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Washington State University Extension

Garden Tips

MASTER GARDENER PROGRAM HELPING OUR COMMUNITIES ‘GROW’

GARDEN TIPS – written by
Marianne C. Ophardt
WSU Extension Faculty
for the Tri-City Herald, Kennewick, WA
Written – JANUARY 9, 2015

When WSU Extension started the Master Gardener program in 1972, they had no idea how the program would change and grow. The original purpose of the program was to train volunteers so that they could help answer the deluge of calls for help with gardening problems coming into county extension offices around the state.

WSU Extension Area Agents, David Gibby and Bill Scheer came up with the idea of recruiting and training volunteers to staff ‘Plant Clinics.’ They developed a training curriculum to be delivered by WSU faculty and local experts. The basic course included food gardening, lawn care, landscape management, pest management, and the safe use of pesticides.

The first Master Gardener volunteers graduated in 1973 in King, Pierce, and Spokane counties after taking 40 hours of training. They were given the title of ‘WSU Extension Master Gardener’ after they returned 40 hours of service back to the program by staffing plant clinics. The program started in 1975 in Benton and Franklin Counties.

Since 1973 the Master Gardener program has grown exponentially in Washington and the rest of the US. The program has also changed. WSU Master Gardeners still receive quality training, but the basic curriculum is delivered via a quality on-line course and is supplemented with face-to-face training that meets local needs.

Master Gardeners focus on education about research-based sustainable gardening practices. This includes using less pesticides, protecting beneficial insects and pollinators, good soil management, proper irrigation and fertilization, plant selection, and other environmentally sound gardening practices.

Just like the first class of graduates, today’s Master Gardeners staff plant clinics and answer gardeners’ questions, but they assist WSU in providing educational outreach programs in communities:

-They establish and maintain demonstration gardens where they teach about gardening, demonstrate gardening skills, and produce fruit and vegetables for local food banks.

-They provide leadership for the Plant-A-Row for the Hungry program and assist in setting up community and school gardens.

-They mentor community gardeners.

-They teach children about plants and gardening.

-They offer classes on food gardening, landscape care, lawns, irrigation, tree care, integrated pest management, and more.

I have been working with Master Gardener volunteers since 1976. What I cherish about the program are the people, their love of gardening, and their dedication. Not all are expert gardeners, but each brings a unique set of skills to contribute to the program.

In 2014, our local Benton-Franklin WSU Master Gardeners returned 11,895 hours of service helping people solve their plant and pest problems and learn about gardening. They also donated 2128 lb. of produce from their Demonstration Garden to the local food banks. Under Master Gardener leadership, 600 local gardeners participated in the Plant-a-Row program and donated about 21,000 lb. of produce to people in need in our communities. Benton-Franklin Master Gardeners helped build eight new community gardens and mentored gardeners at 24 local community and social service gardens. They also taught almost 3000 youth about plants, gardening, and insects.

Back in 1973, I do not think that Gibby and Scheer could have imagined the growth and evolution of the Master Gardener program into the wildly successful and diverse program it is today. I know they would be proud of the many volunteers. They are an awesome group of people.

Published: 1/9/2015 12:46 PM

Garden Tips, WSU Extension, Benton County, 5600-E West Canal Drive, Kennewick, WA 99336-1387, 509-735-3551, Contact Us

WSU Extension, Franklin County, 1016 North 4th Ave, Pasco, WA 99301-3706, 509-545-3511, Contact Us
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