Many years ago, my husband and I discovered Master Gardeners can be a gardener’s best friends. As newcomers to north Idaho, we’d had little success cultivating vegetables at our rural property. The short growing season, climate, and soil conditions baffled us. Then we attended a local farmers’ market, where we stopped at a table with a banner reading, “Idaho Master Gardeners.”
Those kind volunteers gave us such sage advice that soon we were growing an abundance of delicious veggies.
As we discovered, Master Gardeners are dedicated to volunteering in their communities, acting as official representatives of county extension offices. With years of experience and possessing a Master Gardener Certificate, these folks have a deep understanding about the issues that influence horticulture in their specific geographic area. They know how to raise fruit-bearing trees and bushes, vegetables, and flowers; how to compost and improve the soil; and how to deal with bugs and pests in an environmentally friendly way.
Among the many ways Master Gardeners improve their communities is by educating both home gardeners and organizations about sustainable, environmentally sound gardening practices. They spread the word by volunteering at farmers’ markets, writing newspaper articles, posting or blogging on social media, teaching in-person and online classes, and helping to develop and maintain demonstration gardens.
Students in the Idaho Master Gardener Certification Program spend many volunteer hours on their own projects as well.
In northern Idaho, that can include serving at an educational booth at the Kootenai County Farmers’ Market; tagging trees for Arbor Day; and working at the Earth Day Fair at the Coeur d’Alene Public Library or the annual Spring Craft Fair at Lake City High School.
Volunteers offer their time at the River City Garden Club plant sale or the O’Emlin Park Tree Give Away, and they plant flowers on the Kootenai County Fairgrounds site. Some help out at Coeur d’Alene’s Fernan Elementary School in the Idaho Master Gardener School Mentorship Program, or work in the CDA4Kids Summer Program.
Kara Carleston, coordinator for the Idaho Master Gardener Certification Program, speaks enthusiastically about an important project.
“The Pollination Project at the UI Extension Demonstration Garden at the Kootenai County Fairgrounds is a key pillar area where we serve the community,” she said. “We host classes there, hold events, and have lots of activities there during the Kootenai County Fair.”
Carleston said the program prioritizes educational efforts around native pollinators.
“North Idaho has 600 species of native bees, and we are raising many native bees at the Demonstration Garden,” she said.
In southern Idaho, Master Gardeners helped to develop a Victory Garden Course, which is offered through UI Ada County Extension. Since 2008, the course’s goal has been to provide individuals and families with up-to-date and reliable instruction and mentorship on home fruit and vegetable gardening, cooking, and food preservation.
Those who enroll vary in age, gender, and background, but they share the common goals of learning more about food gardening in Idaho, maximizing their food gardening efforts, and helping their families and communities become more self-sufficient.
Master Gardeners in the Treasure Valley are part of a nationwide volunteer project run locally by the Ada County Extension. Volunteers often work with local libraries and hospitals to set up sustainable landscapes, and help to maintain community gardens.
To become a certified Idaho Master Gardener, federal standards require a minimum of 40 hours of classroom training and 40 hours of volunteer service hours. The program is conducted through participating UI Extension’s county offices, under the direction of UI Extension educators. Field trips and readings from the Idaho Master Gardener Handbook are included in the instructional program. After you’ve finished the classroom training and volunteer service, and you’ve passed the exams, you will receive certification, valid for one year. You may extend your certification into future years through advanced training and a commitment to additional service hours. After five years, you may become a certified Advanced Idaho Master Gardener. ISI
For more information on the Idaho Master Gardener Certification Program, go to the Idaho Master Gardener website.