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/.
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!