this year Extension has designated July as Bug Month. The UConn Extension Master Gardeners and Master Gardener interns participate. Bug Month is an educational outreach activity that promotes insects in the environment (bugs.uconn.edu/). Volunteers like Dr. Lynn Keller make this educational event fun and successful. In order to become a Master Gardener people need to attend and complete the Master Gardener program that includes coursework, office hours, and community service. The training allows them to become knowledgeable about various gardening topics.

Lynn Keller in her gardenLynn heard about the UConn Extension Master Gardener program many years ago and completed the program in 2019. She learned about a volunteer opportunity to assist with Bug Week from Gail Reynolds, the Middlesex County Master Gardener program coordinator. Lynn enjoyed her entomology (study of insects) classes in college while studying to be a veterinarian. She also enjoyed the entomology class offered by the Master Gardener program and felt like it would be a good fit for her interests.

As a volunteer, Lynn works with various program leaders to coordinate dates and events during Bug Month in July. These activities include bug kits for youth, photo contests, and educational activities. Part of her role includes finding new leaders for these programs and ensuring they have the proper resources as well as creating content for the Bug Month website (bugs.uconn.edu/). New programs are suggested every year, and Lynn works with the team to implement them in addition to fundraising and finding sponsors. She also promotes Bug Month by writing articles and participating in local radio shows.

Bug Month is designed for family participation, and Lynn enjoys educating families on the importance of insects in our lives. She says, “If we didn’t have insects, we wouldn’t have pollination, which would result in missing out on many of our favorite foods.” Her volunteer work is making an impact because adults and children are learning more about the “integral role that insects play in the food web and in our environment.” She also notes that this program provides suggestions for simple steps families can take to improve beneficial insect habitats in their yards and communities.

One of Lynn’s favorite memories from her time as an Extension volunteer is at Bug Week events in 2019. Many children attended the event at the Tolland Agricultural Center and were excited to participate in the fun activities. Lynn enjoyed seeing the children’s enthusiasm while they were looking at bugs under a microscope and learning about them. She also enjoys continuing her education on native plants and insects which allows her to share this information with family and friends. Her advice to new volunteers is to find an opportunity that you are passionate about and use that passion to make a positive difference in our communities.

The UConn Extension Master Gardener Program started in 1978 and consists of horticulture training and an outreach component that focuses on the community at large. Master Gardeners devote thousands of hours to organized community outreach projects each year. The Master Gardener program also offers Garden Master Classes for our volunteers and interested members of the general public. More information on the program and classes are available at mastergardener.uconn.edu.

UConn CAHNR Extension has more than 100 years’ experience strengthening communities in Connecticut and beyond. Extension programs address the full range of issues set forth in CAHNR’s strategic initiatives:

  • Ensuring a vibrant and sustainable agricultural industry and food supply
  • Enhancing health and well-being locally, nationally, and globally
  • Designing sustainable landscapes across urban-rural interfaces
  • Advancing adaptation and resilience in a changing climate.

Programs delivered by Extension reach individuals, communities, and businesses in each of Connecticut’s 169 municipalities. Learn more about our volunteer programs at s.uconn.edu/volunteers.

Article by Emily Syme

Master Gardeners – COVID-19 Update

Master Gardener logoIn the 40 years of the UConn Extension Master Gardener program, we have never faced anything quite this … unknown. This isn’t a flood, or hurricane, with a clear finish. This pandemic is an onslaught: health, finances, social interactions, and daily routines are all impacted.

What doesn’t change is the incredible value of gardening; of digging our hands into the soil, of the warmth of the sun on our faces, of fresh food and beautiful vistas, of the sounds of the garden and the wild spaces around us.

As a friend, Gary Oppenheimer of AmpleHarvest, said recently, “Gardening has NOT been cancelled”. Our Master Gardener programming and volunteer work will continue as scheduled, although we will have to be creative in some areas.

Here’s where we stand today:

The 2020 Master Gardener class is continuing on schedule. We have moved the remaining five weeks to an all-online format with online discussions replacing the half-day in-class sessions. This allows us to stay on schedule and we will continue to add new content opportunities as we go forward.

