NEW ORLEANS – Since 1998, Master Gardeners in the Greater New Orleans area have been getting involved in projects that help keep the region green. The first Master Gardener classes in the area were held in Orleans, St. Bernard and Jefferson parishes.
In January 2004, Master Gardener graduates from these parishes began meeting together in New Orleans and Metairie. By July 2006, this group had drafted Articles of Incorporation and Bylaws officially creating the Master Gardeners of Greater New Orleans (MGGNO) for Jefferson, Orleans, St. Bernard and Plaquemines parishes.
Like other Louisiana Master Gardener programs, MGGNO members must fulfill annual continuing education and volunteer service hours to maintain their individual certification as a Louisiana Master Gardener.
“MGGNO is unique in the state because you have people working together on projects in each of the four parishes,” said LSU AgCenter horticulture agent J. B. Anders in Jefferson Parish.
MGGNO president Cindy Metcalf has been a Master Gardener since 1987 and brings multistate experience to the local program.
“I had been a Master Gardener in Virginia, Texas and in Tennessee before moving to Louisiana,” Metcalf said.
Metcalf uses this variety of experience to keep MGGNO members involved in projects to gain volunteer hours and to help keep the area beautiful.
“We have about 15 ongoing projects around the city that we manage,” Metcalf said. “And we have about 150 Master Gardeners that are certified through the program.”
Some of the projects the Master Gardeners are involved with include the Arc Uptown Cut-Flower and Perennial Garden, the Butterfly Circle Garden at Audubon Zoo, Aycock Farmers Market in St. Bernard, Holly Grove Farm and Market, Victory Garden at the WWII Museum and the New Orleans Botanical Garden Project.
Their work is helping residents in the city, Metcalf said. The Holly Grove Farm and Market is in an area that was a food desert, and she along with other volunteers are helping to provide fresh vegetables to residents in the area.
“Another important project that we are working on is the oval garden at the historic Latter Library on St. Charles Avenue,” Metcalf said. “This historic structure had been shuttered for a number of years, but we’re now working with a coalition of groups designing and maintaining the grounds there.”
These are but a few of the projects the volunteers are involved in throughout the region, she said. “We also are working with schools and farmers markets in the area as part of our volunteer hours.”
Allan Babb, a Master Gardener in Jefferson Parish, said he’s been a member for just over a year but has been involved with plants for many years.
Babb said one of the thrills of being a member of MGGNO is that he is not limited to just volunteering in one parish.
“Even though I live in Marrero, I do a lot my volunteer work at the visitor center in Lafitte,” Babb said. “When I found the AgCenter website, it wasn’t long before I also found the Master Gardener program.”
Babb is a non-traditional Master Gardener in that he still works full time.
“I do shift work, so I volunteer anytime I can when I’m not on my regular job,” he said. “I’m sure I bore my coworkers to death talking about the projects that I’m working on.”
About 10 percent of the state’s population is in the New Orleans region, and there is strong interest in the Master Gardener program because it’s a good thing, said Andrew Loyd, LSU AgCenter horticulture agent in Orleans Parish.
“Each year they have their spring and fall symposium, they mentor students in the LMG training classes, and they have members who represent the LSU AgCenter at farmers markets in the area,” Loyd said.
Some of the operating funds for the organization come from the symposiums, and other funds come from the $25 annual dues paid by the 150 members, Metcalf said.
“That money goes into projects,” she said. “We try to use all of it each year.”
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