Search for Excellence in Consumer or Commercial Horticulture

Joe W. Willis
Extension Agent - Horticulture
LSU AgCenter
Orleans, Plaquemines, St. Bernard, Jefferson and St. Charles parishes

Willis, J.W.*1, , Timmerman, Anna E.2, , Dunaway, Christopher R.3,
1 Extension Agent - Horticulture, LSU AgCenter, New Orleans, LA, 70124
2 Extension Agent - Horticulture, LSU AgCenter, Jefferson, LA, 70117
3 Extension Agent - Horticulture, LSU AgCenter, Luling, LA, 70070

During the pandemic of 2020-2021, extension offices were closed to the public, face-to-face meetings were restricted and indoor gatherings of any size were forbidden. Simultaneously, adults and children were asked to stay home and schools were being closed. Worries about food supply and safety lead to a surge in home gardeners, many for the first time. As extension agents with multi-parish (multi-county) responsibilities, we needed to find a way to still provide services to over 1.3 million stakeholders. A needs assessment survey was performed We found there was a huge demand for information and directions on becoming a successful vegetable gardener.

Through email, phone calls and social networking, we were providing one-on-one advice to hundreds of stakeholders weekly and soon realized that we were giving the same information over and over and were not able to keep up with demand. We decided to create an online Home Gardening Course to help more people in a timely manner while reducing redundancy. The course consisted of: soil science, garden planning, botany, plant propagation, plant nutrition, entomology, plant pathology, pesticides, beneficials, and each vegetable family. It was a 10-week, 20 lesson course beginning in June and ending in August. Students registered online, received emails about the upcoming lessons and were given access to a Facebook Group set up specifically to provide the student-to-student and student-to-teacher interaction that is missing from pre-recorded online classes. Students were also given do-at-home labs and reported their results to the Facebook group. Though designed primarily to service Louisiana residents, we had over 35,000 people register from all 50 states and 70 different countries. Students who completed the course were emailed a Certificate of Completion. Because the pandemic restrictions caused a financial hardship to many residents, we made the course available at no charge.

Following the success of the Home Gardening Course and with feedback input from students, we followed with a Home Composting Course and have begun a new series called The Backyard Orchard with the first installment being Citrus. Using online courses, we have increased our stakeholder contact by more than 100 fold.