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master gardeners & food gardens

  • Subject: [cg] master gardeners & food gardens
  • From: Chrys Gardener cab69@cornell.edu
  • Date: Tue, 02 Dec 2003 09:35:07 -0500

In 2000 I was hired by a rural upstate NY county to start a new Master Gardener program that would focus specifically on food gardening and community gardens. The Cornell Cooperative Extension in that county did not have a Master Gardener program, and the very creative CCE director was able to get funding from the federal Food Stamp Nutrition and Education Program (FSNEP) to fund the new MG program.

When I started advertising to recruit volunteers, I was very clear that the focus of the program would be food gardening and not ornamentals, although ornamentals would be covered in the training. As a result I ended up with a really great group of volunteers that were sincerely interested in improving food access and nutrition for rural, limited-income residents of the county. Because of our association with Cooperative Extension, we were able to secure additional grants to start 2 community gardens and several elementary school food gardens. The MG's and I worked closely with CCE nutrition educators to teach classes on how to grow food and then how to cook and preserve the harvest. We taught on-site classes in the community garden every week throughout the summer, helping gardeners produce the most food possible in a small space.

I think that MG's can be a great resource IF they are recruited with clear goals of community food security as their mission. More and more, Cooperative Extensions everywhere are struggling to receive funding from their county budgets, and showing that the MG program will help limited-income residents is an effective way to keep the funding coming in. Many county legislators feel that MG programs are just there to help the well-heeled residents with questions about their rosebushes, but I think that this is changing as MG programs start to change their focus.

I passed that job on a year ago to a co-worker who started out as an MG volunteer, in order to take on the position of beautification coordinator in the CCE unit in my own county (a much shorter drive to work now!). I miss the involvement with food gardening, although I still grow a lot of food at home. But I do enjoy getting volunteers involved in public beautification projects, and the beautification program has introduced many non-gardeners, including high school and college students, and people mandated to do community service, to the joys and satisfaction of growing plants. Hopefully this will translate to food gardening for some of them, but at the very least it gets them a little more involved in our community.

Chrys Gardener
Community Beautification Coordinator
Cornell Cooperative Extension
615 Willow Ave, Ithaca, NY 14850
607-272-2292, ext. 123

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