Master Gardeners: A call to action

Deborah Rawson Memorial Library Garden – Master Gardener Project

The UVM Extension Community Horticulture Program (Master Gardener & Composter) trains volunteers and uses research-based gardening information to help all Vermonters improve their gardening, leadership and environmental stewardship skills. How the program works: 

  • After completing a 16-week online course, trainees become volunteer Interns. 
  • To transition from an Intern to a Certified Master Gardener (EMG), trainees must volunteer 40 hours by sharing their knowledge with the community. Each intern works under the direction of Certified EMG Volunteers on approved local projects. 
  • To maintain certification, EMG’s must continue to volunteer 20 hours per year. 

This season, amidst a global pandemic and food crisis, these hours of service and expertise have proven invaluable. Facing a challenging season, the Vermont Victory Gardens project sent out a renewed call to action for Master Gardeners everywhere to play a valuable role in their communities.

Yellow Barn Community Garden – Arlington, VT

The call to action came at the cusp of a rebirth of the Bennington Chapter of Extension Master Gardeners (EMG). “A couple of years ago the chapter was almost dead,” says Heather Hamilton, EMG volunteer for the Yellow Barn Community Garden. Dottie Sundquist, Chapter Chair, saw potential for a community garden at Arlington’s Yellow Barn Farm, where EMG volunteers have in past years run a small flower garden. Around this same time the East Arlington Church was also talking about creating a donation garden, so the group collaborated to open up a 40-square foot section of an adjacent field in response to the call for food. They planned out what to grow based on what would be helpful for the food shelf to receive. 

Every Monday this season, Heather assessed the harvest to be had, alerting another volunteer tasked to harvest on Tuesdays. Produce was taken to Arlington Elementary School, where it was packaged and put in bags for families. These bags were then distributed as a part of summer meals at the school and then taken to Arlington Food Shelf later that day. Heather explained, “This year there’s been a huge call to farmers and gardeners about food donations and a lot of pantries are not set up to accept larger or more random produce donations…that’s the role that these go-between organizations [like Arlington Elementary School] play.” The group took pictures of everything they harvested–at least 40 lbs per week. Their bounty was such that by late in the season they were looking for an additional organization for adding a second delivery day to their schedule.

Ultimately the group hopes that next year they will be able to establish a community garden on site where people will have their own space to grow, in addition to the Victory Garden. Heather’s wish: “I hope we’ve planted a seed so that people focus more on gardening and the need.”

Deborah Rawson Library Garden – Jericho, VT

Master Gardener Susan Adams took on the garden at Deborah Rawson Memorial Library in Underhill 10 years ago, bringing new life to a previously untended and overgrown patch. After getting support from the selectboard, library, and a local church that puts on the food shelf, Susan began growing food for the food shelf and senior center. Every year she checks in with both sites to determine what to grow based on what they need and want. In addition to growing food for more than 60 families monthly, over time they’ve added onto the garden with a flower bed and an educational/themed garden.

Over the years, Susan has developed a core of volunteers–Master Gardener Interns and other community members who want to pitch in. Front Porch Forum has played a valuable role in getting larger groups of volunteers for bigger harvests. Gordon reports that the day he visited he counted 20 volunteers helping with the harvest of over 300 pound of potatoes. Their great harvest was also reported on by the VT Digger–check out the story.

In addition to her work in the garden during the season, Susan stays in touch with the food relief orgs in the off season, making deliveries on holidays and special occasions, and is on the board of the Jericho Farmers Market.

Volunteers after potato harvest

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