Journal of the NACAA
Volume 6, Issue 2 - December, 2013
Organizing Extension Fact Sheets Into A Comprehensive Gardening Publication
- Wagner, K., Horticulture Agent, Utah State University
Olsen, S., Agriculture Agent, Utah State University
Counties with high population densities are often faced with the challenge of balancing high consumer demand for gardening information and limited staffing available to answer individual questions. Over-the-phone diagnostics can be a challenging and time-consuming activity and recommendations often involve basic garden management practices. In an effort to provide answers to common gardening questions, three Utah State University Extension faculty members co-authored A Guide to Common Gardening Questions in 2013. This 107 page guide walks readers through the basics of fruit and vegetable gardening in northern Utah. Information from Master Gardener lectures, Extension fact sheets and other research-based gardening resources was compiled, organized and summarized into concise well-labeled sections, using layman terms. The purpose of the publication was to guide beginning gardeners through seasonally relevant gardening information and to refer readers to fact sheets online for additional information.
Extension horticulture faculty members are often challenged by the need to adapt Extension outreach efforts to meet increasing demand for gardening information in areas with high population densities. Difficulty arises when Extension educators strive to provide gardening information to all segments of the public but have limited time available to answer public gardening questions. High volumes of person-to-person consultations via phone or Extension office visits can overwhelm staff and are not always the preferred methods of the public for receiving gardening information from Extension. A recent needs assessment survey conducted in Salt Lake County, Utah (2010 US Census population: 1 million) at a popular home and garden show found survey respondents preferred to access information from Extension via online factsheets followed by emailing a knowledgeable gardener and attending classes. Only about a third of respondents preferred calling a helpline and few responded they preferred to travel to the Extension office (Wagner and Kuhns 2013). The majority of person-to-person Extension programming in Salt Lake County is conducted during regular business hours making it difficult for residents with full-time employment to participate. A 2013 report by EzPlug Analytics of data collected between January 1, 2013 and September 4, 2013 (Figure 1) of online visits to the USU Extension website (extension.usu.edu) found the greatest volume of online hits occurred between the hours of 3 pm and 2 am with a peak time of 7 pm to 8 pm.
Figure 1. EzPlug analytics report of data collected between January 1, 2013 and September 4, 2013 of online visits to extension.usu.edu website showing hours of greatest internet activity.
A survey conducted at a flower show by Kelley and Wehry (2006) of preferred gardening information sources in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania reported survey respondents preferred to ask friends, family, or neighbors for gardening information followed by garden center staff and gardening books. University websites and Extension offices were not popular choices among respondents. Although online publications, like fact sheets, are a convenient and self-guided educational option for residents with internet access, fact sheets must be well-organized online to facilitate public navigation of information. Novice gardeners may not be familiar with technical terms used by Extension faculty and may not associate fact sheet titles with content. In effort to deliver research-based gardening information to the residents of northern Utah, three USU Extension faculty members co-authored A Guide to Common Gardening Questions (Figure 2) which walks readers through gardening basics using layman’s terms. The authors took advantage of the opportunity to refer readers to relevant online fact sheets as they associated with topics discussed throughout the guide. This structure enabled Extension educators to help readers navigate online publications and facilitate their independent research of answers to common gardening questions.
Figure 2. A Guide to Common Gardening Questions front cover.
The authors of A Guide to Common Gardening Questions had six main objectives.
- Provide research-based gardening information using layman's terms.
- Present step-by-step gardening recommendations that follow the gardening season and seqentially walk readers through garden considerations from site selection to fall garden turn-down.
- Continuously reference online Extension fact sheets that associate with topics summarized throughout the guide.
- Present information in a spiral bound, transportable size (8.5 by 5.5 inches) with water resistant pages for convenient transport in a purse or backpack and use in the garden.
- Attract the eye of the target audience with a garden chic theme and eye catching photos.
- Appeal to a target audience of beginning gardeners, community gardeners, gardening families, school gardeners and Master Gardeners.
