Did you know that the Washington Master Gardener program started back in 1972? It was a novel idea: train volunteers to help answer the public’s questions about growing vegetables, houseplants, herbs, landscapes, lawns and flowers. The “green revolution” of the ’70s was about growing things. Some baby boomers of the day even thought plants could feel emotions. Today, the Master Gardener program has spread across America and to other countries. This past fall I had the opportunity to attend a conference for Master Gardener coordinators from the U.S. and abroad. There was a special contingent from South Korea, where they are trying to get a Master Gardener program started. One of their obstacles in getting the program up and going is that volunteerism is not strongly valued in Korean society. However, their current urban boomers are interested in getting back to the land and growing their own food and flowers.
Just as in the U.S. in the ’70s, these boomers are in need of information and advice about how to grow gardens. Faculty from the their Agriculture Research and Extension Services think that a Korean Extension Master Gardener Program can provide the manpower needed to help new gardeners.
One of the things that has made the Benton-Franklin program strong is the dedication and strong volunteer ethic of the local Master Gardeners. As part of their commitment to the program, new Master Gardener volunteers are asked to give 50 hours of service back to the program in return for their training. This year, the WSU Benton-Franklin Master Gardeners gave a total of 9,161 hours to the program. These hours were served helping answer gardeners’ questions in plant clinics, teaching gardening classes, identifying plant problems, instructing children about plants and insects, staffing educational exhibits and working in the Master Gardener Demonstration Garden.
Many of the new volunteers or “interns” give many more than the required 50 hours. For example, Bill Dixon, the 2012 Master Gardener Intern of the Year, gave more than 400 hours of his time helping in the Master Gardener Demonstration Garden and providing leadership for the “Plant-A-Row for the Hungry” campaign. This year, Dixon will be leading an effort to provide guidance to local groups interested in community gardens. He already has been helping the Kennewick in getting their first community garden started.
Veteran Master Gardeners are those who return every year to the program. In December, two of our local volunteers, Jeri Schmidt and Walt Allen, received pins for 20 years of service to the program. Asked why she has stayed with the program for so long, Schmidt says, “Because I like the people and talking with other gardeners about our common interest, plus I’m always learning something new about gardening.”
Schmidt is the chairwoman of the annual WSU Extension Spring Garden Day, a daylong program of gardening classes for area residents.
Hopefully, South Korean gardeners will learn the value of becoming Master Gardener volunteers who find that in addition to receiving great horticultural training, they enjoy the friendship of other gardeners and helping others in their community.
The 2013 Master Gardener Training Program begins Jan. 29. WSU Extension is looking for new volunteers who are interested in attending the training and then giving 50 hours of their time back to the program. Training costs $110. The classes will be held every Tuesday from 12:30 to 3:30 p.m. for 15 weeks. Call 735-3551 for more information and an application. Applications are due by Jan. 24.
w Marianne C. Ophardt is a horticulturist for Washington State University Benton County Extension.