Tag Archives: consumer horticulture

Smart Gardening may be coming to a garden show near you

It may not feel like it with the months of freezing temperatures we’ve been experiencing in Michigan, but spring is coming soon! If you’re going to be starting a garden, you may be interested to hear about the Smart Gardening initiative, which started in 2013 and will continue to promote science-based gardening, environmental awareness and sustainability to home gardeners across the state.

The Smart Gardening initiative began when the consumer horticulture team realized that home gardeners were missing some simple but extremely helpful advice. The team worked with communicators Joy Landis and Mallory Fournier to develop resources for repetitive, consistent use of a small number of concise messages. They labeled messages they developed as Smart Lawns, Smart Plants and Smart Soils. The team includes Rebecca Finneran, Rebecca Krans, Mary Wilson, Gretchen Voyle, Mary Gerstenberger, Karen Burke, Carol Lenchek, Bob Bricault, Diane Brown-Rytlewski, Elise Carolan, Linda Whitlock and Hal Hudson.

The Smart Gardening concepts are used in multiple ways across the Gardening in Michigan website, as well as other media sources, but the key to launching these messages is promoting them at booths at gardening shows across the state. The consumer horticulture team recruits Master Gardeners to work in the exhibit displays. The Master Gardeners engage people strolling by, share the messages and collect demographics and topics of interest from anyone viewing the display. Other educational opportunities are also presented by experts. Michigan State University (MSU) Extension news articles regularly feature the smart messages as well.

This year, Smart Gardening will be featured at four shows during the pre-garden season. All of you are encouraged to attend and invite gardening enthusiasts to learn more about the Smart Gardening principles. The upcoming shows include:

Cottage & Lakefront Living Show – Detroit
Suburban Collection Showplace
46100 Grand River Ave.
Novi, MI 48347
Feb. 26 ‒ March 1

West Michigan Home and Garden Show
Devos PlaceSmart Gardening Show
303 Monroe Ave NW
Grand Rapids, MI 49503
March 5 ‒ 8

Lansing Home & Garden Show
MSU Pavilion
4301 Farm Lane and Mt. Hope
East Lansing, MI 48823
March 19 – 22

Garden Extravaganza Gardening Conference
Northern Michigan University UP Campus
1401 Presque Isle Ave
Marquette, MI 49855
April 11

Smart Gardening events have reached a diverse audience by interacting with rural and urban audiences through events across the state; these public events drew people from more than 50 of Michigan’s 83 counties and two surrounding states. In addition, we’ve seen increased use of MSU Extension resources such as the Gardening in Michigan website and MSU soil test kits since the implementation of this program. Great work from the consumer horticulture team!

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Watch for a recorded overview of consumer hort innovations

Monday’s webinar also featured an overview of the great innovations coming from the consumer horticulture team. Rebecca Finneran, Extension educator in the Agriculture and Agribusiness Institute, provided the overview, but we had some technical difficulties with broadband capacity, so she has offered to record a repeat of her presentation and make it available for staff to use with garden clubs and in other public venues and to post on the Michigan State University Extension web site. We’ll plug it here and on our Monday webinar when it’s ready. Thanks to the consumer hort team for their creative and dedicated efforts to make MSUE “new”!

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New soil test self-mailers are a team effort

In a past Spotlight, I wrote about the efforts of the Consumer Horticulture Team to simplify the process by which consumers can submit samples of their soil for testing to get an accurate assessment of soil quality for their lawns or gardens. The result was a soil test self-mailer.

 Now, thanks to the hard work and creative efforts of the soil test team, the new Michigan State University Extension’s Home Lawn and Garden Soil Test Mailer (E3154) is now available through the MSUE Bookstore. Past kits handled lawns and veggies only. These new kits, strictly for homeowners, include all home and garden uses – lawns and veggies as well as trees, shrubs, annual flowers, perennial flowers or fruit.

 I want to thank the soil test team for their diligence in bringing this product to fruition.

 Back in 2006, Mary Wilson led an effort in MSU Extension Oakland County to increase staff efficiency, decrease turnaround time for soil-test customers and create consistency between counties in the soil-testing process. Of course, the main goal remained to protect water quality while helping people grow healthy plants. At that time, large counties would receive 600 to 800 homeowner soil tests to interpret. Mary submitted a regional Project GREEEN grant proposal to develop a related soil test website. Funded in 2007, website production involved Mary, Jeremy Lounds (the current programmer), Kevin Frank and Ron Calhoun.

 The Oakland County soil testing initiative led by Bindu Bhakta generated hundreds of homeowner soil samples. Consumers turned their samples in at local garden centers.

 Mary recalls, “We would then pick up the samples and deliver them to campus. It was a very inefficient and cumbersome process during a very busy time of year. We kept brainstorming about how to improve efficiency, make the program less cumbersome and be cost effective. During one of our brainstorming sessions with support staff person Linda Smith, we came across the idea of a soil test self-mailer based on one created by Clemson University. Bingo! We thought it would be great solution. And, we could couple the self-mailer with the soil-test interpretation website…”

 The soil test team includes Bindu Bhakta, Bert Cregg, Jon Dahl, Rebecca Finneran, Kevin Frank, Mark Longstroth, Jeremy Lounds, Cheryl Peters and Mary Wilson. Jennie Stanger and Allen Krizek were involved with the project before they retired.

 Bindu Bhakta became project leader in 2009, keeping the project moving and on track. Under her leadership, the project received additional funding from two MSUE PREF (Program Recovery Funds) grants for development and implementation. Both Bindu and the soil-test team members took this on in addition to their regular tasks, developing the soil test self-mailer and completing work on the MSU Soil test website so it could develop custom recommendations for home lawn and garden soil samples.

