E. Cannon, Marion County. C. Mulvaney, Marion County. E. Harlow, Columbia County. T. Silvasy, Orange County., L. Duncan, Sumter County. H. Janney, Columbia County, H. Corbitt, Columbia County. M. Hunter, Marion County. A. Marek, Marion County. M. Bailey, Marion County. W. Wilber, State Specialist. G. Sachs, District Specialist.
Situation: Responding to the COVID-19 pandemic, Cooperative Extension professionals collaborated and adapted their program delivery to address current issues facing citizens. To address food insecurity concerns, a lack of gardening knowledge, and improve holistic wellbeing, the Victory2020 Garden Community was developed. This program aimed to increase participants knowledge of gardening and home food production techniques, build social connections, cultivate an online community, and improve participants well-being. Methods: The program ran from March 2020 through December 2020 and was open to everyone. Knowledge gain, behavior change, and relevant outcomes were captured through a survey at the conclusion of the program. The program was delivered via an eight module self-paced online course, use of social media, a book club, weekly one-hour workshops, and more than 5,000 hand-packaged seed packets mailed to participants. Results: 2,400 participants joined the Victory2020 Garden Community, representing over 40 US states, two US territories, and five countries worldwide. Survey respondents (n=285) reported the following: Their first ‘serious experience’ with gardening and growing food at home (70%), increased gardening knowledge (88%), consumed more fresh produce (73%), increased use of food safety techniques (82%), mental health improved (76%), physical activity improved (80%), saved money on fruits and vegetables (57%), reduced stress level (79%), an interest in future gardening (98%), and 3,000 pounds of food was grown from over 40 vegetable and fruit crops. Conclusion: The program created a collaborative global network of intergenerational, novice and experienced gardeners that reached over 225,000 individuals and families. This impactful program helped to create community and experiences that covered gardening basics, food processing and safety, historical importance, and career paths. This continues to serve as a way for people to connect with each other locally and across great distances. Further research could help to understand extensions’ long-lasting benefits of locally relevant programming during a crisis.