Orientation: Master gardeners are as much about service as science

Master Gardeners help answer the public's questions about horticulture. (Photo by Lynn Ketchum)

Madeline Forsyth takes a call on the gardening hotline run by the Oregon State University Extension Service in Clackamas County while Martha Waldemar consults the Internet for additional information. Both are volunteer Master Gardeners who have been trained to help answer the public’s questions about horticulture. (Photo by Lynn Ketchum)

After I cared for a community garden plot in Stayton for three seasons, this suburban brown thumb got hooked on horticulture. Nothing compares to the rush of tasting your first juicy tomato after weeks of weeding on your hands and knees in the dirt.

I’d heard about the Oregon State University Extension Service’s Master Gardener volunteer program. I had considered taking the training but incorrectly assumed I needed more experience.

In November 2012, I started a new job as a public service communications specialist in OSU’s Extension and Experiment Station Communications department. As part of that position, I interview OSU’s horticulturists and Master Gardeners and write stories about their gardening advice. I thought it would be helpful to enroll in the Master Gardener training to find out what it was all about and then blog about it so you can see for yourself.

Over the next 11 weeks, I will take notes and talk to other trainees during the classes, which will take place every Thursday from 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. in Tangent.

Master Gardener training is conducted by Extension Service offices in 30 of Oregon’s 36 counties from January to March. There is also an online option. Those interested in participating must first apply. They find out if they’re accepted in mid-December. To be admitted, applicants must have a positive attitude and a sincere commitment to volunteer service. In Benton County, they are required to take 66 hours of training and “pay back” those classroom hours with 66 hours of volunteer service, which can include answering the public’s questions at the Extension office or community gardening events. Or by paying more, participants can forgo the volunteer option.

After they’re accepted, there’s an orientation session. OSU Extension Service’s horticulturist Barb Fick led mine at Extension’s office in Corvallis. Two Master Gardeners sat in: Kathy Clark, a Master Gardener since 2010, and Kathi Tucker, who has been one since 2007. Both women enjoy interacting with the public and sharing their love for gardening with others.

People at the orientation were interested in becoming Master Gardeners for all reasons. They were mostly retired, like former teachers George and Elly Love of Corvallis, who wanted to learn more about horticulture. Twenty-five-year-old Lev Parker left his job to learn more about farming and gardening.

Over the next few months, we’ll learn about botany basics, soil management, how to keep plants healthy, and how to identify and control pests, among other topics.  I’m looking forward to learning how to diagnose and manage plant problems and pests. I’m also excited to learn more about the basic life cycles of different plants and why some plants are more difficult to propagate than others.

I’m ready to dig in.

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4 responses to “Orientation: Master gardeners are as much about service as science”

  1. Karen Z. says:

    Dig in, Denise! I’ll be following along.

  2. ruttand says:

    Thanks Karen! I’m excited!

  3. Gail L. says:

    The Benton and Linn MGs are such a fun group. I hope and expect you’ll have a great time, while learning so much. Thank you for writing about your experience.

  4. Elizabeth Thomas says:

    I’m interested to follow your agricultural journey.

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