Examples of Master Gardeners and their Programs that Help Communities
Several months ago, I was invited by the Ohio Master Gardener Volunteer program to judge their annual Outstanding Master Gardener Volunteer Project. Basically, The Ohio State Universityâ€™s Master Gardener program invites each county to participate in a contest to recognize individual county Master Gardener Volunteers and the work they do with specific projects.
Because of the impressive tasks taken on by some of the Master Gardener groups, I wanted to share some of the details with our readers. But first, to those who are not familiar with the Master Gardener program, it is an organized group of almost 95,000 volunteers, most-often affiliated with land-grant universities and their cooperative extension programs. Founded in the early 1970â€™s, the program was formed to educate volunteers then send them out into the community to give lectures, conduct research and share their knowledge with the home gardener. Almost all 50 U.S. states and Canadian provinces have an active Master Gardener program.
Of the sixteen entries submitted from various Ohio counties, the four detailed below were the ones I rated highest because of the number of people reached, the success of the project and because they are worthy of duplication by other Master Gardener groups. In a time when many are asking what we can do to convince more people to garden, Master Gardeners are one way to help achieve that, as demonstrated by a number of the entries I read.
Each county submitted their entry based on the size of their organization (small, medium or large) then chose one of the following five categories as their projectâ€™s focus:
The four I want to share are:
- Backyard and Local Foods
- Environmental Horticulture
- Community Service
- Integrated Pest Management
- Invasive Species
1. After-School Program Focused on Botany. The local school district went to the Union County Master Gardeners and requested a garden program for elementary school students who took advantage of their after-school enrichment program. The Master Gardeners came up with a goal to improve the delivery of botany education by fostering inquiry based on exploration in a program that was suitable for grades K-8. By working with the school district and a local university, the Master Gardeners created a curriculum manual that could be delivered by any Master Gardener and adapted for any age group. They developed a total of 25 lessons and based on end of year surveys, both parents and students were very pleased with the program and showed a much higher level of understanding of botany after completing the lessons. Union County was awarded the Environmental Horticulture Initiative in the medium-sized category.
2. Horticulture Therapy Program: In Franklin County, the Master Gardener Volunteers plan 90 minutes sessions of hands-on horticulture activities and lessons for developmentally and physically disabled adults who attend the Horticulture Therapy Program at the Chadwick Arboretum. The three main goals of the program are: 1) Social Growth, 2) Increased Self-Esteem and 3) New and Improved Horticultural Skills. A local social service organization utilizes the hort therapy program for their clients who range in age from early 20â€™s through mid-50â€™s. The Director of that organization stated that the hort therapy program is one of the most popular choices for their clients and is far superior to the programs other vendors provide. Franklin County won the Environmental Horticulture Initiative award for the large category and tied for the Overall winner in the large category.
3. Kindergarten Tomato Planting: The title pretty much explains the program but more detail is needed to explain the importance. This was not simply a lesson in how to plant a seedling, but instead, connecting gardening to healthy eating. After a local survey showed their county was facing the same health crises as our nation (obesity, diabetes and cardiovascular disease), a local medical center contacted the Huron Country Master Gardeners asking them to create a program to educate kindergarten children that healthy eating can be delicious and that growing their own vegetables can be fun and easy. The group started with just 150 children in 2011 and by 2014, reached 625 students. Huron County won the Backyard and Local Food Initiative award as well as the Overall award in the medium category.
4. Public Tree Inventory: The city of Delaware, Ohio was conducting an inventory of all public trees and asked the local Master Gardeners to participate. It took almost two years and more than 1,520 Master Gardener volunteer hours to inventory all 16,230 trees, saving the city almost $65,000 it would have incurred without the volunteers. The data collected was used by the city to make informed decisions about their green infrastructure concerning biodiversity and economic benefits that trees provide. While doing the inventory, Master Gardeners took advantage of the opportunity for additional training in tree species identification while also educating area homeowners about the types of trees in their area, the benefits they provide, how to care for them and why the project was being conducted.
Kudos to all Master Gardeners and keep up the great volunteer work in educating and supporting your community's gardeners!