How to get the information out?

Over the last two weeks I’ve been dwelling on the information that people get about gardening from various sources.  I’m not talking about really serious gardeners – I’m talking about the guy  down the block who might grow six tomatoes, two cucumbers, and a head of lettuce.  He’s got 6 trees on his property and he keeps his lawn nice, but not immaculate, by mowing weekly and fertilizing and applying herbicides once a year.  Where is this guy getting his gardening information?  Can we (and by we I mean scientists like the garden professors) do something more than we currently are to reach him so that he’s using up to date information?

A couple of days ago I walking into the place where I get my taxes done – I’ve had the same person doing my taxes for the last 14 years or so and I’ve become friendly with her – and, after we got the paperwork done she introduced me to the receptionist by saying that I speak and write books about gardening.  The receptionist (who doubled as the cashier) wanted to know more so I said “You know Jerry Baker?”  She said “yes, I have a bunch of his books and I just bought a set for my father.”  I said “Oh…Well I’m the guy who tells you that most of Jerry’s remedies don’t work.

She didn’t seem particularly impressed with me (and the cost of filing my return was higher than usual – coincidence?)

Anyway, my question to you is, how do we reach people like that?

21 thoughts on “How to get the information out?”

  1. Some people can’t be reached. I’m a Master Gardener Volunteer with the Cornell CCE which involves a lot of training and continuing education. I have also been gardening for about 40 years. A good friend of mine for the last 20 years has a degree in Environmental Chemistry so he should be able to distinguish good practices from bad. I still can’t convince him to:

    1. Not mow the lawn so short.
    2. Not collect the clippings.
    3. If you do collect the clippings don’t pile them up in the heavy shade under the trees.
    4. The smell in the back yard is grass clippings that are rotting, not composting.

  2. You’re doing it right now! You may think your audience is all hardcore gardeners, but this site is just as findable in search engines and from links from other sites as all the rest. Write in an accessible way, with helpful information, and the novices will find it when they look.

  3. I think Derek’s comment is spot on. Although I like to think I’ve come a long way, I can admit that a few years ago I could have been fairly described in the same manner as “that guy down the block” that you are trying to reach and yet here I am posting on your amazing site.

  4. Advertise! Do radio spots that compete with the garden “entertainers” that are mainly selling products. Talk to local TV stations about having Profs and MGs do talk shows with viewer call segments. Contact the local newspapers with interesting and timely tidbits. If the local government website has the ability, have them add a link to Ask an Expert (provided the local MGs & Profs can handle the questions.) Look at how Jerry Baker’s publications are put together and advertised and compete with them. (How about a “Garden P
    rofessors Gardening Tips” series of booklets? Get Holly to write the promos and you’ll have ’em standing in line to buy!)

    There will always be people who think Uncle Fred’s way of doing things is the best because he’s been doing it that way for decades. Those people you probably won’t be able to reach, no matter how hard you try. But there are many people out there who want to “do it right” and they can be reached. They just have to know where to find us.

  5. I echo the thoughts of the previous commenters. Keep doing what you’re doing. Perhaps, in addition, if you have the time and your University is supportive, consider becoming a “go to” person for information for your local newspaper, TV and radio stations. Dr. Raupp, entomologist at the University of Maryland is a frequent guest on local news programs in the Washington D.C. area. Do a “Horticulture Myth” series with one of the hosts on Home and Garden channel, or PBS stations. When Jerry Baker appears, send an email to editors/producers linking to one of your debunking posts here, or at the Garden Rant, or eXtension. I think it boils down to basic marketing – you’ve already got the brand down.

    Encourage your colleagues at other Land Grant Universities to do the same.

    It is discouraging to see bad information on the or EHow sites.

  6. Hmmmm . . . . , how many millions have been spent over the years on campaigns to get people to quit smoking, eat healthy, exercise, don’t drink and drive, etc., etc., etc. People are going to do what they’re going to do until that “teachable moment” arrives. The best we all can do is to keep the information out there (as all four of you do via your various efforts) for that moment when the receptionist’s neighbor’s neighbor comes across one of your columns and passes it along! Continuing kudos to the four of you!

  7. This blog is very helpful. Like KennyS, I’m a master gardener, and we try to have tables set up at most of the local area farmers markets. If we don’t have a fact sheet on our Clemson site, I might refer them to your blog if you’ve recently covered a topic that they’re inquiring about. You also help educate the rest of us who are slightly more knowledgeable. Thx!

  8. Free publicity can only be achieved by figuring out how to turn your info into infotainment- the content that serves for news in most of US media.

    Only other venue I know is through schools- somehow get to the children with gardening programs, which I’m sure you are doing.

    Oh, and if you can get the Scotts Co. and other conglomerates to go along with you to some degree as they are often the source of the problem.

    Think of ways to combine their commercial interests with better practices. You sure can’t beat them.

