URI Master Gardener Program Statewide Report

URI Extension Master Gardener volunteers educated between 15,000-20,000 Rhode Island residents in environmentally-sound gardening in 2016.  According to our survey, after interacting with URI Master Gardeners, these residents were more likely to identify plant problems before taking action against them, grow food plants and amend soils correctly.  

The URI Master Gardener Program received an international award for our school garden mentor program, increased the educational reach of our “learn locally” public presentations by 42%, and launched a brand new “Project Open House” event that attracted over 800 visitors to our demonstration gardens.  We invite you to read on for more about our accomplishments and look forward to serving the community in 2017.

URI Master Gardener Program Educational Reach 

Community Projects/ Demonstration Gardens


8,622 lbs of produce grown in teaching plots and donated to local food pantries by URI Master Gardener volunteers

School Garden Mentors


URI Gardening and Environmental Hotline


“Learn Locally” Public Presentations


Soil Testing

(note: doesn’t include hotline days of operation)

Public Information Kiosks


Garden Symposium


East Farm Spring Festival


International Award Winner: Desourdy School Garden Mentors

01051This project received international recognition in 2016 by winning first place in the youth category of the international “Search for Excellence” Extension Master Gardener contest. Through this program, specially trained URI Master Gardener volunteers are deployed as “school garden mentors” to provide technical guidance and ongoing support to improve school garden success. Since 2010, the project has grown to include 40 individual school partnerships in 22 municipalities that effectively educate over 12,400 children in grades pre-K -12 and 500 adults. Using the garden as a living laboratory, students learn how healthy nutritious food is grown, the role of pollinators and beneficial insects, safe food handling and other good gardening practices.

Testimonials from URIMGP Clients
Gathered from 2016 year end survey

  • “Being able to call or write the URI Master Gardeners is a fantastic contact and extremely valuable service offered by URI.”
  • “Keep on keeping on!!! I love your program and can’t wait to be able to work with you more as we begin to develop out school greenhouse/garden.”
  • “I enjoyed the small group seminar setting to learn about gardening and have my questions answered.”  “Testing soil at the farmers market was great. It would have been great to receive fact sheets on reducing water waste, or improving compost at the same time.”
  • “I am satisfied that when I have a problem, the URI Master Gardener Program people have been available and able to help me with my needs. In a recent year, I needed help during the time when the program is on vacation, but I sent an email because I sensed an emergency. Someone responded to my email because that person also sensed an emergency. And following the advice, I was able to save one of my houseplants.”
  • “You are a fabulous resource! Answering my little questions along the way is all I need.”
  • “Keep up with the fast (and thorough) answers to questions posed online through your email portal. Continue to offer local community clinics/sessions where we can learn and interact with your masters in person.”

Roger Williams Park Celebration of Cultures
Cultural diversity celebration at the Botanical Center

image00Visitors: 200

Seed Sort 2016
Seed orders filled for schools and nonprofit organizations: 711 The seed sort also furnished seeds to Community Gardens, to MG kiosks and demonstration projects, the RWP Botanical Center, to libraries, and to MG Projects for give-away to the public.

Vegetable Greenhouse
The vegetable greenhouse project donated 6246 plants to 65 school and community gardens (approx $7000 value), and offered over 10,000 plants for sale at the East Farm Festival.

Ornamental Greenhouse
The ornamental greenhouse project grew 8,477 perennial and annual plants. Of these, 1381 were grown from seed (compared with 739 in 2015). The balance were 919 overwintered perennials, and 7096 plants from plugs and cuttings. 19 varieties of pollinator annuals were donated to Desourdy School Garden Mentor schools, for a total of 420 plants.

Poinsettia Greenhouse
The URIMGP Poinsettia Project participated once again in the North American Poinsettia Trials. 3 breeders participated in our trials (Beekenkamp, Ball/Selecta and Dummen). We trialed 1577 plants and 500 plants were transported to the Roger Williams Botanical Center on November 21 for display. 149 plants were donated and delivered by our volunteers to numerous nursing homes throughout the state.

Year End Program Survey


The intent of the URI Master Gardener Program is to deploy volunteer educators in order to encourage Rhode Island residents to adopt environmentally sound horticultural practices. In order to determine the effectiveness of the URIMPG in meeting its mission and goals, an annual survey is sent out to all members of the general public who have interacted with EMGs in the past year (i.e. clients). The survey seeks to measure increase in knowledge and change in behavior amongst survey respondents, based on the program mission and goals (e.g. reduction in use of pesticides, increase in use of native plants). The program-level evaluation effort is dependent upon gathering of client emails statewide after each hotline call, public presentation or in-garden workshop, and/or educational outreach event.

The 2016 survey results will be serve as baseline data prior to the anticipated 2017 launch of a multi-year focus area for the URI Master Gardener Program. Our 2016 survey yielded a 20% return rate, with 1059 client emails collected and 220 survey responses recorded. This is an improvement to our 17% response rate in the pilot survey year of 2015, in which the survey was sent to 923 clients. This anonymous survey is distributed via email at year end to gauge changes in knowledge and behavior following client interaction with at least one URI Master Gardener volunteer at an approved event. See Figure 1 for a breakdown of survey respondent interactions with URI Master Gardeners by type in 2016.

