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Master Gardener Program Gets Adults, Youth Growing

About 325 volunteers and interns have been trained through NDSU Extension’s Master Gardener program.

Joan Zettel enrolled in North Dakota State University Extension’s Master Gardener program when she decided to take her gardening to the next level.

She has been a Master Gardener (MG) for 7 1/2 years and doesn’t regret her decision for a minute.

“The program was all that I expected it to be and so very much more,” says the Breckenridge, Minn., woman. “It has taken me down several very interesting and rewarding paths. “

For example, after volunteering as a MG at the local park and zoo, she was hired as park and zoo horticulturist at the Chahinkapa Zoo in neighboring Wahpeton, N.D.

“I love growing flowers for other people to enjoy instead of just in my own backyard,” she says. “I also teach kids flower gardening and vegetable gardening at the zoo. We grow vegetables so the animals get some fresh food in their diets, and we grow herbs that are used to make scent trails in the big cats’ habitats for enrichment.

“I also pick browse for the animals since I know the tree species that can be fed,” she adds. Browse is vegetation such as twigs and young plant shoots. “Who would have guessed that bears love willow and camels love boxelder?”

Zettel is among about 325 MG volunteers and interns trained through NDSU Extension’s program.

“The numbers just keep growing,” says Esther McGinnis, NDSU Extension horticulturist and Extension MG director.

MG is a volunteer service organization that beautifies communities, educates the public about gardening, works with youth and encourages conservation of natural resources.

The MG core course runs once a week for 10 weeks. The 40 hours of classes are offered in a traditional classroom setting and online, which gives participants the opportunity to watch recorded class videos on their computers at their own convenience.

“These online options allow students to continue taking the class even if they are wintering in another state,” McGinnis says.

Course topics include annual and perennial flowers, tree selection and maintenance, soil health, composting, plant diseases and insects, vegetable and fruit production, and lawn maintenance.

“We have a mix of NDSU faculty and Extension personnel who teach the classes, which gives the program a very diverse flavor,” McGinnis notes.

Once participants complete the training, they are known as MG interns. They must volunteer 48 hours of time during a two-year period on horticultural projects in cooperation with NDSU Extension. Volunteer projects include answering gardening questions in the Extension office, organizing horticultural workshops, managing school and community gardens, designing and maintaining pollinator gardens, and providing horticultural therapy. After that, they will be certified as MGs.

Being a MG has given Zettel a variety of experiences.

“Three years ago, the MG program funded pollinator gardens across North Dakota to help save our bees,” she says. “We built one at the zoo, which I use to teach people about saving our pollinators.

“Two years ago, Cargill heard about the pollinator garden and approached me about building a Monarch garden,” she adds. “They provided funding and manpower, and now we have a beautiful garden that helps to save the monarchs, and I use it to teach butterfly conservation.”

What she learned also gave her an idea for preserving some irreplaceable flowers.

“When I was helping to weed the Historic Daylily Collection at NDSU, I formed a partnership and have been taking plant divisions from the NDSU garden and planting them at the Wahpeton Park and Zoo as a back-up source, so if they should ever have winter kill at NDSU, we can replace them. Also it beautifies our park. Win-win!”

New this year is a MG therapeutic horticulture program that provides grants for MGs to help senior citizens expand their psychological and spiritual well-being through gardening. McGinnis says that gardening helps seniors maintain their fine motor skills and stimulates their brains.

NDSU Extension also has a youth component to its MG program called Junior Master Gardener (JMG). It provides funds for gardening projects across the state, such as establishing school gardens, beautifying parks, growing food for the needy and constructing raised beds for senior citizens.

Approximately 3,660 youth participated in 53 projects in 2018. For example, youth in the McKenzie County JMG program learned to grow vegetables and shared flowers with the elderly.

“I learned how to plant and grow things,” program member Crystal Smith says. “I didn’t know that before. It’s really fun to see things grow.”

JMG also was a big success for Luke Walls, another McKenzie County JMG program member.

“I think that gardening is a good thing to do,” he says. “I learned how to garden 10 times better.”

Here are a few of the other 2018 JMG projects:

  • Pembina County - planted shrubs and perennials at a community’s main intersection
  • Ransom County - planted flowers at the North Dakota Veterans Home in Lisbon
  • Sargent County - established a community orchard with apples and berries
  • Emmons County - learned to grow spinach in garden boxes
  • Bottineau, Cass, Grand Forks, Kidder and Mountrail counties - grew food for the needy

JMG projects provided 22,250 pounds of fresh vegetables to food banks, churches, school lunch programs, senior care centers and other needy families in 2018, according to Tom Kalb, NDSU Extension horticulturist and a member of the JMG leadership team.

“The Junior Master Gardener Program provided our district with an opportunity (for a school garden) that some have wanted for years but could not obtain,” says Alex Hoffmann, science teacher at Maple Valley High School in Tower City, N.D.

NDSU Agriculture Communication - Oct. 14, 2019

Source:Esther McGinnis, 701-231-7971, esther.mcginnis@ndsu.edu
Editor:Ellen Crawford, 701-231-5391, ellen.crawford@ndsu.edu
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