May 2010 issue
Service in Bloom
Master Gardener volunteer week celebrates green thumbs who give back.
Last year, the Second Harvest Food Bank of Clark, Champaign and Logan counties received an extra 4,518 pounds of freshly picked produce — the equivalent of 5,783 meals. The source: a 10,000-square-foot vegetable garden that was planted, tended and picked by a crop of volunteers from the local chapter of the Ohio State University Extension Master Gardener volunteer program.
“The program started in Cleveland and Columbus in the late 1970s,” says Pamela Bennett, the program’s coordinator. Bennett explains that the organization grew from a grassroots effort designed to equip volunteers with the horticultural training they need to serve their communities through gardening education and other community-centered garden projects. There are more than 3,000 Master Gardeners throughout Ohio. “We train Master Gardener volunteers to extend our outreach into the community,” Bennett says. “They help us to reach a lot more people than we could possibly reach on our own.
In addition to volunteering their time, the Master Gardeners also raise money — more than $200,000 in donations in 2008 — to conduct programming in their communities.
These efforts are being celebrated this month during the third annual Master Gardener volunteer program week, May 16–22. Officially designated by Gov. Ted Strickland in 2008, the week spotlights the thousands of behind-the-scenes hours volunteers donate to make their communities more verdant.
“This year’s theme is ‘Master Gardener volunteers giving back,’” says Bennett. Each of the program’s 71 participating counties plans to host programming and activities that highlight current and past projects reflecting the spirit of community service. Projects range from community vegetable gardens, to improving the landscapes surrounding municipal buildings, to creating teaching gardens at public parks, zoos and schools.
At J.E. Prass Elementary School in Kettering, for example, the celebration will center on handicap-accessible land labs, which volunteers from Montgomery County helped to design and install. Local coordinator Michelle Ruby says the gardens enhance science classes as well as provide sensory stimulation and build interpersonal skills of special-needs students. In Butler County, volunteers created a replica of an Amish Mennonite kitchen garden for the Chrisholm Historic Farmstead in Trenton. Other volunteer projects include plant sales, public education workshops and a Master Gardener hotline organized at the Toledo Botanical Gardens by the Lucas County chapter.
If you have a green thumb, attending these events is one way to become involved. But even if your skills are fledgling, don’t rule out the possibility of becoming a Master Gardener, since the program doesn’t limit itself to horticultural experts. “First and foremost, volunteers need to have a love of gardening and learning and a desire to give back to their communities,” says Bennett. Participants must log 50 hours of training as well as 50 hours of volunteer service during their first year. After that, the number of annual service hours required varies by county, but each volunteer is asked to complete an additional six continuing-education hours per year to keep their skills sharp.
For most, it’s a labor of love. “Over the last 10 years, I have had the opportunity to work in and leave my mark on many gardens in various landscapes,” says Miami County’s Dan Poast, the 2009 Ohio State University Extension Outstanding Master Gardener Volunteer of the Year. As a volunteer, Poast says he has dug in the dirt at local elementary schools, health clinics, cemeteries and even private homes.
“Through the Master Gardener program I have been able to pursue gardening on a level much greater than I imagined,” he says. “Working with and learning from so many gardeners and educators has been special. To us, gardening is the true expression of ourselves, who we really are.”
For more information about Master Gardener volunteer program week or about the program, visit mastergardener.osu.edu
The following are a few places to experience the impact of Master Gardener volunteers
✽ See the work of Warren County Master Gardeners at the demonstration garden adjoining the museum at Fort Ancient State Memorial. This garden features amaranth, sunflowers, tobacco, gourds, Three Sisters crops (corn, beans and squash) and other types of crops grown by Ohio’s first gardeners, the Adena and Hopewell people, thousands of years ago.
✽ On May 22, the OSU Extension Office of Fayette County presents “What is Bugging You,” a chance to learn the latest about insect and disease identification and control as well as other tips for keeping your plants healthy. Call 740/335-1150 for more information. Cost is $5. fayette.osu.edu
✽ Miami County Master Gardener volunteers have joined the Miami County Park District to prepare the Historic Knoop Homestead gardens at Lost Creek Reserve for the Dayton Society of Interior Design “Designers Showcase” this fall. Throughout the summer, volunteers will present gardening seminars and maintain the property’s public gardens. miamicountyparks.com
✽ The gardens of the Fairfield County Courthouse and Hall of Justice stay colorful all season with the help of Fairfield County Master Gardeners. Volunteers plant annuals in the spring and spend the summer months weeding, pruning and grooming the gardens before the fall clean-up. fairfield.osu.edu
✽ At the Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden, Hamilton County Master Gardeners have donated hundreds of hours to help plant, label and maintain the property’s more than 15,000 annuals from nearly 200 varieties. The zoo is also the site of one of the largest annual trials/display programs in the Tri-State region. The trials serve as a resource for area residents about which plants can offer the most color with the least amount of maintenance, and help to promote diversity in the landscape. hamilton.osu.edu