The URI Master Gardener Program was successful in educating members of the general public in Rhode Island, with 94% of respondents reporting that they learned something new from a URI Master Gardener in 2016. Given the fact that 56% of survey respondents called or emailed the Gardening Hotline, it is no surprise that 52% reported that URIMG’s helped them solve problems in the garden. See Figure 2 for more details.  5 One major reason for surveying clients at the end of year is to determine if they did anything differently after interacting with URI Master Gardeners. Then we can decide if the activities of the URIMGP are causing positive behavior change and successfully meeting our mission.

We were most successful in encouraging people to adopt the following new behavior or increase the practices they were already doing:

  • Identify plant problems before taking action against them (47 ppl, or ~21%);

  • Grow food plants (32 ppl, or ~15%);

  • Amend soils correctly for vegetables, garden beds or lawn (31 ppl, or ~14%);

  • Use research-based resources to answer gardening questions (30 ppl, or ~14%); and

  • Choose plants/trees according to site conditions (26 ppl, or ~12%).

In 2017 we plan to begin addressing a trend toward increased drought during the growing season, and water quality as a persistent issue in local watersheds as two areas for increased education in future years.  To set a baseline, we asked people about changing behavior around using efficient irrigation methods and encouraging people to use plants/gardens to reduce stormwater runoff: 24 and 23 people, respectively, mentioned that they did not learn these practices, indicating an area of opportunity for us.

mapThe group responding to the survey tends to be highly educated (79%, or 147 ppl with college and/or advanced degrees), white (84%, or 155 ppl) with an intermediate gardening level (60%, or 113 people).  25% of respondents, or 50 people, identified as beginning gardeners.  In terms of age distribution, 79% of respondents were 51 or older.  While this profile certainly reflects some sampling error from self-selection, it is consistent with the channels through which we reach the public.  You can also infer from the map that we could reach a broader geographic distribution than we currently do.  We are making a concerted effort to reach low income individuals, of all ages, from diverse demographic backgrounds in our community garden connections, new offerings that focus on gardening for food (quality and savings), and more extensive partnerships including food banks and public libraries. 

Highlights from 2016

New Demonstration Projects

newdemoOverall, 1,500 people learned at our three newest URIMGP demonstration projects in Bristol, Middletown and Warwick. 900 native plants were established at the program’s most extensive native plant garden located at Norman Bird Sanctuary. 1300 lbs of food were grown at Mount Hope Farm for local food pantries, with extensive public education opportunities including an established presence educating at the on-site farmers market. A teaching vegetable garden was established to reach a new client base of formerly homeless individuals at our House of Hope Garden.

Project Open House

Spanning 16 projects and 10 municipalities, our first biennial Project Open House truly demonstrated the value of the Master Gardener Program to the state of Rhode Island.  This event highlighted our demonstration gardens as community resources.  Showcasing the creativity of the URI Master Gardeners, each garden featured a different interactive workshop topic and a chance to interact one-on-one with the public.  Many of the 800 people who attended were first-time visitors – and everyone learned something new!   One participating garden was featured in the local newspaper and inspired an “anonymous donor” to contribute toward year-round growing at the Middletown Library Community Garden with funds for a greenhouse.


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East Farm Spring Festival

East_Farm_festURI Cooperative Extension’s 15th annual URI East Farm Spring Festival saw over 4,000 individual attendees visit the farm over the course of the 4+ hour event. To maximize our time with such a large, captive audience, we set two major goals for the 2016 event:

To demonstrate the public value of the URI Master Gardener Program; and

To provide a variety of educational opportunities from existing URI Extension programs.

To achieve these goals, we tried new educational approaches, including: a Learning Walkway that featured themed “Ask a Master Gardener” Kiosks, six tours showcasing components of East Farm as one of URI’s Agricultural Experiment Stations, four hands-on gardening workshops in the URI Master Gardener Vegetable Demonstration Garden a project showcase exhibit highlighting the URI Master Gardener demonstration gardens throughout Rhode Island, and expanded energy-themed youth activities.

URI Extension program staff, students, and volunteers offered interactive exhibits across our programs. We collected feedback from visitors about their learning, and what they would do differently in future.

Results of the surveys demonstrated an increase in knowledge of a variety of gardening topics, and change in behavior related to adoption of ecologically-sound horticulture practices.

East Farm Festival Public Feedback

  • The kids’ projects were so wonderful. My 7 year old loved them all. I learned about native and invasive plants, local arboretums and that my soil needs help. Lime will become my best friend over the next few weekends or so!”

  • I had some ‘meaningful conversation’ with the lovely ladies at the container planting tent. Lots of helpful information. My 6 year old grandson loved all the learning projects for children

Increase in Knowledge

  • How to grow my own vegetables and herbs
  • It is possible to grow in urban environments, in containers
  • Plants are important to our environment!

Changes in Behavior

  • Protect pollinators
  • Plant native species
  • Start a garden
  • Use integrated pest management practices

EAST FARM FESTIVAL – Ornamental Greenhouse Public Education

This was our last year to sell hypertufa filled with succulents. Although sedums and sempervivum are wonderful pollinator plants, we have decided to turn our emphasis to native perennial pollinator plants. Along with our very successful pollinator informational display that the Saturday crew sets up, we also had two crew members answer questions at an informational table about our native perennials. Handouts were available to customers indicating which plants were host plants, which provided nectar and what kind of pollinators they attracted. Throughout the day all of our Ornamental crew were engaged with customers answering questions about plant care. As usual all of our annuals sold. We also sold 78% of our perennials despite the fact that many were not yet in bloom.