T. Silvasy, UF/IFAS Extension Orange County, M. Iyer, Center for Land Use Efficiency, E. Harlow, UF/IFAS Extension Colombia County, M. Hunter, UF/IFAS Extension Marion County, W. Wilber, Center for Land Use Efficiency.
Situation: Interest in gardening skyrocketed as people dealt with food insecurity and the transition to working from home in a socially distant manner. Many individuals were isolated and felt a need for social interaction with others with similar interests. Methods: The Victory2020 Garden (VG) book club was created to provide opportunities for people to meet and discuss topics of mutual interest with guidance from UF/IFAS Extension agents. The book club began in partnership with the Florida Master Gardener Volunteer Program. Later the VG team chose to operate independently to focus on titles more specific to vegetable gardening. Meetings were held on Zoom periodically to connect as a group and discuss the title. Books included Foodscaping by Brie Arthur, Pollinator Friendly Gardening by Rhonda Fleming Hayes, and How to Grow More Vegetables by John Jeavons. Two to three book chapters were discussed at each meeting and event reminders were posted in the VG Facebook group. Results: Eleven book club meetings were held between May and Nov., 2020. Over 250 participants attended live to join the discussion, with an average of 14 participants per meeting. This was one of five program delivery methods of the VG program. Of 2,400 participants we surveyed, 285 responded. Findings showed 88% increased gardening knowledge and 79% reduced their stress level during COVID. Survey comments expressed appreciation for the expertise of their local Extension agents and feelings of connectedness with others. Quotes included “I have truly felt like I have a new community” and “I loved the book club!”. Conclusion: The book club created a unique experience which allowed people to learn about gardening, share their experiences and feel a sense of connection during a time of isolation. Members enjoyed being part of a community and interacting with their local extension agents.