The volunteer master gardeners take care of the community | CALS Magazine
Volunteers from the Burke County Master Gardeners were almost ready to plant the community garden when the pandemic struck last spring. In the wake of this shock, the volunteers learned that the land lent for the garden had been unexpectedly sold.
In Watauga County, which has one of the highest poverty rates in the state, the pandemic has increased the need for food donations, especially fresh fruits and vegetables.
In Wake County, as the usual in-person events of the Master Extension Gardener were canceled, interest in gardening was skyrocketing and vegetable seeds were scarce.
These challenges did not live up to the fertile imaginations of the volunteers of the Extension Master Gardener (EMG) program, which brings together groups in 84 counties in North Carolina.
Special deliveries for the elderly
When they couldn’t plant the community garden, volunteers in Burke County scrambled to figure out how to be of service safely in the event of a pandemic.
âBy nature, Master Gardener volunteers are social people,â says EMG advisor Donna Teasley, the North Carolina cooperative extension worker for agriculture and horticulture in Burke County. âIt’s a tough year when they can’t go out and be in the community.
In June, Burke County volunteers began weekly home deliveries to a group in need of healthy food and a friendly visit: the elderly, many of whom were isolated at home.
They received a grant of $ 1,000 from Carolina Farm Credit and support from a local church and the North Carolina EMG Volunteer Association.
Instead of growing vegetables themselves, Master Gardener volunteers bought produce from producers at the Morganton Farmers Market.
âIt was a good time to partner with the farmers’ market, which had seen a drop in visitors,â says Willie Pascal, a volunteer master gardener. âThis allowed us to support local producers and the economy.
Volunteers put together a delivery list with the help of social service agencies, the housing authority, an affordable housing project and local congregations. Volunteer master gardeners and members of the Vaud Presbyterian Church helped sort and deliver the produce.
On Wednesday, volunteers delivered locally grown beans, squash, zucchini, peppers, tomatoes, corn, cucumbers and eggplants.
âBecause we had the older generation – the average age was over 70 – they know how to cook beans and squash,â explains Pascal.
They also delivered dozens of brown eggs and ripe peaches, a source of delight.
We have established close relationships with so many people we have checked in with every week
Volunteers followed the rules on masks and social distancing, making about 50 porch deliveries each week.
Over time, they had conversations through the screen door. How are the grandchildren? What did you grow when you had a garden? With reduced family visits and social activities, company was welcome.
âWe have established close relationships with so many people we spoke to every week,â says Pascal. âDuring a pandemic, people felt lonely. Many were faced with terminal illnesses.
One visit at a time, the team reached 354 people.
âWe were welcomed with open arms whenever we were able to supply people with fresh produce,â says Pascal.
The group plans to continue special deliveries of products to seniors this year, thanks to a donation from a donor that will extend funding for the program.
Discover gardening at the seed library
The sharing of seeds and sound advice happened organically during pre-pandemic EMG events in Wake County.
When exchanging seeds and spring plants, a budding gardener might find a packet of seeds, a soil test kit, or a tomato plant, along with research-based answers from certified Master Gardener volunteers. .
…I love to be a mentor to others.
âWhen I started gardening 30 years ago, it was because I loved pretty flowers and growing a tomato,â says Karen Guy, who has completed EMG courses, internships and requirements. of service in 2017. âNow I love being a mentor to others. ”
Guy says she was inspired by the range of Wake County EMG presentations hosted by Jeana Myers, North Carolina Co-operative Extension Officer for Agriculture and Horticulture. Guy then completed an NC State Certificate program in General Horticulture in 2018.
âI wanted to go back to school to get some science, learn how to do good research, help sort through a lot of inaccurate information going around,â she says. âThis is my vocation.
When interest in planting vegetable gardens increased last spring, it was difficult to find packages of vegetable seeds. Guy put his knowledge to good use by starting a seed library in his subdivision of Wake Forest.
She was inspired by an Irish blog post on allotment gardens in the UK. Some communities operate on-site seed libraries that require those who remove seeds to make a future donation.
Guy liked the concept but not the record keeping. She began researching models of small neighborhood libraries to see if they could be adapted to hold seeds and soil test kits.
She had the perfect location: a homeowners association land near her home where she had helped set up a pollinator garden.
In May, the metal-roofed library was in place under a shade tree. Guy filled it with seeds she had bought, and another Master Gardener volunteer donated clean medicine bottles to
contain seeds. New offers and soil test kits are added periodically.
âIt was a total volunteer effort with no problem,â says Guy, who lives nearby and cools the seeds in his fridge when summer temperatures peak.
To promote the seed library, she used a Facebook group, Perennial Gardeners of Wake Forest, which has 3,000 members of the Triangle communities.
âThis idea could grow if we are successful,â says Guy, who also shared it in a local gardening magazine. âIt would be a good choice for walking areas, especially high traffic areas. I am told that other people are trying it in their subdivisions.
The best part was seeing his idea pay off.
âOne day, I was lucky enough to see a mother with her child, picking seeds and talking about how they would bring them back,â she says. âI heard from a girl that her oldest father was afraid to go out and get seeds because of the pandemic. She took it to the seed library here to get some.
âThat’s why I’m doing this. It’s fantastic. It is so rewarding.
“Plant a row for the hungry”
Master Gardeners volunteers enjoy working side by side on a project, especially when it comes to growing vegetables for a local food bank or agency serving those in need.
That’s what pleases Sandy Windelspecht, a volunteer master gardener from Watauga County who has accumulated over 200 volunteer hours since becoming certified in 2015.
âI’m a practical person with my fingers in the dirt,â says Windelspecht, who is passionate about gardening and projects that tackle poverty and food insecurity.
Windelspecht, a board member for the Hunger and Health Coalition in Boone, is the creator of Grow Watauga, a multi-faceted community gardening and outreach program that supports local food banks with fresh, nutritious food.
When in-person service opportunities dwindled during the pandemic, she transplanted a national idea, the âPlant a Row for the Hungryâ campaign. Local producers could expand their allotment gardens and make a non-contact donation to the Hunger and Health Coalition or Hospitality House, which serves the homeless.
âSandy put a lot of effort into this,â says Paige Patterson, North Carolina cooperative extension officer for agriculture, consumer and commercial horticulture in Watauga County. âI offered this as a volunteer opportunity to volunteer master gardeners who are at high risk and want to do something from home. “
Windelspecht promoted the effort through a campaign of radio announcements and articles. Those who responded received seed packets, cultivation instructions, donation information and data on the poverty rate in Watauga County.
âWe are the third poorest county in the state,â says Windelspecht. âBoone is a tourist destination, so people don’t see it that way. But one in five children here is hungry.
Who are the Master Volunteer Gardeners?
Master Gardener volunteers are passionate about gardening and are dedicated to learning and sharing research-based information. They work with horticultural and agricultural extension officers across North Carolina.
Master Gardener volunteers statewide contributed 229,687 hours of service in 2019.
To find out how to become a certified volunteer master gardener, visit:
For his ongoing work, Windelspecht won the Watauga Food Council 2020 Healthy Food System Award, awarded for cultivating collaborations that improve community health.
In 2020, of course, even the awards at Farm City’s annual banquet were âcelebrated from a distance,â as Jim Hamilton, NC Co-op Extension Manager for Watauga County, put it. But the volunteers of MaÃ®tre Jardinier will continue.
CATEGORIES: Press wire, spring 2021