As many of you are aware, the CMGA symposium has been postponed until fall. They will update us as more information becomes available.

We are in the midst of arranging Hot Topics. Originally scheduled for May, it is likely that we will now hold a virtual Hot Topics online. My hope is that it will be interactive. Stay tuned….

Outreach and Office Hours:  Many of our outreach projects will not be impacted by the social distancing restrictions, others will. We will adapt as needed to current and evolving restrictions and we will develop new opportunities that best respond to new needs in our communities. If you have thoughts on how we can best respond to the new reality, please don’t hesitate to share them.

Office hours fall within the current recommended group size. Many of our clients may not want face-to-face interactions; we are looking into options such as online “office hours” and promoting the use of email for communication. For anyone who has underlying health concerns (their own or an immediate family member) making face-to-face contact unwise, we will adjust and adapt.

In summary, this is a time of change, adaptation and creative thinking. There are a lot of unknowns, and it’s likely we will be dealing with this reality into at least some of the summer. We are, however, versatile. We are resilient. Gardeners are constantly adapting to the changes in the surrounding environment; this is just one more. Please do not hesitate to share ideas, issues and concerns with me or with your coordinators.

Getting outside into the fresh air and the sunlight is one of the recommendations for offsetting the negative reactions to social distancing. We’re ahead of the curve!

Keep Calm, and Garden on,

Sarah Bailey

State Program Coordinator, Master Gardener Program

sarah.bailey@uconn.edu

Thank you Volunteers!

Hartford rain garden

During National Volunteer Week, we thank all of our Connecticut 4-H, UConn Extension Master Gardener Program, People Empowering People (PEP), and other volunteers who make our programs so successful each year! Our volunteers contributed over 100,000 hours, or $2.4 million to their communities served last year.

GMOs a Hot Topic for UConn Extension Master Gardeners

Carol Auer

By Leslie Alexander

Certified UConn Extension Master Gardeners and Advanced Master Gardeners are encouraged to maintain active certification. In addition to completing required office and community outreach hours Master Gardeners in Connecticut are required to attend one Hot Topics class each year. These classes are designed to provide Master Gardeners with updated and new horticultural and environmental information. Theses classes build upon the program’s class topics and help keep Master Gardeners informed and current. This year’s first Hot Topics class was offered to Master Gardeners on March 27, 2014 at the UConn Hartford campus. One hundred and twenty Master Gardeners showed up to hear Dr. Carol Auer a professor at the University of Connecticut in the Department of Plant Science and Landscape Architecture present a lecture on the controversial subject of genetically engineered crops.

Titled Genetically Engineered Crops from Farm to Fork, Dr. Auer’s presentation updated the audience on current genetic modifications and new methods for incorporation into organisms, quizzed the audience on their knowledge of foods that contain genetically modified crops and discussed the risk assessment paradigm used by the Federal Government to determine potential impacts to humans and the environment.

Dr. Auer is a research scientist in the field of genetic engineering. In 2002 she received a Fellowship from the American Association for the Advancement of Science and spent a year with USDA in Washington at the Department of Agriculture working with policy makers who assess the risks and benefits of these genetic modification processes. She realized the complexities regulators face in assessing science in the application and review process for approving new genetically engineered crops. On her return to UConn Dr. Auer’s research changed focus, she is concentrating on the science behind ecological risk and benefit assessment of genetically modified plants with novel traits. At present, her interdisciplinary research program is characterizing potential ecological risks associated with the adoption of engineered grasses commonly used as turfgrass or bioenergy resources. These projects are providing new knowledge about grass gene flow, pollen aerobiology, interspecific hybridization, plant species distribution, plant communities, cultural landscape ecology, and habitat suitability modeling. Results from these projects are important for predictive ecological risk assessments, regulatory decision-making, and stakeholder education. She conducts an innovative teaching program for undergraduate and graduate students in the areas of plant physiology, molecular biology, forest ecophysiology, and research ethics. She served as Chairperson of the University’s Institutional Biosafety Committee for six years and maintains an active interest in biosecurity issues.

The Master Gardener presentation was videotaped and will be offered this spring and summer as part of the Hot Topics class in each county, allowing Master Gardeners statewide an opportunity to hear this fascinating presentation.