Tag Archives: gretchen voyle

MSU Extension’s digital presence makes impact

Our Michigan State University (MSU) Extension articles are gaining attention nationally and around the world. I’d like to highlight two articles that have made an impression online and especially through social media.

Dr. Julianna Wilson, tree fruit integrator/outreach specialist in the Department of Entomology, wrote an article about the brown marmorated stink bug (BMSB) “Report Sightings of Brown Marmorated Stink Bugs in Your Home or Business.” This pest can cause serious damage to crops. The invasive species’ presence in our state is a high-impact issue that was able to gain the attention it deserved because of our well-established digital presence.

As of Oct. 12, this article has had 96,500 pageviews since it was posted on Sept. 25, making it the seventh most visited article on the MSU Extension website overall. On Sept. 28, we had a record 25,594 visits in a single day (primarily because of this article). (We average 11,000 to 13,000 per day with a record of just under 15,000.) On Sept. 29, that record was broken with 42,812 visits (again spiked by this visit). At its peak, these numbers were growing by 100 pageviews every four minutes. Ninety-one percent of the traffic to the article has been from mobile devices. Average read time is 4:07, which means people are taking the time to read it and absorb what they’ve read. More than 67,000 of the visits to this article have come from social media. It has spurred more than 17,000 social media interactions.

The article asks readers to report any sightings of the stinky pest to the Midwest Invasive Species Information Network (MISIN). Before the article was posted, there were six records of BMSB in the MISIN database. As of Oct. 13, there were 1,860 records of BMSB from Michigan and northern parts of states that border us ‒ mostly from the Toledo, Ohio, and South Bend, Indiana, regions.

Julianna said, “What these numbers tell me is that social media played a huge role in getting the word out about the article, and then the fact that the MSU Extension website is mobile friendly helped keep people there and reading the article. The last two pieces that made this a success were having an established database for collecting reports and good timing. This is the time of year when the bug moves into people’s homes and they notice it. The fact that we have this well-established reporting site (MISIN) for invasive species meant that I didn’t have to create a way for people to report numbers to me ‒ the infrastructure was already in place.

“I plan to use this data to determine where other hotspots have been forming and to get the word out to growers in those areas that if they haven’t before, they should certainly be scouting for this pest next season,” she said.

One member of our MSU Extension Consumer Horticulture Team is getting the word out about a particular poisonous fruit. Extension educator Gretchen Voyle wrote an article for the MSU Extension website “What Fruit Is Growing on My Potato Plants?

As a potato disease specialist, I was particularly drawn to the article that talks about the phenomenon that occurs when potato plants produce fruit on top of the plants. In fact, one of the first questions I was asked when I got to MSU was about tomatoes growing on potato plants. It seems that our cool July weather was responsible for the fruit’s appearance this year. The alkaloid content of these fruits puts them into the “they are edible once” category. In other words, don’t eat them!

It seems that a lot of other people are interested in this as well.

Dennis Bond, manager of Web services in the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources let us know about the spread of Gretchen’s words warning people about the fruit.

Dennis said, “The article helped the MSU Extension website set a traffic record of 17,471 visits (previous record: 15,960 on June 1) though that record was broken seven days later by the article on the stink bug. It also set a social media record of 4,381 visits from social media sources, another record broken a week later. At its height in popularity, it was viewed on all major continents, in 2,040 cities across 100 countries in 63 languages.”

That gives us great perspective on the extensive reach of our MSU Extension website! Congratulations to Gretchen and to Julianna!

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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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Teams work together to attain ACE awards, present at conference

Many of our Michigan State University Extension colleagues will attend the Association of Communication Excellence (ACE) Conference in Portland, Oregon, June 24-27. And once again, many will be presented with ACE awards they have received.

A team from Agriculture and Natural Resources (ANR) Communications and ANR Technology Services received a silver award in the website category for our own MSU Extension website. Winners include Dennis Bond, Sean Corp, Michelle Lavra and Beth Stuever.

A silver award for a marketing communications campaign went to a team who worked together on the Smart Gardening Initiative. The team included Joy Landis, Mallory Fournier, Rebecca Finneran and Mary Wilson. The recipients developed a process for the Consumer Horticulture team to market Smart Gardening advice and expertise to reach a large number of Michigan gardeners. Additional staff who lend their expertise, time and effort to Smart Gardening include MSU Extension educators Bob Bricault, Diane Brown, Hal Hudson, Rebecca Krans and Gretchen Voyle. Entomology Professor Dave Smitley has also helped build the basis for the initiative.

A bronze award for a marketing communications campaign with a budget of $1,000 or more went to the team of Sean Corp, Katie Gervasi, Mariah Montenegro, Mindy Pratt, Paula Sheynerman and Beth Stuever, all of ANR Communications. The team won for “Extending the Reach of Michigan State University Extension.”

Congratulations to all winners!

In addition, a team from ANR Communications will be presenting at the conference. Sean Corp, Katie Gervasi, Mindy Pratt, Paula Sheynerman and Beth Stuever will present “Promoting Extension: They Come for the News: They Stay for the Programming” Wednesday, June 25 at 4:15 p.m.