 How does the soil test kit work? Customers order a kit online from the MSUE Bookstore at http://web2.msue.msu.edu/bulletins2/product/soil-test-kit-selfmailer-1116.cfm. The cost is $25. The kit contains everything a home gardener needs to submit a soil sample for testing to the MSU Soil and Plant Nutrient Laboratory (SPNL). SPNL will analyze the sample and contact the customer through email. The email will contain a direct link to the MSU Soil Test website where the customer can view his or her fertilizer recommendation and any necessary pH modification instructions. Customers without email or Internet access will receive printed copies of their personalized recommendations from the SPNL. Counties may also order soil test mailers to sell through their offices.

 Thank you to all who made this project possible. With creative use of technology, our staff worked together to come up with an efficient solution.

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Master Gardeners answering questions statewide

In the past, anyone calling a local Michigan State University Extension office with a gardening question might have to get an answer from someone in a field other than consumer horticulture. That all changed when Master Gardener volunteers from Genesee, Kalamazoo, Kent, Livingston, Oakland and Washtenaw counties stepped up and generously donated their time to answering questions that come through the existing toll-free number. Now statewide, people can get answers to questions from a consumer horticulture expert concerning vegetable and flower gardening; lawns, shrubs and trees; indoor plants; and garden and house pests.

Bob Bricault, MSU Extension horticulture educator and project leader on this program, is proud of the Master Gardeners. Bob knows that change is often challenging, yet the volunteers took on this task – even though it was different from what they were used to – and accepted the challenge.

 Bob explained. “That’s what’s great about Master Gardener volunteers. They’re taking their training to educate the public, helping them make decisions that affect their lives and the environment.”

 A team of horticulture educators developed the state garden hotline. The team included Bob, Rebecca Finneran, Terry McLean, Gretchen Voyle, Linda Whitlock and Mary Wilson. The team has provided educational materials for answering the calls from across the state and helped with the planning and development process for the hotline. The team will use webinars for future training sessions for Master Gardener volunteers that are staffing the hotlines.

 The project is part of the targeted program through the Agriculture and Agribusiness Institute and just another example of how we use technology to provide Michigan gardeners and consumers with the information that they need to help them improve their lives.

 The MSUE Lawn and Garden Hotline uses the same toll-free number that people use to reach county offices: 1-888-MSUE-4MI (1-888-678-3464). It is answered weekdays between 9 a.m. and noon and 1 and 4 p.m. People who call during other times are directed to the “Ask an Expert” feature at http://www.migarden.msu.edu/.

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Consumer Hort Team delivers a (proven) winner!

I was impressed to see the rollout of the new soil test self-mailers during this week’s MSUE Redesign call. The idea is to simplify the process by which consumers can submit samples of their soil for testing to get an accurate assessment of soil quality from their lawns or gardens. Currently, a consumer needs to pick up a soil test envelope from the county office, place a soil sample into the envelope and then drop it off at the county office along with payment for the test. We have not had a standardized price for soil tests, so some consumers with a load of soil tests to submit would shop around among our county offices to find the ones that charged the least amount for their tests.

 Now, thanks to the Consumer Horticulture Team in the Agriculture and Agribusiness Institute, we have a standardized soil test envelope that can be purchased for a standard price of $20 either from the county offices or online from the Michigan State University Extension Bookstore or from retailers that choose to market the test envelopes. The envelope is already addressed and has postage applied that will ensure shipment directly to the MSU Soil and Plant Nutrient Lab on campus. Then the results will be made available to the consumer either through an email with the specific results, or if he or she wishes, through the county office. The emailed results will link to a website that gives more information on products the consumer may want to use and application rates for their situation.

 The Consumer Horticulture Team also previewed a new 1-800 hotline that will be staffed as a call center to address questions that consumers have about gardening, lawn care and other horticultural matters. The hotline will also address questions that come via email to a central email address or through the Ask an Expert application on our website.

 It’s great to see our colleagues challenging themselves to develop a statewide system for addressing horticultural information needs of consumers, and the results are very impressive. I’m looking forward to seeing the other innovations they develop as they meet the challenge of helping us to create the Cooperative Extension system that Michigan needs in the 21st century and doing so with limited resources. Thanks to the entire team for their leadership and drive to innovate!

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MSU Exension team annual reports win awards

Lovejoy, Steveby Steve Lovejoy, associate direct of programming for MSU Extension

As MSU Extension faces a major budget crisis, an important criterion for our future is our ability to tell the story of all the great educational programs we conduct, and all the assistance we provide to individuals, families, businesses and communities. One important venue for creating and delivering knowledge has been our area of expertise Teams. Over the past three years, teams have been asked to increase the reporting of the impacts of their educational initiatives, including quantitative measures of behavioral changes. Teams submit calendar-year reports that are due the following spring (be sure to log in to the portal before clicking that link). Teams are also being asked to develop logic models for their program area in order to clearly state the stakeholder need, the outputs and the desired changes or impacts. One manifestation of this increase in reporting has been more complete annual reports from each team. We hope that teams use this process not only as a reporting tool but also as an effective planning tool for their programming. Congratulations to all the teams for a job well done!

We recently finished the evaluation of the annual reports for 2008 and I am pleased to announce the Teams that won awards for their 2008 annual reports.
Best Annual Report: Land Use Team
Best Reporting of Quantitative Measures: Animal Agriculture and the Environment Team
Best Effort at Promoting Diversity: Christmas Tree Team
Most Improved: Consumer Horticulture Team

Each of these awards, in addition to the prestige and bragging rights, carries a financial reward that is added to the team’s base budget. Please join me in congratulating these four teams for their extraordinary efforts.

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Filed under Agriculture, Awards, Budget, Farming, Guest bloggers, Land use, Uncategorized