Award Winning Projects from Durham County Master Gardener Volunteers

Two projects led by Durham County Extension Master Gardener volunteers were recognized for excellence during the 2023 International Master Gardener Conference, hosted by the Kansas State University Extension Master Gardeners of Johnson County, held in Overland Park, Kansas, June 18 – 22, 2023. The awards were presented during the conference, which was attended by 1,130 Extension Master Gardeners and Extension professionals from 44 states, Canada, and England.

The David Gibby International Search for Excellence Awards, named in honor of the founder of the Extension Master Gardener program, recognize exemplary group projects that show significant learning by the Master Gardeners or the public. The award-winning projects showcase the efforts and talents of Master Gardener volunteers, often providing economic, environmental, educational, and health impacts. These innovative projects frequently serve as models, influencing the development of Extension Master Gardener-led programs worldwide.

The awards are divided into seven categories:

  • Community Service
  • Demonstration Gardens
  • Innovative Projects
  • Research (Applied Scientific Methodology)
  • Special Needs Audiences (Senior, Disabled Audiences or Horticultural Therapy)
  • Workshops or Presentations
  • Youth Programs

Durham Master Gardeners placed in the following categories:

Demonstration Gardens, 3rd place for “Cocoa Cinnamon Container Garden Project.”

Cocoa Cinnamon, a coffee shop located near the Cooperative Extension office, is a small business in a busy urban area. The business’s outdoor seating area is defined by many container plantings. During the COVID-19 pandemic, Extension Master Gardeners approached the business owners and asked if they would be interested in a partnership to provide educational opportunities by revitalizing the containers. Volunteers improved drainage in the containers, added a custom planting mix, chose plants suited for the location, and added irrigation to the planters, creating a beautiful and educational space on a bustling corner.

Their goals for the project included:

  • Designing and implementing a container demonstration garden in an exposed urban location, which Master Gardener volunteers could then use as an educational tool for urban residents, a previously underserved audience.
  • Providing Master Gardener volunteers an opportunity to dive deep into university-based research while also bringing creativity to bear in problem-solving a real-world horticultural challenge.
  • Experimenting with soil mixes and using tools such as a soil thermometer and a moisture meter to gather data to test research-based practices in urban conditions specific to downtown Durham.
  • Creating low-maintenance plantings that provide screening from traffic and construction, as well as noise amelioration, for the outdoor sitting area.
  • Engaging the community in the project to improve the quality of people’s lives, a core-component of Extension’s mission.

While many volunteers came together to make the project a success, a core team was responsible for organizing the project. This team included Deborah Pilkington (Leader), Beth Austin, Cathy Halloran, Peter Gilmer, Mary Knierim, and Jackie MacLeod.

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Innovative Projects, 3rd place for “Creating Connection: Education through Social Media & Blog Outreach During the Pandemic & Beyond.”

Based on lessons learned during the pandemic and a desire to further increase their reach and impact, Extension Master Gardeners in Durham County created a united communications team that expands and coordinates the efforts of their individual social media and blog committees. By uniting these committees they are able to produce timely, high-quality, and scientifically-based content for a readership that includes gardeners of all experience levels. 

Together, their online content reaches a diversity of audiences with different but complementary content. Through social media, they engage broader and often younger audiences with easy-to-digest pictures and stories, while the blog allows them to share more in-depth content via longer articles. Posting links to their blog content on social media resulted in their online outreach reaching new heights in 2022, including: 

  • a record 1,796 followers and 19,353 unique viewers on Facebook, 
  • a record 1,416 followers and 5,904 unique viewers on Instagram,  and
  • unprecedented engagement on their blog, with weekly posts hitting 105,590 views and 81,693 unique viewers. This is a 42% increase in overall views compared to 2021.

With contributions from many volunteers, the 2022 blog leadership (including Melinda Heigel and Ann Barnes) and Social Media team (including Ariyah April, Lalitree Darnielle, and Logan Seay) did an amazing job streamlining communication to reach more people.

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NC State Extension Annual Report: