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Delivering Programs during a Pandemic

This has been quite an interesting year, especially for programming. While not much has changed for me in conducting site visits and on-farm research trials, my urban Ag programs have had to evolve.  Each year, Bibb and Houston County work together and offer the Master Gardener class. This year’s class was rocking and rolling when we started hearing about this new virus that had emerged in China. One of my Master Gardener trainees emailed me asking if we had a contingency plan for the class with the threat of COVID-19. This email came to me back in February when we were still learning about the virus. I shrugged it off and told him that we would follow UGA guidelines should a pandemic happen. Fast forward a month and all the classes and demonstrations we planned for this spring and summer came to a screeching halt. With the Master Gardener class, we had made it all the way to the mid-term. For those of you who do not have a Master Gardener program, we go for 12 weeks meeting each Thursday from 9am to 4pm. As part of the state requirements, Master Gardeners have to pass a midterm and final. After two weeks of the class not meeting, and no possible face to face meetings happening in the near future; Karol, Kathy, Christine and I put our heads together and started planning how we were going to finish this class. We decided we would continue using Zoom which would allow us to cover the materials for them to pass their final. This would eliminate the hands-on component, but we would be able to finish up the class and get them on their way to becoming a Master Gardener Extension Volunteer. We decided to meet on Zoom twice a week for 3 hours. As many of you know 3 hours is about the limit for a Zoom meeting. For the most part meeting with the class through Zoom went well, of-course there were a few hiccups as always with Zoom, but we were able to finish the program and all the trainees passed their final. We are hoping to add the hands-on component later this year.

Along with the Master Gardener class, each year our office offers a Gardening with the Masters Series for the home gardener, as well as youth gardening classes at the local libraries. Of course thanks to COVID-19, we could no longer teach these demonstration classes face to face. Like many of you, I have struggled with how to continue to deliver programs and classes when we cannot meet face to face. As Christine and I scratched our heads on how to continue teaching these classes, a request came in from the youth director at the Perry Library for virtual summer programming. We were already on the schedule to come and teach the pre-teen homeschool kids how to make a container fairy garden, so that became our first demonstration video goal. Look back, I am glad we agreed to help with the virtual summer programs because this gave us the push that we needed to get started.

Our first video was a little rough, but it got the job done. We set everything up as we would for an in-person demonstration and recruited Jeff Cook to come and film. Our first video seemed to be well received with over 300 views on Facebook. We were scheduled to produce 2 more videos, an additional one for the Perry Library and one for Robins Air Force Base Library. We decided that we wanted our videos to look more professional, so I started playing around with video editing software. With each video we do, we learn new things and our videos get a little smoother each time. We are using both a standalone video camera and cell phone camera, PowerPoint and the Windows Photos software to edit the videos. As we continue providing virtual programs, Christine and I plan on trying new things such as live classes. We are still learning and are by no means experts at this, but it has opened my eyes to some new possibilities in program delivery. COVID-19 has forced us into delivering virtual programs, but we plan on continuing to offer similar programs even after we return to normal.