Master Gardeners move to create more sustainable gardens in Louisiana

Jr. Fletcher, Peterson, Grace, Chesser, Vicky, Walker, Charles, Hotard, Steven L., Van Osdell, Mary Ann, Cummins, Denyse B.  |  3/18/2009 9:41:46 PM

The Highland Community Garden in Shreveport. (Photo by Mary Ann Van Osdell)

News Release Distributed 03/18/09

Creating sustainable gardens and more community and school gardens are some of the trends in the LSU AgCenter’s 15-year-old Master Gardener program, but educational activities and volunteer service still serve as the group’s focus.

Begun in 1994, the Louisiana Master Gardener program is offered through LSU AgCenter parish extension offices across the state. So far, more than 3,000 individuals have been certified as Louisiana Master Gardeners, said Bobby Fletcher Jr., assistant director of the Louisiana Cooperative Extension Service.

Not just anybody can become a Master Gardener. You have to apply, get accepted and commit to 40 hours of volunteer service to share with others what you’ve learned and help beautify your community’s landscapes and gardens. In 2008, that amounted to 52,000 volunteer service hours including past graduates plus Master Gardeners in training, Fletcher said.

Fletcher figures the economic impact of volunteer hours implemented during 2008 by the 1,250 Master Gardener volunteers, who report their activities through an online reporting system, amounts to more than $1 million. Each volunteer service hour is worth nearly $20, he said.

Master Gardener participants attend class for 40-50 hours over a period of 8-16 weeks. Topics include botany, soil, insect control, plant disease, fruit and vegetable culture, lawn care and weed science.

In 2009, an emphasis of the Master Gardener program is promoting school gardens. Louisiana Master Gardeners will act as resources for schools to initiate outdoor classrooms to teach youth the importance of agriculture, nutrition and healthy eating habits, Fletcher said.

“This is an opportunity to connect with the 4-H Junior Master Gardener program to complement school curriculum and educational benchmarks,” Fletcher said.

Denyse Cummins, LSU AgCenter regional horticulture agent in Shreveport, has started an advanced Master Gardener training aimed at youth and community gardening and sustainable landscaping.

“We have started advanced Master Gardeners classes here that don’t exist anywhere else that I’m aware of,” she said.

Youth and community gardening is a 22-hour intensive training program that includes 10 classroom hours and 12 hours of hands-on training, said Grace Peterson, LSU AgCenter assistant extension agent in Bossier City. A commitment of 18 volunteer hours per year is required of participants. The program covers plant science, planning a vegetable garden, good nutrition through gardening and building community in the garden.

Peterson and Cummins were part of a team that received the 2008 Denver T. and Ferne Loupe Extension Team Award for their involvement in the construction of five gardens in Shreveport that offered citizens an opportunity to consume fresh vegetables, learn about nutrition and instill pride in area neighborhoods. This is one of the major awards presented at the LSU AgCenter each year.

Peterson and Vicky Chesser, LSU AgCenter regional coordinator for the Family Nutrition Program, recently addressed the Shreveport Metropolitan Planning Commission and Zoning Board regarding food systems, food security, and health and wellness as they relate to the city’s master plan.

Access to healthy foods and neighborhood food markets is an area of increasing interest to community developers, Chesser said. Food-related economic development is an important component of sustainable communities, she said.

Calvin Walker, Webster Parish assistant extension agent, said Master Gardener volunteers answer gardeners’ telephone questions, hold plant sales and offer tours of area gardens.

The Northeast Louisiana Master Gardener Association has installed a butterfly garden and container garden demonstration area at the LSU AgCenter Calhoun Research Station near Calhoun. They also initiated a community garden project in Monroe on a vacant church property, building garden beds for public use.

Master Gardeners are planting, maintaining and planning educational programs at three vegetable garden demonstration plots located at the West Monroe Farmers’ Market, said Steven Hotard, LSU AgCenter horticulture agent in Ouachita Parish. They are emphasizing organic practices, he said.

The annual state conference for Louisiana Master Gardeners will be held in New Orleans May 21-24. The theme is "Gardening Renaissance – What’s Old Is New Again” and will feature programs and workshops on sustainable gardening practices.

For more information about the Master Gardener program, you may contact your local LSU AgCenter parish extension office.

Mary Ann Van Osdell

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