A Guide to Common Gardening Questions: Step-by-step recommendations for successful vegetable and fruit production in northern Utah was co-authored by two USU county Extension faculty members and one USU Extension specialist. Graphic design and lay-out of the guide were completed by USU marketing designers. Guide development was funded by a $10,000 USU Extension grant (Figure 3). Complimentary printed copies of the guide were distributed at the 2013 Utah Green Industry Conference in January 2013 to 29 nurseries along the Wasatch Front and 30 community garden managers in Salt Lake County along with a program evaluation survey (Figure 4). Printed copies of the guide were also distributed to 33 USU Extension offices and facilities. Eleven USU County Extension offices ordered the guide to have available for Master Gardener programs and public purchase. In addition, 14 garden centers and botanical garden gift shops in Utah and Wyoming ordered books for public purchase and the guide was offered for sale through the online USU Extension shopping cart at http://extension.cart.usu.edu. An initial printing of 800 books was distributed in three months. The initial printing was sold-out by the end of March 2013 and 1,000 additional copies were printed soon after. USU Purchasing and Brigham Distributing signed an agreement to distribute the guide in the book trade including local Barnes and Noble stores. Advertisement space was purchased in the Davis County Clipper and Edible Wasatch magazine and, due to a complimentary copy having been sent to an interviewer, the guide was featured in an article by the Standard Examiner newspaper which covers local news of several northern Utah counties. To date, approximately 1,000 books have been sold or distributed throughout Utah and Wyoming. An agreement was signed with USU Press and University Press of Colorado to distribute the guide as an e-book. The e-book format will feature hyperlinks that direct readers to online fact sheets.
Figure 3. A Guide to Common Gardening Questions budget.
Figure 4. A Guide to Common Gardening Questions evaluation survey.
The authors met early in the writing process to discuss content and basic organization of the guide. Information was gathered from Master Gardener lectures, Extension fact sheets and other research-based gardening resources. The authors also included discussion on gardening questions frequently asked by the public during classes, phone conversations and email correspondance. Guide content is divided among four main chapters: garden preparation, garden soil, garden maintenance, and nutritional benefits and resources (Figure 5). Additionally a ‘Top 10 Questions and Answers for Fruit and Vegetable Gardening in Northern Utah’ section is included at the front of the guide and a ‘USU Resources and Cited Fact Sheets’ section and index are included at the back of the guide (Figure 6). The total guide length is 107 pages. Photographs were either contributed by USU Extension faculty or printing rights were purchased from professional companies; photo permission was obtained for use of all images. The guide was peer-reviewed by a non-contributing faculty member and disseminated surveys asked for input from Extension faculty, nursery professionals, and community gardeners on feedback and necessary edits. Several suggestions have been contributed and edits have been made prior to new printings of the guide.
Figure 5. A Guide to Common Gardening Questions table of contents.
Figure 6. ‘Top 10 Questions and Answers for Fruit and Vegetable Gardening in Northern Utah’ and ‘USU Resources and Cited Fact Sheets’ sections.
A Guide to Common Gardening Questions was presented in March 2013 at the USU Extension Annual Conference in Logan, Utah and has since been adopted by 11 USU county Extension offices. Twenty surveys have been returned from the USU Extension offices, nurseries and community garden managers that recieved complimentary copies. On a numerical 1-8 scale with 1 representing not useful and 8 representing very useful, responses averaged 7 for the usefulness of the guide in answering gardening questions from the public (Table 1). Survey respondents reported an average of 14.5 years experience educating the public on gardening topics. On a numerical 1-8 scale with 1 representing not likely and 8 representing very likely, responses averaged 7 for likelihood of recommending the guide to other gardening educators in Utah. Survey respondents provided many helpful comments and suggestions (see Table 1).
Table 1. Evaluation survey results for A Guide to Common Gardening Questions.
A Guide to Common Gardening Questions: Step-by-step recommendations for successful vegetable and fruit production in northern Utah was co-authored by three USU Extension faculty members to facilitate the public in answering common edible gardening questions. Guide content follows the growing season and sequentially steps readers through gardening recommendations using layman terms. Readers are directed to fact sheets as guide content relates to information provided in relevant publications located online. This structure enables Extension educators to guide readers through research-based gardening recommendations without the need for person-to-person consultation.
Kelley, K.M., & Wehry, R.H. (2006). Consumer interest in gardening topics and preferred information sources. Journal of Extension, 44(2).
Wagner, K., & Kuhns, M. (2013). Meeting horticulture clientele interests in an urban setting: A needs assessment for reduced pesticide and pollinator education in the greater Salt Lake area. Journal of the NACAA, 6(1).
U.S. Census Quickfacts Data for Salt Lake County, Utah. (2010). Available at: http://quickfacts.census.gov/qfd/states/49/49035.html.