Also, the Smart Gardening team of Joy Landis, Mallory Fournier, Rebecca Finneran and Mary Wilson will present “How a Message Campaign Produced a Team to Deliver Smart Gardening to a Smart Audience” Wednesday, June 25 at 11 a.m.

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Welcome news

I’ve mentioned in Spotlight about how well our Michigan State University Extension website is spreading the news. We celebrated passing the million mark back in November 2012. At its one-year birthday April 18, 2013, the site hit 1.8 million pageviews.

We can get excited about the numbers, but the success of the site lies in the content. We bring reliable research-based information to the public, and they keep coming back for more.

I noticed an article posted yesterday (October 16) by Extension educator Gretchen Voyle, titled “Your Garden Party of Fall Cleanup Tasks.” I was feeling like a slacker since I hadn’t gotten started on her “party” list until this past weekend. On the other hand, we haven’t had a killing frost yet, so the continuing blossoms in my perennial beds have made it easy to keep putting off some of the yard work.

I’m always tempted to leave the leaves where they fall and trust the wind to move them to places where they can rest and decompose on their own schedule. I’ve only done that once or twice in my life and the neighbors have given me those disagreeable looks as I’ve pulled out of the driveway in the morning. Gretchen’s advice makes this seem less demanding – using the mower to chop and blow leaves as much as possible, though I still find myself with windrowed piles that I need to move elsewhere.

And any article that lists “things not to do” is a favorite of mine. In this case, it’s fall pruning that Gretchen advises to put off to late winter or spring. There are a few shrubs in my yard that need some trimming, but with Gretchen’s counsel, I’m not procrastinating, but actually doing the prudent thing for my landscape.

Of course there are dozens of other bits of information and advice posted on our website every day, and that is what attracts the millions of page views that we’re pleased to document. Thanks to Gretchen and ALL who contribute articles for our website. They represent the strength of our programs and the breadth of topics and communities that we serve.

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Simple but smart

Many people tend their gardens and care for their lawns but not everyone knows how to approach these tasks in an environmentally friendly fashion that can save money. Michigan State University Extension educators and specialists are doing their part to make sure that folks become knowledgeable about earth-friendly, research-based lawn-care and gardening techniques through the Smart Gardening initiative.

MSU Extension Master Gardener volunteer Judy Workman (right) of Oakland County helps a client

MSU Extension Master Gardener volunteer Judy Workman (right) of Oakland County helps a client learn about using native plants in the landscape at the Cottage and Lakefront Living Show in Novi on February, 21, 2013. (Photo: Rebecca Finneran)

According to Extension educator Rebecca Finneran, it all started when MSU professor of entomology David Smitley said to her, “Rebecca, the commercial green industry folks are doing a great job of implementing MSUE research to help be better stewards of the environment but not homeowners ‒ why not?”

Rebecca realized that the message needed to be reinforced with home gardeners. Rebecca and the consumer horticulture team members’ desire to reach home gardeners about getting smart about the environment launched the Smart Gardening initiative. Throughout this campaign, the message of smart gardening comes across in everything they do.

Besides Rebecca and Dr. Smitley, other members of the Smart Gardening team include Bob Bricault, Mallory Fournier, Mary Gerstenberger, Gary Heilig (retired), Hal Hudson, Joy Landis, Carol Lenchek, Beth Stuever, Gretchen Voyle, Linda Whitlock and Mary Wilson.

The team’s directed outreach focuses on three simple messages: smart soils, smart lawns and smart plants. That’s it. Simple but smart.

The smart gardening team along with Master Gardener volunteers got out their smart messages to the public at Ag Expo and at home and garden shows in Novi and Grand Rapids that reached approximately 45,000 people. The educators delivered 16 mini-seminars at the two shows.

MSU Extension horticulture educator Mary Wilson (left) shares gardening expertise

MSU Extension horticulture educator Mary Wilson (left) shares gardening expertise Feb. 21, 2013, at the Cottage and Lakefront Living Show in Novi, Mich. This was just one of a series of 16 Smart Gardening lectures provided by MSU Extension staffers at two public shows in winter 2013. (Photo: Rebecca Finneran)

The Gardening in Michigan website redesign produced the Smart Gardening website where folks could not only access fact sheets and watch videos, but also leave their live questions in an “Ask an Expert” box. The team distributes electronic fact sheets across the state to all of the district coordinators who in turn give them to local leaders such as county commissioners who place them in e-newsletters.

The team and volunteers have had thousands of discussions with clients and have distributed nearly 32,000 Smart Gardening tip sheets. They’ve continuously reinforced the smart gardening message through public outreach, conferences, classes, seminars, media work, websites and day-to-day discussions. And of course, it’s all research-based.

Going forward, the team is collaborating with the Ohio State University Extension to pool resources to create an even stronger impact.

A Smart Gardening Conference will take place Sept. 14 in Marquette. Read more here.

The Smart Gardening initiative connects people to the tools they need to care for their lawns and gardens while protecting the earth and saving money as well.

MSU Extension Master Gardener volunteer Linda Dodge of Kent County directs a client

MSU Extension Master Gardener volunteer Linda Dodge of Kent County directs a client to learn more about reducing the use of phosphorous in her lawn March 1, 2013, at the West Michigan Home and Garden Show in Grand Rapids. (Photo: Rebecca Finneran)

 

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MSUE Consumer Hort Team wins eXtension award

With reduced budgets and staff and increased programmatic responsibilities, Michigan State University Extension staff must maximize limited time and resources to meet growing demands. With those challenges in mind, the MSUE Consumer Horticulture Team faced the daunting task of delivering science-based, environmentally sound information to more than 8 million gardeners. With a firm grasp of the importance of technology and a collaborative spirit, they not only met their responsibilities but also won an award for their efforts.

The consumer hort team along with Bindu Bhakta will receive the eXtension Working Differently in Extension Award Oct. 2 at the National eXtension Conference in Oklahoma City. The team consists of Bob Bricault, Rebecca Finneran, Gary Heilig, Hal Hudson, Gretchen Voyle, Linda Whitlock and Mary Wilson.

Senior Extension specialist Lela Vandenberg nominated the team for the award, which recognizes the team’s engagement with clientele, co-workers and others in new and different ways and the demonstrable impacts made. It provides an opportunity to show how the team works online and within a learning network.

In 2010, the team launched the “Gardening in Michigan”website as a platform to offer a variety of online classes and resources. The website now serves thousands of people. In early 2011, the team decided to add an Ask an Expert (AaE) widget to the website’s front page. But before they put up the widget, they would need experts to answer the questions. The team worked with the MSUE eXtension Institutional Team to develop an AaE training process suited for advanced Master Gardeners. Fifteen Master Gardener volunteers were recruited and trained online in Adobe Connect, allowing the launch of the AaE widget in June 2011. Through the widget, the team answered more than 700 questions in 13 months.

But the team did not stop with the widget. Thinking a statewide hotline to answer gardeners’ questions a good idea, they used technology to link existing county hotlines together under one toll free number to provide the service 24/7 to all counties. Having the hotline required more training for more volunteers. The training established uniformity and quality control. Within one year, calls increased by one thousand, and the hotline has served clients from 80 percent of Michigan’s 84 counties. I wrote about the hotline in a previous Spotlight.

You’ve also heard me talk about the new soil test self-mailers in a previous Spotlight. The team created the kits provided with a postage-paid return mailer consumers can purchase online from the MSU Extension Bookstore. The consumer mails the soil sample in to the MSU Soil and Plant Nutrient Lab. Once the folks at the lab analyze the sample, the consumer receives an email with results and access to an interactive website, which provides customized fertilizer calculations, instructions on correct application and links to AaE and additional resources on the Gardening in Michigan website.

Additionally, the team redesigned the Master Gardener program to reduce volunteer management time and create a statewide, easy-to-replicate program integrating a hybrid in-person and electronic delivery method. These efforts will lead to greater focus upon the educational products, which translate to more trained Master Gardeners and increased involvement of those volunteers in local community development projects.

 When asked about the team, Lela said, “MSUE’s Consumer Horticulture Team is an inspiration to all of the MSUE work teams and a model for working smarter with reduced resources. They have risen to the challenge when faced with cuts in budget and personnel, and creatively implemented transformational change in the way we satisfy the educational and informational needs of Michigan gardeners. The team deserves this award!” I couldn’t agree more. We owe them a great debt of gratitude for their leadership in helping to transform MSU Extension.

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Extension will wow participants at Ag Expo with new information and experiences in CANR Tent

Michigan State University Extension looks forward to having a big presence at the 33rd Ag Expo this year. The event runs July 17–19 at the corner of Mt. Hope and Farm Lane on the MSU campus.

Faculty, educators and specialists will be on site, offering educational sessions and demonstrations. The College of Agriculture and Natural Resources (CANR) Tent will brim with educational exhibits and demonstrations from the Master Gardener Volunteer Program, Firewise, the Farm Information Resources Management Team, AgrAbility, 4-H Youth Development, the Health and Nutrition Institute and others.

Master Gardener staff members and volunteers will present gardening sessions: Gretchen Voyle on tomato diseases, Hal Hudson on drip irrigation and Jarred Morris on cucurbit downy mildew.

Breakfast on the Farm, led by Extension educators Mary Dunckel and Nancy Thelen, will present a large walk-through experience showcasing what Extension is doing to educate consumers about modern food production.

Joyce McGarry, Extension educator, will present food preservation tips.

James Whaley, a Bryon 4-H’er and entrepreneur, will educate visitors about raising poultry.

And to answer any other visitors’ questions, Extension experts will staff the “Ask an Expert” booth.

Don’t leave the Expo without your free MSU Dairy Store ice cream. Donations for the ice cream go to the CANR Alumni Scholarship Fund.

Ag Expo, Michigan’s largest outdoor farm show, gives us another opportunity to reach out to Michigan residents.

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