2015 Search for Excellence Awards – Workshop — 2nd Place Winner

East Austin Garden Fair

What is the East Austin Garden Fair?

The East Austin Garden Fair is a free annual community outreach event designed to engage the whole family in learning about horticulture in a fun, festive and relaxed setting. Educational offerings are geared toward low-income residents of traditionally minority, under-resourced East Austin, with an emphasis on creative, low-cost “do-it-yourself” solutions, interactive learning, managing limited resources and making positive health choices. Master Gardeners offer University-based information to fairgoers on a diverse variety of horticulture topics, while partner organizations provide information on closely-related community services, programs and projects.

Travis County Master Gardener Sue Nazar gives a demonstration on backyard beekeeping at the 2013 East Austin Garden Fair. (File photo courtesy of Texas AgriLife Extension - Horticulture - Travis County

Travis County Master Gardener Sue Nazar gives a demonstration on backyard beekeeping at the 2013 East Austin Garden Fair.
(File photo courtesy of Texas AgriLife Extension – Horticulture – Travis County

What can fairgoers see, do and learn at the East Austin Garden Fair?

Fairgoers can visit booths to get information, ask questions and share ideas, participate in hands-on demonstrations on building a rain barrel, raised bed or compost bin, and learn about waterwise irrigation methods and gardening in containers and straw bales. Kids can build a bird or bug house, make a herb sachet, recycled seed pot or seed ball, play seed identification games, and learn about good bugs and bad bugs. Booths on backyard chickens and beekeeping are a big hit with all ages. During the fair, interpreters circulate through the crowd to accommodate hearing-impaired and Spanish-speaking attendees. After completing an exit survey, attendees may choose a free vegetable seedling to take home, to encourage continued interest in horticulture and healthful eating.

 

Booth topics include:

  • Healthy eating, cooking, canning and preserving
  • Drought, rainwater collection, firewise landscaping and irrigation
  • Composting, recycling coffee grounds and vermiculture
  • Attracting birds, bees and butterflies
  • Backyard chickens and beekeeping
  • Community gardens, food forests and farmers markets
  • Food banks and temporary assistance for needy families
  • Growing fruit, herbs and vegetables
  • Growing native and adapted plants

Who plans the fair and how is it put together?

The fair is a wholly-owned project of the Travis County Master Gardeners Association under the direction of the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension’s Horticulture Agent for Travis County and her assistant. Master Gardeners utilize three online tools (Volunteer Management System, SignUp Genius, Yahoo! Groups listserv) and two in-person meetings to plan and execute the fair each spring. A total of 89 Master Gardeners participated in 2013 and 2014, by developing a booth or demonstration that matched their area of expertise, or in a support capacity.

4-H Capital Youth Gardening Specialist Meredith O’Reilly (green shirt) and Travis County Master Gardener Ally Stresing (blue shirt) discuss backyard chickens with fairgoers at the 2014 East Austin Garden Fair. (File photo courtesy of Texas AgriLife Extension - Horticulture - Travis County/Caroline Homer)

4-H Capital Youth Gardening Specialist Meredith O’Reilly (green shirt) and Travis County Master Gardener Ally Stresing (blue shirt) discuss backyard chickens with fairgoers at the 2014 East Austin Garden Fair. (File photo courtesy of Texas AgriLife Extension – Horticulture – Travis County/Caroline Homer)

An outreach event of this size and scope would not be possible without ongoing input and support from our community partners. These organizations have experience, interest and expertise in community outreach, environmental issues, food and nutrition, gardening, health promotion, home improvement, and sustainability. In 2013 and 2014, we partnered with food banks and food assistance programs, community gardening programs and garden clubs, farmers markets, composting advocates, local health organizations, grocers and retailers. We also partnered with local AmeriCorps, Texas 4-H, and Master Wellness volunteers, in addition to two City of Austin departments: Watershed Protection, and Parks and Recreation. Our partners helped us promote the East Austin Garden Fair through email, radio, community newsletters, flyers and posters.

Funding for this free event comes from Master Gardener association dues, book sales and admission fees from a biennial garden tour. TCMGA budgeted $500 per year for supplies, signs, water and snacks, and came in under budget both years. Annually, Travis County AgriLife Extension covered printing costs of $300 and $125 for food to feed hungry volunteers. All other expenses were covered through donations from partner organizations.

How does the East Austin Garden Fair impact the community?

In 2013 and 2014 combined, Master Gardeners offered over 50 educational booths, activities and interactive demonstrations to over 900 fairgoers. A little over half of those who attended the fair were people of color. Most fairgoers reported they learned something new (95%), found the information understandable (95%), and expected to use what they learned to improve their health (93%).

Master Gardeners installed a raised-bed vegetable garden and a butterfly garden for community use and future fair demonstrations at East Austin’s Parque Zaragosa Recreation Center, the site for the 2013 and 2014 fairs.  Master Gardeners cultivated over 500 herb and vegetable seedlings each year to distribute to fairgoers, and gave away a rain barrel both years.

Exit surveys from fairgoers guide the planning committee’s focus the following year to ensure our outreach remains timely, relevant and specific to the East Austin community.

For more information, visit the Central Texas Horticulture website.

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