Posts Tagged ‘sfeawards-community service projects’

2015 Search for Excellence Awards – Community Service — 2nd Place Winner

Wednesday, February 10th, 2016

Fairfax Master Gardener Diagnostic Lab: Serving the Public for 34 Years

Fairfax Master Gardener Diagnostic Lab: Serving the Public for 34 Years

The Fairfax County Master Gardeners Association (FCMGA) Diagnostic Laboratory placed second in the Community Service Category of the 2015 International Master Gardener Search for Excellence.

The Lab has been in operation since 1981. Its purpose is to solve difficult plant identification, insect, and disease problems for the general public in Fairfax County, Virginia.  To our knowledge it is the only diagnostic laboratory operated by a Master Gardener group in the state of Virginia.

There is one Virginia Cooperative Extension (VCE) horticultural agent for Fairfax County, Virginia.  She serves a population of over 1.1 million residents.  Master Gardeners, numbering over 350 in Fairfax County, are a great force multiplier for the extension agent.  The Lab supports this effort by diagnosing problems that require deep knowledge and experience. The Lab is an important adjunct to the weekly plant clinics operated by FCMGA from May to September at 13 farmers markets and 5 public libraries throughout the county.  That’s well over 300 plant clinics per year!  In addition the Lab handles diagnostic requests that come directly from the (VCE) office in Fairfax from residents and landscape companies.  Services of the Lab and FCMGA are available free of charge.


Lab veterans Ted Stroup and Priscilla Baetke examine a new sample



The essential ingredient for a successful diagnostic laboratory is expert Master Gardeners with a passion for horticulture and public service.  Our Lab volunteers have an average of 17 years’ experience with FCMGA; the longest tenure is 37 years.  They are among the most knowledgeable Master Gardeners in the FCMGA.  In 2013 14 of FCMGA’s most experienced Master Gardeners volunteered 818 hours of service to this activity.


Samples that our Master Gardeners are unable to diagnose or identify at a plant clinic are referred to the Lab.  The Lab usually provides identifications, diagnoses, and advice within a week, most often in a report that is emailed directly to the client.  Responses typically contain an explanation of the problem, diagnostic keys to recognizing it, and a tutorial to help the client address the current problem and avoid similar problems in the future.  This advice includes recommended cultural practices and controls.



Our lab is equipped with two microscopes.  The microscope is a necessity for identifying mites, small insects, various insect eggs, and many fungal pathogens whose fruiting bodies cannot be seen by the unaided eye.  Diagnosticians have access to four computers for report preparation and research. There is a bookshelf containing useful references and a refrigerator for storage of samples. The Lab is housed in approximately 225 sq. ft. of space provided by the Merrifield Garden Center. Finally, the Lab has a variety of forms and instructions developed over the years to facilitate the delivery of its services.


In a typical year the Lab diagnoses over 300 samples (i.e., what is the problem with my plant?).  The diagnoses consist of over 100 different pathogens or causes, primarily fungal diseases (very common here in the humid Middle Atlantic region), insects, mites, and cultural problems.  Prominent among the fungal problems are several types of leaf spot, conifer tip blights, powdery mildew, sooty mold, and downy mildews.

Spider mites of several kinds tend to be the leading invertebrate problem in a dry year. Rose slugs, lacebugs, and various types of scale, led by cottony camellia scale, are the most common insect problems. In a year with unusually high rainfall most cultural problems are related to wet soil.

In a typical year the Lab handles 150 to 200 identification requests (i.e., what plant, insect, mushroom or other object is this?), the vast majority of which are plant samples.


Each diagnostic report provides a mini-lesson in IPM to the client who submitted the sample.  Fairfax County is located in the watershed of the environmentally threatened Chesapeake Bay. Reduction in the use of pesticides and fertilizers is an important public objective in our area.  Implementation of the Lab’s IPM-based advice means clients are not using pesticides and fertilizers unless absolutely necessary and only using them at a time when they would be effective.  When a pesticide is used, it is one whose effectiveness against the diagnosed problem has been proven through university extension service research.


Priscilla Baetke performs microscopic analysis.

Some clients reply directly to the Lab’s email report vowing to follow the advice.  Others return to FCMGA’s weekly plant clinics to discuss what they have done, ask further questions, and express their gratitude for the service.  Some return on multiple occasions during the year with more problems for the Lab to diagnose.


The Lab publishes a variety of reports based on lab findings.  For the 2013 Plant Clinic season, the Lab prepared a series of “Monthly Preview” documents, each highlighting problems we would expect to see at clinics in the coming month.  The previews are now published on our public website.

