This article originally appeared in the May/June issue of Northern Gardener.
As volunteers trained by the University of Minnesota Extension, Master Gardeners provide horticultural education to the community. Teaching adults and youth alike through a variety of venues—community education, schools, garden club meetings, community gardens, giving and food shelf gardens, and special events—Hennepin County Master Gardeners (HCMGs) also respond to gardening questions on the Garden Hotline and assist residents in their county with environmental issues related to horticulture.
Del Hampton, HCMGs community programs chair, is particularly moved to bring horticulture into schools. “The schoolyard gardens are a great way to teach youth how to develop a healthy relationship with food,” says Del. “Embedding horticulture in the science curriculum makes developing gardening skills part of the normal school experience. Using fresh produce in the school lunch program helps youth develop a taste for healthier food.” HCMGs also support schools through a Junior Master Gardener program at Champlin-Brooklyn Park Academy for Math and Environmental Sciences and give programming assistance at a number of local elementary and middle schools.
HCMGs have a special drive to work in community gardens because they create community pride, grow friendships, provide an arena for sharing knowledge and help people eat better through fresh produce. “The demand for community gardens and urban agriculture initiatives has exploded in recent years based on the desire to have local, organic, and seasonal food,” says Mollie Dean, the group’s community programs chair emeritus. “This movement is attracting young people to food production, and they are learning to be mobilized to achieve their goals. It is great to have energized, tenacious, and idealistic people banding together and achieving practical results.”
Working with MSHS
With MSHS, the Master Gardeners have partnered on a number of activities: answering gardening questions, speaking and gardening with kids at MSHS events; teaching classes sponsored by MSHS; and participating in Minnesota Green and Garden-in-a-Box programs.
“Minnesota Green has built our capacity to serve the community gardens we work in,” says Terry Straub, HCMG’s program coordinator. Plant material donated through Minnesota Green has been planted at community gardens where HCMGs regularly teach, including Sabathani Community Garden, Aeon Alliance Apartments, Hope Communities, Heritage Park Community Garden, Church of the Nazarene and others. “The plants people receive make a real difference,” says Mollie. “For many, it is a stretch to purchase tomatoes and peppers or seeds at a garden store, and these donations give them much more food than they could have provided on their own.”
HCMGs have also distributed MSHS Garden-in-a-Box kits to low-income members of their community through their “Vegetable Growing Basics” classes. If someone completes five of the six classes in the series, they are eligible for a Garden-in-a-Box kit.
Seeing gardeners start from scratch and progress to a successful vegetable garden is “immensely rewarding,” says Del. “Our goal is to help people have bountiful gardens over many years,” says Mollie, “and it can take ongoing support over several years for many class participants to meet the challenges of sustaining a vegetable garden. The Garden-in-a-Box kits offer a manageable start. I feel that I have made a difference in peoples’ lives when they say that they have eaten better because of what they learned in a gardening class and then achieved in their garden.”
The Master Gardeners also host an annual plant sale. This year’s sale to be held May 17 at the Hopkins Pavilion in Hopkins will include “MN Winners” seedlings, which are plants that tested well in the Master Gardener Seed Trials. The HCMG Learning Garden Tour in July will feature eight gardens with education stations presenting topics ranging from rain gardens to low-maintenance lawn care to beer brewing.