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How About a NYC Master Gardener Program?

  • Subject: [cg] How About a NYC Master Gardener Program?
  • From: Adam36055@aol.com
  • Date: Thu, 13 May 2004 10:06:07 EDT


One thing that community gardeners in NYC sometimes forget, is that over the last three decades, tiny lot, by tiny lot, we've redeemed for our city, with our backs. labor, and political activity,  green acreage equivalent to  the 843 acres of Central Park!

And unlike the private contractors who walk away from a job with cash in hand once the plaque with the Mayor, Borough President and City Councilperson's name has been attached, we maintain our properties during the season, and even shovel the snow in front of them during the winter! 

Over the last three decades we've had a Cornell Agricultural Extension in NYC.  The first agricultural agent is still on the job, Mr. John Ameroso, who started during the late 1970s and has been doing amazing work of late finding small tracts of land, outside of the city for some residents to market garden in conjunction with the Council for the Environment's "New Gardener Program."

In the early years, John did amazing work with all of us in the days before Green Thumb, and I was honored to serve as a judge with him at a community garden harvest fair in Brooklyn last summer. A very nice and knowledgable guy. All the Cornell ext. folks in the city are nice folks, but we don't see them as often out here in the gardens as much as we'd like.  Funding and organizational priorities laid out by someone out of town, I imagine...

Maybe I've not been paying attention, I've never seen those nice folks from the  East 34th Street Cornell Agricultural Extension talk to us about setting up a Master Gardener Program, akin to those many other counties of our state.

In most of the states of the union, and in suburban counties like Westchester, to earn master-gardener status, amateur gardeners must take 75 hours of coursework, pass a rigorous test and then promise to give back 100 hours of community service to help others learn about gardening. For many surburban gardneners, those 100 hours of service are a pain-in-the-butt, but for us, 100 hours are but a part of what we put in yearly as volunteers in our community gardens. After those 75 hours of classwork, master gardeners are an amazing horticultural resource in any community.  For our Parks and Gardens, a modestly funded master gardener program  producing 50 - 100 graduates yearly, would yield amazing dividends for our city.

A Master Gardener program, run by the Cornell Agricultural Extension, in conjunction with other agencies would be the kind of thing that would benefit New York City's thousands of community gardeners by training more locally based gardening experts based in  our communities. Certainly, this would help our gardens really bloom, and keep so many community gardens and neighborhood based greening groups in a position to be up on best practices.  This would be really important when issues like soil testing come up in gardens sited on brownfields.

Funding: In our current financial envirionment, funding and/or oranization of a NYC Master gardener program could be cobbled together by coordinating some already existing resources, classroom time, public gardens and instructor hours from the Cornell extension, the NY Botanical Garden, the Brooklyn Botanical Garden,  The NY Horticultural Society, the NYC Parks Dept through the Parks Council and Partnership for Parks, Green Thumb, Green Guerillas, NY Restoration, the NYCHA gardening program, as well as the odd class given at one of our CCNY, or private University facilities.

The plus side for all of the organizations above is that having more Master Gardeners out there in the community would create for them a high quality volunteer base to call on,  that has already been trained for special projects. 

Imagine being able to call on 50 master gardeners one weekend to create a garden around a playground, and know that it would be maintained by gardeners helped by the local master gardener in that community. Or to suddenly be able to put the call out for folks in the community to help when funding cut have made funding for zone gardeners impossible for botanical garden and parks - sort of like volunteer firemen.

Food Security: Training 50 - 100 Urban Master Gardeners a year to send out into our communities would make best horticultural practices available to community gardeners in a systematic fashion, especially on how to grow as much food for our neighborhood's hungry, food pantries and soup kitchens.  The will to do so is there, so are gardens, many which have been "saved" and are fallow. Having master gardeners trained up from food insecure communities in our city could be an extraordinarily helpful, and in the long run, cost effective thing to do.

Job Training:  The actual cash that it would cost to train,let's say 50 - 100  master gardeners a year in all of our 5 boroughs, might also be covered by a jobs training grant - these are folks who would be hireable for work with landscapers and might even be able to set up their own horticultural landscaping/architectural businesses, employing New Yorkers in their own communities - instead of those pick-up trucks from New Jersey and upstate, that bring our NYC generated dollars back to their communities.

How About a  NYC Master Gardener Program?

Adam Honigman
Clinton Community Garden

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