I started the University of Rhode Island’s Master Gardener Program this past Wednesday. You’ll be hearing a lot about that on this blog. You can surf their site to find out all kinds of details about them, but I’ll summarize here by saying that Master Gardener programs are offered in most, if not all states. They’re usually offered by the local cooperative extension service to educate state residents on gardening principles.
The class meets once a week for the rest of the spring semester, and we’ll learn about botany, soil, nutrients, bugs, pest control, weeds, etc. Graduates of the program must complete 50 hours of volunteer service to become “certified” and then maintain at least 20 hours per year to be a member of the state Master Gardener’s Association.
I didn’t know what to expect from the Rhode Island program–what with RI being the smallest state and all, sometimes things here don’t have quite the same….well, quality…as things in bigger states with more money like say, California or Massachusetts. (Anyone who has ever been to the RI DMV knows exactly what I’m talking about.)
Well, it turns out that the URI program is fabulous. They apparently have enough funding to have developed a first-rate educational program. I was surprised that there are approximately 150 students in the class, along with 20 undergrads who are taking the class for credit. I expected a much smaller program.
One of the most exciting things about the program is the volunteer aspect. There are many interesting community programs and the opportunity for me to garden and write. So….for example, even though my own yard isn’t the greatest place for a vegetable garden (too little sun), I could volunteer at a demonstration vegetable garden if I want that experience. And besides hands-on gardening, there are opportunities to manage events and programs and work in public education. And I’m sure I’ll be able to figure out a way to use my writing skills.
The biggest and most pleasant surprise is the program’s focus on sustainable gardening. I thought that the class would give me the basics of “conventional” gardening and I’d have to adapt the knowledge to my particular interests. But these folks have already figured out that the best way to garden has the least impact on the earth.
The last thing I’ll mention is that there were several certified master gardeners at Wednesday night’s orientation, and they all seem very enthusiastic, helpful, and devoted to the program. So it should be a swell semester…you’ll hear lots about this as the semester progresses.