Extension cultivates a new crop of Master Gardener volunteer experts

September is often associated with going back to school and at the Kent and Sussex Cooperative Extension locations, 28 individuals from a variety of backgrounds and communities are opening their study materials, taking notes and being attentive students of the Master Gardener Class of 2011. Under the tutelage of Extension staff and scientists from the University of Delaware and Delaware State University, Master Gardener candidates undergo seven weeks of training, and receive more than 80 hours of instruction in the process.

Maggie Moor-Orth, right, passes out some questions to the 2011 class of Master Gardeners. The new class meets alternatively in Dover and Georgetown.

Although there is no tuition per se, Master Gardener applicants undergo a review process and must commit to serving a minimum of 45 hours of community service their first year as horticulture volunteers.  In subsequent years they are required to serve approximately 35 hours.  It’s turned out to be a good bargain for Delaware and Cooperative Extension. Gardeners are known for their generosity and Master Gardeners relish giving back.  In 2010,  Kent County and Sussex County Master Gardeners provided a combined a total of 10,172 hours of unpaid services to their communities that included operating garden hotlines, establishing a presence at local fairs and festivals, talking to local civic groups, presenting workshops on specific topics, and working with youth groups and school children.

Each member of the new class contributes a unique curiosity and enthusiasm. The native and adopted Delawareans offer a variety of active and retired professions, which include a Washington D.C. police lieutenant, nurse, professor, aerospace engineer, house builder, a farmer’s daughter, reporter, editor and pastor. Many have a specific area of interest, such as roses.  Others admire English gardens – all struggle with weeds (don’t we all!) and each has a curiosity and respect for the many styles, themes and mysteries that can comprise a garden.  The breadth of their experiences and observations is just what Cooperative Extension is looking for says Tracy Wootten, Sussex County’s horticulture agent.

“In Master Gardeners, we are looking for people who are problem solvers, enjoy teaching others and who will help advise the gardening public here in Delaware,” says Wootten. “Maggie Moor-Orth (DSU) and I are enjoying the enthusiasm of this new class.”

Master Gardener students take notes as UD's Extension Specialist Gordon Johnson reviews the basics of botany.

While in session, as questions are answered and experiences shared, the student Master Gardeners learn to access the unbiased resources that have been the hallmark of Cooperative Extension. The  agriculture-based research from the University of Delaware and Delaware State University is delivered to Master Gardeners via a variety of methods; a network of Extension publications, internal fact sheets, field research and personal instruction. During the seven week instruction program, students are taught by the experts and have the opportunity to form professional relationships that will support them in their volunteer career. Veteran Master Gardeners contribute to the training and join UD and DSU experts  in covering diverse topics such as the elements of botany, plant identification, turn management and weed control, diagnosing plant problems, pesticide safety, integrated pest management, house plants, vegetable gardening, annuals and perennials, backyard composting and much more.

After they finish class instruction and log in their initial 45 volunteer hours, the 2011 class of 28 students will officially join the ranks of more than 200 active Delaware Master Gardeners who impact Delaware’s environment and provide valuable economic services to Delaware gardeners. Instruction for new Master Gardeners are scheduled every other year with Extension offices trading locations. The next session for Master Gardener training will be in 2013 in New Castle County.

“Without these wonderful volunteers, Cooperative Extension would not be able to provide the impressive amount of outreach that is being offered to local Delaware communities,” says Wootten.

For more information about the Sussex County Master Gardener program please visit their SC Master Gardener website or call (302) 856-7303.

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