When a Master Gardener was having trouble stooping down to garden, she designed and built a “salad table,” raised beds that enabled her to tend her plants without bending over.
Then she took her project and did a show-and-tell for others, demonstrating how someone using a wheelchair or a walker could still grow produce and other foliage. Her creation of the workable model and her commitment to pass it on to others exemplifies the Master Gardener program, says coordinator Beth Chisholm.
“Yes, it’s about growing a tomato, but it’s about way more than that,” she says. “It’s about empowerment. It’s about sustainability and resilience. It’s about community.”
Chisholm isn’t just describing the Master Gardener program. She’s also referring to community gardens, to the Plant Science and Edible Education program in Whatcom schools, and to the Master Composter Recycler program. Together, they form the Community Horticulture Program, working in partnership with Washington State University Extension.
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There is cross-fertilization between the activities, to be sure. For example, Master Gardeners work with kids in schools and clubs, and provide information to community gardens.
An annual Master Gardener class teaches “the art of gardening guided by scientific principles.”
The Master Gardener program trains volunteers to be community educators in gardening and environmental stewardship. There are upward of 150 in Whatcom County, with more than half retirees.
They begin by taking a Master Gardener class, offered to 25 people each winter. The course requires 60 hours of training and 60 hours of volunteer work.
Chisholm says they focus on “the art of gardening guided by scientific principles.” In fact, Master Gardeners started as a way for land grant colleges to bring science to the community. The program began in 1973 in Washington and has spread to nearly every state and to several Canadian provinces.
Locally, Master Gardeners participate in a variety of projects and activities. They run plant clinics, staff tables at Bellingham Farmers Market, give presentations at the Hovander Homestead Park demonstration garden, and help with an annual plant sale. They also give talks at senior centers, and they visit elderly and disabled residents in nursing homes to offer plant advice and help.
In addition to the Master Gardener class, there’s a Master Composter Recycler program, with the catchy slogan “a rind is a terrible thing to waste.” Offered each winter, the composting and recycling class entails 40 hours of coursework and 40 volunteer hours, covering such topics as composting, soil-building, toxics, zero-waste living and green burial.
Chisholm encourages people interested in Master Gardeners or Composter Recycling to contact her or Amberose Kelley, respectively.
People don’t need a master’s degree to become a Master Gardener or a Master Composer Recycler. And you don’t need to take one of the classes to help.
“You don’t have to be a Master Gardener or Master Composter to get involved,” Chisholm says. “We welcome you; you don’t need the badge.”
When: 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday, May 7
Where: Hovander Homestead Park, Ferndale
What: Sale features dozens of varieties of tomatoes, specialty perennials, herbs, hand-grafted fruit trees, and native plants, plus a plant clinic, information booth and mini-workshops.
Details: Community Horticulture Program, 360-778-5800, whatcom.wsu.edu/ch