Five Counties Receive the Master Gardener Search for Excellence Award

Jasper, Linn, Scott, Story and Warren counties recognized for their education and outreach efforts

March 5, 2024, 12:53 pm | Alicia Herzog

AMES, Iowa – Five county programs with Iowa State University Extension and Outreach’s Master Gardener program have been awarded the Search for Excellence Award for their commitment to gardening education in local communities. 

The counties have won in the following categories:

  • Jasper County, Demonstration Garden
  • Linn County, Workshop/Presentation
  • Scott County, Youth/School Garden
  • Story County, Innovative Project
  • Warren County, Community Service Project

The Search for Excellence Award recognizes Master Gardeners who demonstrate outstanding contributions to their communities, providing significant learning and impact in the local area. All applications must show that significant learning took place, with the focus on educating the general public.

The Projects

Jasper County – 36 Master Gardeners and six community volunteers worked on the Inspiration Donation Garden to combat food insecurity in Jasper County. The Jasper County Master Gardeners working on the Inspiration Donation produced 1,946 pounds of produce in 2023 that was donated to food pantries serving the local community. Master Gardeners also provided educational programming at the Salvation Army in Newton, where participants were provided with “Garden-to-Go” kits to grow produce at home. Utilizing vertical gardening practices, Master Gardeners have created an innovative garden design that has been studied and duplicated by other county Master Gardener groups to increase production capacity without increasing the overall footprint of the garden. This project has leveraged support from Des Moines Area Community College Newton, Des Moines Area Community College Food Pantry, Salvation Army of Newton and community member Tim Onnen.

Linn County – 111 Master Gardeners have worked together to implement the annual Winter Gardening Fair. The Winter Gardening Fair provided 84 research-Linn County Master Gardeners organize plants at the annual Winter Gardening Fair, where they will educate over 400 community members through their day of research-based horticulture presentations.   based horticulture classes and engaged 460 participants from 111 cities in the past year. Since its inception in 2008, the fair has provided 665 classes to the community. The Winter Gardening Fair has also been used to serve under-represented community members by offering free tickets to community members fighting food insecurity, offering a discounted student ticket rate, operating a community seed swap at the event, and donating non-perishable foods to local homeless shelters. This event has leveraged support from Cedar River Garden Center, Forever Green, Pierson’s Flower Shop and Greenhouse, Hills Bank, Raygun and 34 community vendors or societies.

Scott County – 21 Master Gardeners worked on the Friendly House Project last year, supporting a partnership that has spanned 28 years. The Friendly House Scott County Master Gardeners.Project is a summer horticulture program through the Friendly House nonprofit in central Davenport that provides social services to families, children and senior citizens. The Friendly House project serves youth who have just finished grades K-5 by teaching them how to create and maintain vegetable and flower gardens. Forty children received hands-on experience growing produce that was shared at the Friendly House on-site food pantry and with families of the children involved in the program. Master Gardeners led weekly lessons that covered a range of gardening topics including germination, square foot gardening, botany basics, identifying plants, pollination and many others. The project leveraged support from in-kind donations and the Friendly House executive director, youth services directors, and program staff.

Story County – A project started by two Master Gardeners has grown to include eight Master Gardeners in the span of two years. The Israel Family Hospice House Story County Master Gardeners tend to one of their project was started by Lora Leigh Chrystal and Jennifer Leptien in collaboration with Pat Howell, volunteer coordinator for the Israel Hospice House. The project uses over 100 containers to provide an educational, tranquil and beautiful seasonal garden for Hospice patients, family members and staff. Master Gardeners worked together to design, select plants, install and maintain five distinct areas that included butterfly, produce, sensory, tropical and serenity gardens. The project leaders created a short video that brings to life the beauty and impact of the garden. This project leveraged support from the Israel Hospice House staff and in-kind and financial donations from nine external donors.

Warren County – 17 Master Gardeners worked together to create a new donation garden in Warren County that would provide fresh produce for residents Warren County Master Gardeners.experiencing food insecurity. The Growing Together Iowa Community Donation Garden started as an idea in the winter of 2022 and has since produced 858 pounds of produce for the Helping Hands Food Pantry. The garden was mindfully designed to include 10 raised beds that would make it accessible to all potential participants, including those with mobility impairments. Master Gardeners offered hands-on educational programming for food pantry clients that allowed them to take home tomato transplants in five-gallon ISU Extension and Outreach buckets to produce food from the comfort of their own homes. This project leveraged support from 11 community members, 12 youth volunteers, the Growing Together Iowa Mini-Grant program, United Way of Central Iowa, Farm Credit Services, City of Indianola, Ted Lare Garden Center, Boy Scout Group 122, Crouse’s Tree Service and a local individual donor.

Shareable photos: 1. Jasper County Master Gardeners. Jasper County Master Gardeners working on the Inspiration Donation Garden project prepare to distribute “Garden-to-Go” kits to food pantry clientele as part of the educational component of their service project.

2. Linn County Master Gardeners. Linn County Master Gardeners organize plants at the annual Winter Gardening Fair, where they will educate over 400 community members through their day of research-based horticulture presentations.

3. Story County Master Gardeners. Story County Master Gardeners tend one of the five gardens at their Israel Hospice House project aimed at improving the lives of hospice patients, families and staff.

4. Warren County Master Gardeners. Warren County Master Gardeners tend to their Growing Together Iowa Donation Garden that produces food for the Helping Hands Food Pantry in Indianola, Iowa.

5. Scott County Master Gardeners. Scott County Master Gardeners teach children about gardening through their hands-on summer program at the Friendly House in Davenport, Iowa.

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