In addition, the Lab produces a “Lab Notebook”, usually with the assistance of a summer intern whose salary is partially funded by the FCMGA.  The reports, published every 1 -3 weeks from May to August, describe the lab’s latest findings.  The Lab Notebooks are replete with descriptions, photos and statistics to arm FCMGA master gardeners and professional landscape maintenance personnel who subscribe to this free service with the information they need to deal with the myriad of plant problems we encounter in the Middle Atlantic region.


The Merrifield Garden Center, one of the leading independent garden centers in Virginia, provides physical space for the Lab and connectivity to the Internet.  Merrifield’s support in the interest of sound horticultural practices contributes significantly to the success of the Lab and to FCMGA in general.



2015 Search for Excellence Awards – Community Service — 3rd Place Winner

Wednesday, February 3rd, 2016

Florence Community Garden

pic 1When this project was first conceived (first quarter of 2013) we knew that this was not going to be a project Extension could tackle alone. With the Shoals Master Gardeners taking a leadership role, partnerships were developed with the Northwest Resource Conservation & Development Council, the city of Florence, the Florence Men’s Club and the Lauderdale County Commission. Planning meetings and conceptual design began January/ February time frame by pulling people together. The biggest obstacle was finding an area with a suitable water source.

Several areas throughout the city were consider potential garden sites but a ready available water source was the limiting factor in each case. After review of several areas we realized the area was right at our door step. The Community Garden’s location is along Veterans Dr. between S. Oak and S. Chestnut Street on property occupied by the Florence Lauderdale Coliseum and the Alabama Cooperative System. The property is owned by the City of Florence. The Gardens are located between the parking lot and Veterans Dr. This project was planned and designed to provide a highly viable facility where veterans, low income and or physically impaired citizens and those with no room or opportunity could have their own garden. We wanted a facility with open public access, adequate sunlight and availability of water. The Extension Office provided ready access water and we ran a drip irrigation system to each bed, on timers, so the gardeners didn’t have to carry water unless they wanted more than we allocated through the system. pic 2The Project Team immediately  choose the raised bed concept for ease of access for challenged individuals, children and predictability for success by having a consistent growing medium within each bed.

Our original plan and budget was to build fifty individual raised beds. We actually built fifty two beds and every one of them ended up with an “owner” who planted, tended, and harvested their crops with great personal satisfaction. Two of the beds were used by the Extension System for ‘Trapped crops” and “Pollinators” (butterfly and humming birds). Two other beds were by the 4-H Club, (Junior Master Gardeners). The Extension system conducted public forums for new gardeners to instruct them in the best practices and methods for them to succeed in growing. The meetings were held during the day and again in the evening to accommodate those working. Every gardener got a condensed lesson in pest management, horticulture practices, seed/plant selection and garden care.

Master Gardeners were available daily (through the Help-Line) and on weekends to provide advice and information to the new gardeners.  The raised bed garden is not a unique concept,however, we did provide a growing medium not previously employed. The Florence city government provided equipment  and transportation for us to move tons of “Cotton Gin Trash” from two separate gins in the county, to our garden location. The Shoals Master Gardeners team wheel-barrowed those same tons, into the fifty-two beds which were  4’ wide x 8’ long x 20” deep. This filling process continued over several work days. Cotton gin trash is the biomass by-product of the business of ginning cotton. This sustainable product, in it’s composted forms yields an inexpensive, micro nutrient rich planting medium.

pic 3The total summer production was over 2100 lbs. Also, there were several gardeners who produced fall gardens.

The project fostered six other Shoals Master Gardener Projects that were able to utilize the same raised-bed and gin trash concept at a nursing home, four schools and a community health clinc. In the near by city of Sheffield, there are plans to establish an entire city block of raised bed gardens in 2016. So, for 2015 we had a 85% retention rate from 2014 and quickly filled up from the waiting list with potential gardeners and the fruits of their labor are seen here. The waiting list continues to grow.

pic 5


2015 Search for Excellence Winners are Announced!

Wednesday, October 28th, 2015

Congratulations to the Twenty-one 2015 Search for Excellence Awards winners!IMGC Logo

Search for Excellence (SFE) is the recognition of outstanding projects by Master Gardener volunteers throughout the United States and Canada. These twenty-one awards were presented at the International Master Gardener Conference 2015 (IMGC 2015), Horticultural Horizons in the Heartland.Horticultural Horizons in the Heartland Logo

SFE Awards are presented every two years at the IMGC conference where Master Gardener volunteers, Extension staff and faculty gather to learn from each other, share projects and to network with their peers from around the world. Twenty one Master Gardener programs were recognized for their outstanding achievement from a field of seventy two applications, submissions from twenty six USA states and two Canadian provinces.