  9. Thanks for all the comments! K — mythbusters is my favorite show so I’m all over that idea. And SandyG — you’re echoing my thoughts! Why isn’t extension competing head to head with the Jerrys of the world?

  10. Lack of funds and bureaucracy! Sad, isn’t it? The universities and extension offices should be screaming from the roof tops but instead we can only afford and/or get permission for the freebie whispers.

  11. Sometimes you can explain and explain but it doesn’t sink in. One of my customers lived in a mcmansion subdivision and had the generic landscaping plants installed. Holes in landscape fabric way too small for planted shrubs/rock mulch/wrong shrubs in some spots. I tried to explain over the years some of the corrective pruning actions I was taking but in the end he had his lawn service just whack/top a viburnam I spent three years correcting the pruning. Some people will not listen to sound advise period. Local newspapers need to do a much better job and print article not off the news feed but listen to the locals. Easy said than done.
    You however do a great job & I really appreciate all the information on this site.

  12. Back to the receptionist’s reaction: Dude, you were not funny. You can’t ever dish our fave media icon unless we beg you for info and even then it has to be with self deprecating humor. Hint that there are other more up to date sources. Tantalize us with possibilities. But always with that vein of humor.

  13. My 85-year-old mother just told me how much she loves to watch “Science Friday” on NPR–and she doesn’t have a scientifically-inclined cell in her body, nor does she seek out that kind of info in newspapers, magazines or books. She loves Ira Flatow and his presentations though (hmmm, maybe she just likes Ira Flatow–not going there!). So maybe different media approaches are good, geared towards lay-gardeners or just householders with yards in general. Your blog is fantastic, but I think one has to be looking for something like it to find it.
    Also, I know from living with a research scientist for 30+ years and hanging out with his colleagues that some are better at communicating with non-scientists than others.Communicating scientific ideas to the non-scientifically-inclined is a special talent!

  14. Well, speaking as a former tax accountant, for 18 years I was precluded from my gardening passion until at least April 15th and increasingly couldn’t get my energy up until July 15th. I would have been overcome with jealousy upon hearing that someone was fortunate enough to make a living doing what I could only do outside of tax season. During those years, which have mercifully ended now, my only connection to my beloved garden was reading about it in whatever garden books I could get my hands on. Now that I’ve had the opportunity to take the Master Gardener training, I have new respect for science-based gardening information and research. Perhaps in this age of smart phones, you could keep photos of happy, health gardens produced with science-based methods on your phone and lure curious gardeners in with your photos, telling them, “ I teach people how to have a garden like this . . .”

  15. You are well on your way. The side that you don’t always see is all of us, talking with all of our friends/neighbors/coworkers and encouraging them to think about what practices or products they are buying into. I just started reading your book (awesome, by the way), and already we’ve had some robust discussions during break at work. All of this isn’t a formal way of getting the info out, but it does happen, and I do believe it is valid. Another idea (I sort of dislike facebook, so I cringe to suggest it) how about being able to either make a blog entry share-able or like-able on facebook, etc.? Might reach the younger gardening generations (like myself). Continue to partner with MGs, too. While all of us put in our official hours, how many of us are also talking about gardening with folks around the clock? I’m in the landscaping profession and people ask me gardening questions every week in an unofficial capacity. You may not get the info to the tax lady or the guy down the street directly, but a friend of an MG might…

  16. Oooo – I like Jam’s idea of making a blog entry Facebook-“likeable”. Also not big on FB, but I’m there & only “like” the stuff that I really, truly LIKE. My FB friends who know I’m into gardening AND science would certainly pay attention to things like that.

  17. Get the info out to the nurseries. A local independent nursery near me has a whole pile of info sheets available on the way out the door. One on how to plant a tree includes plenty of good info along with the following statement – “Fill the planting hole and cover the rootball with native soil (dug from the hole) that has been amended with 20% by volume of garden compost, composted manure OR peat moss…” How many people pick that up?

    So make up fact sheets for standard information, that doesn’t vary by region, and offer them up to nurseries. “Do it right the 1st time! Yard care from the Garden Profs -information from the people who REALLY know” or couch it in some environmentally friendly terms that will make the big box stores look good so they’ll put up a stand outside their nursery departments and then you’ll really be reaching a lot of people.

  18. Convincing the public is one piece of the puzzle. How about educating professionals in the green industry? I’ve worked in the retail end for close to 20 years and I am amazed at the misinformation being given out by those who know very well what the science says. From being in a position where I would always deal with customer’s plant problems, many of the problems would not exist if the customer was given proper info in the beginning. Many want to learn, but are conflicted by what they hear in the gardening media (radio, newspaper, tv, internet) and what you are telling them, and in my case what I tell them and what co-workers tell them. I’m sure those homeowners feel the same when seeing info from the Extension. It’s often worlds apart from what they see elsewhere.

  19. I tend to ignore sites that BLINK and try to sell you stuff.

    As far as helping, tell us how to do it correctly, people do want to learn from good sources, sometimes we just can’t find you.

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