Master Gardeners: One way extension moved to urban areas

Linda Benedict, Morgan, Johnny W.  |  6/24/2014 9:13:53 PM

Johnny Morgan

In the early part of the 20th century, the majority of Americans lived on the farm, and many made their living from what their farms produced. In those early days, the Louisiana Cooperative Extension Service was known as an organization that worked with farmers and farm families.

Extension provided the agent who helped the farmer produce his crops and the farm wife preserve fruits and vegetables. The 4-H agent was the teacher outside of school for farm children.

But as time passed and people began to move from the farm to urban and suburban areas, it also became necessary for the Cooperative Extension Service to adjust to the change and to revamp programs.

One of the most noticeable programs in the urban setting has been the Master Gardener program.

Bobby Fletcher, LSU AgCenter assistant director for urban programs, said the Louisiana Master Gardener program has been in place in urban areas since 1994.

“The first chapter was organized in East Baton Rouge Parish as a means to extend research-based information to home gardeners,” Fletcher said. “It was adopted statewide in 1997, and now it is offered in 23 parishes with volunteer participation in 46 parishes.”

Currently, there are more than 2,000 active Louisiana Master Gardeners that serve many roles in helping county extension agents deliver educational consumer horticultural programs and information.

AgCenter horticulturist Steve Hotard, whose responsibilities include the Master Gardener program in Ouachita Parish, said he experienced the move toward more urban respon responsibilities after working 20 years as an area forestry agent.

“In 2008, I accepted the position of horticulture and forestry area agent in Ouachita Parish,” Hotard said. “Before this time, most of my contacts were landowners with properties in rural areas and the forest industry.

“Demand on my time increased dramatically with office calls, office visits and requests for home visits,” Hotard said. “Mass media demands also increased.”

Some citizens with a connection to agriculture during their early years have found their way back to the Cooperative Extension Service as Master Gardener volunteers.

Linda Vinsanau, a Master Gardener in Orleans and Jefferson parishes, said knowledge of extension was common for people when she was growing up in rural Louisiana back in the 1940s.

“My dad was a truck farmer,” Vinsanau said. “He grew both spring and winter crops, and he would bring the produce to the French Market in New Orleans.”

She said her dad depended heavily on extension agents for knowledge to conduct his business.

Vinsanau said the county agent would have seminars for the farmers based on what they were growing or what they were doing.

“Master Gardeners came at a very good time in my life because it was right after Katrina,” she said. “I was in a very heavily devastated area where we lost everything. So I needed a new purpose in life. Master Gardeners really gave that to me.”

Johnny Morgan is a communications specialist with LSU AgCenter Communications.

(This article was published in the spring 2014 issue of Louisiana Agriculture.)

 Watch this 1:27-min video about Extension in the urban areas, Agents of Change: Urban Accomplishments.

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