First, second and third place awards are presented in seven categories:

• Community Service
• Demonstration Gardens
• Innovative Projects
• Special Needs Audiences
• Research
• Workshop or Presentation
• Youth Programs

All SFE applications must show that significant learning took place. The SFE projects need to be ongoing projects for at least two years; one of the winners this year has been going on for twenty six years. The IMGC Committee judges the applications. Winning projects were chosen on the basis of their originality and creativity; practicality of the program; simplicity of replication by other Master Gardeners and their significant impact on their communities.

First place winners received a plaque and a small stipend to continue their educational projects. The twenty one awarded projects displayed posters of their projects at the IMGC 2015 conference. Congratulations to all the SFE awardees that are involved in these excellent projects.

Beginning next week and continuing over the next several months, this blog will feature stories and pictures from each 2015 Search for Excellence award winners. Watch for the upcoming postings and read about these outstanding projects.

The 2017 SFE awards nominations soon, more information will be found on the 2017 IMGC Webiste.


Reducing Hunger, Improving Nutrition with Seed2Need Program

Thursday, July 11th, 2013

Seed2Need – Award winning collaborative project

Since 2008 Seed2Need is a collaborative effort between the Sandoval County Master Gardeners (New Mexico), property owners in the village of Corrales and other volunteer groups.

This outstanding project won the 1st place International Master Gardener 2011 Search for Excellence – Community Service Award, awarded in October, 2011 at the International Master Gardener conference in Charleston, West Virginia.

IMGC Award Winners

IMGC Award Winners

Seed2Need’s mission

The project’s mission is to reduce hunger and improve nutrition in New Mexico by growing fresh produce for food pantries in Sandoval and Bernalillo Counties. The Master Gardeners also glean fruit from local orchards and solicit produce donations from the vendors and customers at the Corrales Grower’s market. Because most food pantries pick up produce directly from the gardens, it is often in the hands of the families who need it within hours of harvest.  See more about the program and those involved in this YouTube video.

Seed2Need is a great learning opportunity, too!

Seed2Need provides many opportunities to apply what Master Gardeners learn in class including seed starting, soil testing, fertilizer calculations, insect identification and control, fruit tree pruning, use of row cover, mulching techniques, composting and t-tape irrigation.

For more information about Seed2Need, see the following resources, and photo gallery


Submitted by Sylvia Hacker,
Doña Ana Co. Master Gardeners (On Facebook)
Texas Master Naturalist
Las Cruces, New Mexico

Search for Excellence Award Blog Posts (Listing by Project Category)

Monday, February 6th, 2012
IMG Search for Excellence

International Master Gardener Search for Excellence Awards

In early November, Monica David, the 2011 IMGC vice president, announced we would be sharing 18 blog posts about each of the Extension Master Gardener volunteer projects that received a 2011 International Search For Excellence Award. These projects were awarded among six project categories during the 2011 International Master Gardener Conference.

Blog Posts Created New National Recognition and Discussion Opportunities

This year, blogging about these award winning projects helped bring new recognition and understanding of the value of Extension Master Gardener volunteers through pageviews on this blog, shares through our Facebook page, and retweets on Twitter.

Many of these projects received kudos in the blog’s comments section and created opportunities for Extension Master Gardeners from different states to discuss and learn about how local programs are participating in similar or different ways across the United States. To make these blog posts easier to access and find by category, we’ve grouped the 2011 International Master Gardener Search For Excellence award winning blog posts by project category and listed them for you below.

As you work toward new volunteer projects this year, you may want to take another glimpse at these posts, share these with a friend, or perhaps add your insights to the comments sections for a particular project that applies or resonates most with you….or (hint, hint) perhaps these posts will encourage your local program to submit an application for the 2013 International Master Gardener Search for Excellence Awards!

Blog Posts by Project Award Category

Workshop attendees learn how to properly construct their own rain barrels in Macon, County Iowa

The next International Master Gardener Conference and Search for Excellence Awards will take place in 2013.  For more information on the next International Master Gardener conference, see the IMGC 2013 Website or Facebook page.

