Growing Creativity in the COVID-19 Era (Part 3 of 4)

Jun 22, 2020

For the past three months, COVID-19 and social distancing requirements have changed the way the UC Master Gardener Program serves our mission to extend trusted gardening information. With a resurgence of interest in gardening, UC Master Gardener volunteers adapted to the pandemic using new and innovative ways to share gardening support and help.

This is the third feature of a four-part blog series. Read our earlier posts about how volunteers in Amador County learned new skills and quickly brought program resources online in Part 1 of this 4-part series and how volunteers in Alameda and Contra Costa Counties created the “Great Tomato Plant Share' in Part 2 of this 4-part series.

Join us as we celebrate the innovation, creativity, and flexibility of UC Master Gardener volunteers and county staff during this unique time! 


The UC Master Gardener Program in San Diego County has been quick to develop new and innovative ways to provide remote education to its trainees and members of the public. Scott Parker, program coordinator, credits its new class operation team and UC Agriculture and Natural Resources (UC ANR) partners with its successful move to online training and graduation of the class of 2020.


“Shortly after the shelter-in-place order went into effect, Karey Windbiel-Rojas and Elaine Lander of UC Integrated Pest Management Statewide Program (UC IPM) suggested they deliver their pest management content online rather than in person. The presentation was so well done and well attended, that the class lit up,” says Parker. This first success inspired the new class operation team to continue its courses via Zoom.  “They thought, we can graduate these folks!” says Parker.  

The new class operation team, led by Judy MacKenzie, reimagined and developed lessons, including a Zoom-based flower dissection lab. “We sent out a list of materials that trainees needed to gather including plants from their yard or community, a cutting board, and a knife. Suddenly, we had 47 flower dissections in 47 places around the county, all taking place simultaneously!” says Parker.

“Thanks to the creativity and innovation of volunteers, county leadership, and UC ANR partners, trainees reported a high quality, engaging, and interactive educational experience. On the last day of class in late May, trainees said that they were proud to be joining such a wonderful organization,” says Anne Perriera, UC Master Gardener volunteer.  “When Scott Parker played the UC Master Gardener Program's 2020 graduation video during our final training Zoom class, there was not a dry eye in the Zoom room,” says Perriera, “I have been a UC Master Gardener volunteer for four years and had tears in my eyes as well!”

Trainees are not the only ones benefiting from the UC Master Gardener Program of San Diego County's flexibility at this time. Just a few weeks after Governor Newsom's statewide shelter-in-place directive was announced, a team of volunteers developed ‘Let's Grow Together San Diego' online gardening resources for gardeners of all ages and experience levels. Parker credits Mike Harrelson, Francie Murphy, and a variety of talented and dedicated volunteers, with gathering resources, creating informative and hands-on activities, and marketing the product to the community.

The reception has been no less than enthusiastic! Visit the San Diego Union-Tribune Home and Garden section to read a column on the ‘Let's Grow Together San Diego' digital collection of tips for gardeners of all ages and experience levels and many other articles about exceptional UC Master Gardener volunteers.
While COVID-19 has affected all communities and volunteers differently, the resilience, creativity, and flexibility, of UC Master Gardener volunteers and coordinators alike, continues to inspire and impress. The stories featured in this four-part series here are a small snapshot of the innovation and strength that this food community and garden education community has to offer.

Please note: Reappointment for the 2020/2021 Program Year began on June 1st and ends July 30th. The UC Master Gardener Program celebrates and appreciates ALL volunteers, regardless of their ability to contribute hours during this unprecedented time. Volunteers who choose to remain active and reappoint will be approved, regardless of the number of volunteer or continuing education hours completed this year.  Volunteers will not be responsible for making up any incomplete volunteer and continuing education hours in the following program year. However, all volunteers must complete reappointment to remain active or limited active in the UC Master Gardener Program.


By Marisa Coyne
By Melissa G. Womack
Contributor - Communications Specialist III