Karen Jeannette
eXtension Consumer Horticulture Content Coordinator

2011 Search for Excellence Community Service Award Winner- 3rd Place

Friday, November 18th, 2011

Share the Health Educational Garden- Cuyahoga County, Ohio

The STH Garden is a project involving three entities: the village of Gates Mills, the Master Gardeners of Cuyahoga County, and Magnolia Clubhouse of Cleveland.  Five years ago, two Master Gardeners started to grow vegetables for the needy on land provided by the village.  Since that time the garden has grown in area, the amount of food produced, and the number of people involved.  Only sustainable gardening practices are used to grow the food.

Master Gardeners in the greenhouse after a bountiful harvest.

The STH garden donates its entire harvest each year to Magnolia Clubhouse.  Magnolia Clubhouse is a day program for adults with mental illness.  Last year, the STH garden provided over 2000 pounds of fresh vegetables to the Clubhouse.  This resulted in savings of $150 per week in Magnolia’s food budget.  Clubhouse members discovered they liked some vegetables they had never enjoyed before.

Last year, twenty eight Master Gardeners volunteered at one time or another in the garden, as well as ten community members.  Volunteers come to the garden each Monday at 9 am from March to November to do what is needed.  The STH garden would not exist without the involvement of those who donate resources, including the Gates Mills Improvement Society, the Ivy Garth Seed Company, community members, and the Master Gardeners of Cuyahoga County.

Master Gardeners raise vegetables organically to give to disabled adults

The Master Gardeners work with Magnolia House to determine the best products to grow, based on nutritional value, food preferences and preparation.  Each year the Master Gardeners try new vegetables, but staple crops of green beans, tomatoes, beets and potatoes provide consistency.  The Garden is grown organically for the most part.

Master Gardeners raise vegetables organically in their community garden.

This garden, with its mission to donate all food grown to needy individuals, is the first of its kind in Cuyahoga County.  Education is a key component of this mission.  Community members and Master Gardeners have attended sessions on preserving herbs and three-season vegetable gardening.  Magnolia Clubhouse members have also visited the garden to learn about the crops grown and garden care.

This year the garden won several different awards for its efforts.  The Gates Mills Garden Club was awarded first place in Ohio for the educational exhibit provided by the STH garden.  In the Ohio Master Gardener community service contest, the STH garden earned first place!

Whom might I contact for more information about the STH garden?

Gwen Morgan, 440.823.1591,
Sharon Klimm, 440.248.8567,

To learn more about Cuyhoga County Master Gardeners visit their webpage at

Written by Sharon Klimm, Cuyohoga County Ohio Master Gardener

2011 Search for Excellence Community Service Award Winners- 1st Place

Monday, November 14th, 2011

Seed2Need- The Corrales Food Pantry Project- Sandoval County, NM

The Sandoval County, New Mexico Master Gardeners received the first place award in the Community Service Category at the International Master Gardener conference in October in West Virginia.

Master Gardeners transplant tomato seedlings to go into the garden.

Seed2Need is a collaborative effort between the Sandoval County Master Gardeners (SCMG) and local property owners.  Our mission is to address hunger in our community by growing fresh produce for our local food pantries. Participating property owners provide the land, electricity and irrigation water.  SCMG volunteers make up our core group of volunteers.

Volunteers address hunger issues in  their communities

We also receive help from friends, neighbors, family members, scout troops, 4-H, church groups, private individuals and from several food pantries.  Funding is donated by local businesses.  In order to make these donations tax deductable, Seed2Need was organized as a project under the fiscal sponsorship of an existing non-profit.  Crops are selected based on interviews with the food pantries, nutritional value, productivity and length of harvest.

In 2011, 45,200 lbs of produce donated to food pantries

One days harvest ready to go to the local food pantry.

In 2010, we grew 30,700 pounds of  produce on 8/10 acre.  In 2011,  our gardens were expanded to 1 1/2 acres and our total harvest was 45,200 pounds.  During peak harvest, we donated produce to ten food pantries in Sandoval and Bernalillo Counties.

According to a recent Census Bureau report, New Mexico ranks 2nd in the nation in terms of poverty and 5th in terms of food insecurity.  51% of our food pantries report turning people away to lack of food.  Federal and state funding has been cut and charitable contributions are down 8% nationwide. Hunger is a serious problem in our country. The need is great… and as Master Gardeners, we can help . . . one garden at a time.


For more information, e-mail or see Facebook page Seed2Need

Written by Pamela Davis, Sandoval County New Mexico Master Gardener