Category Archives: master gardener

Honoring our Master Gardener volunteers

On Friday, June 17, Michigan State University Extension hosted a dinner in Grand Rapids to honor 344 Extension Master Gardener Program volunteers from 31 counties with over 1,000 volunteer hours of service. MSU Extension also created a gold Extension Master Gardener name badge for each volunteer to show our appreciation for his or her service.

“These volunteers are the heart of the Master Gardener Program in Michigan,” said Mary Wilson, state coordinator and MSU Extension educator. “Their contribution to improving the lives of others and Michigan communities through horticulture is simply astounding.”

When you combine all the service hours from these individuals, it totals 17,333 weeks or 333 years of service. What an outstanding contribution to the people in our state! Thank you to our Master Gardener volunteers for your work with MSU Extension to serve Michigan residents.

I encourage us all to take a moment to reach out to a volunteer that you know and send them a quick thank-you note.

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MSUE Kent County Junior Master Gardener Program gets kids active, educated and outdoors

In an age when childhood obesity is a real concern and when children are pulled indoors by the attraction of video and computer games, gardening can be a welcome solution. Gardening can not only get kids active and outdoors, it can get them excited about eating healthy food that they’ve grown themselves. Growing a garden can become a lifelong activity that can lead to a healthy, active life.

 Michigan State University Extension Kent County coordinated the Junior Master Gardener (JMG) Program in Grand Rapids and Lowell during the summers of 2010 and 2011. The once-a-week 10- to 12-week program involved Kent County fourth through sixth graders with 11 to 22 children participating depending on the year and location.

Grand Rapids Junior Master Gardener students and parents plant an herb garden.

Grand Rapids Junior Master Gardener students and parents plant an herb garden at the MSU Extension Kent County Office at a May 21, 2011, planting party. Photo by Kendra Wills.

 Besides getting a lot of exercise by working in the garden, kids participated in a garden-related craft activity and learned about nutrition while making a healthy snack. The children went on field trips to various locations including a local greenhouse, a food pantry, an apiary and a daylily garden where they learned how to pollinate daylilies. Amy Irish-Brown, Extension educator, was their tour guide when they visited Clarksville Research Center, part of MSU’s AgBioResearch. They even operated a farm stand at a local farmers market and learned from two local chefs how to properly cut fruits, vegetables and herbs from their garden for cooking and eating.

 The kids did homework. Homework in the summer? That’s right. But I’m told this was homework that the kids got excited about. Kids read from their Junior Master Gardener workbooks (Texas A&M 4-H curricula) and cooked with produce from their JMG gardens. At the last class, a recipe book of all the students’ recipes was compiled and printed for everyone to take home.

 Extension educator Kendra Wills coordinated both the Grand Rapids and Lowell programs this summer. Extension educator Rebecca Finneran lent her help and expertise in Grand Rapids with the support of the MSU Extension Kent County Master Gardener Program. The Lowell Area Schools, Lowell Community Wellness and the Lowell Area Community Fund supported the Lowell program.

Grand Rapids Junior Master student shows off a flower at a Kent County Master Gardener's home daylily garden in July 2011.

Grand Rapids Junior Master student shows off a flower at a Kent County Master Gardener's home daylily garden in July 2011. The participants learned how to pollinate daylilies and create their own cross breeds. Photo by Kendra Wills.

 Although this effort technically falls under the MSU Extension Greening Michigan Institute, it really connects all the institutes because it provides education on agriculture to children and youth, promotes health and nutrition, and supports the creation of local food systems.

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Master Gardeners answering questions statewide

In the past, anyone calling a local Michigan State University Extension office with a gardening question might have to get an answer from someone in a field other than consumer horticulture. That all changed when Master Gardener volunteers from Genesee, Kalamazoo, Kent, Livingston, Oakland and Washtenaw counties stepped up and generously donated their time to answering questions that come through the existing toll-free number. Now statewide, people can get answers to questions from a consumer horticulture expert concerning vegetable and flower gardening; lawns, shrubs and trees; indoor plants; and garden and house pests.

Bob Bricault, MSU Extension horticulture educator and project leader on this program, is proud of the Master Gardeners. Bob knows that change is often challenging, yet the volunteers took on this task – even though it was different from what they were used to – and accepted the challenge.

 Bob explained. “That’s what’s great about Master Gardener volunteers. They’re taking their training to educate the public, helping them make decisions that affect their lives and the environment.”

 A team of horticulture educators developed the state garden hotline. The team included Bob, Rebecca Finneran, Terry McLean, Gretchen Voyle, Linda Whitlock and Mary Wilson. The team has provided educational materials for answering the calls from across the state and helped with the planning and development process for the hotline. The team will use webinars for future training sessions for Master Gardener volunteers that are staffing the hotlines.

 The project is part of the targeted program through the Agriculture and Agribusiness Institute and just another example of how we use technology to provide Michigan gardeners and consumers with the information that they need to help them improve their lives.

 The MSUE Lawn and Garden Hotline uses the same toll-free number that people use to reach county offices: 1-888-MSUE-4MI (1-888-678-3464). It is answered weekdays between 9 a.m. and noon and 1 and 4 p.m. People who call during other times are directed to the “Ask an Expert” feature at

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They’re growing more than vegetables in Kalamazoo County

As you know, Michigan State University Extension excels at developing partnerships that impact communities. There’s a plot of land in Kalamazoo County that is growing community as well as vegetables. Humphrey Products and Kendall Electric provide the land that is tended by Kalamazoo County Master Gardener volunteers led by Linda Whitlock, MSUE Kalamazoo County horticulture educator. Humphrey Products also provides city water and a place for volunteers to park; the city of Portage provides partially mulched leaves and Kalamazoo County loaned the use of a tractor. The partnerships do not stop there. The Food Bank of South Central Michigan will pick up the fresh produce grown in the garden and deliver it to Kalamazoo Loaves and Fishes, which has seen a large increase in the need for food. More than 15,000 pounds of fresh vegetables were collected from the garden last year to feed people who are in need. For more on the story, click on

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Extension Master Gardener national blog now available

Cooperative Extension Master Gardener (EMG) program coordinators launched the first national blog for EMG volunteers this past Monday. EMG volunteers now have a new communication tool to encourage interaction and sharing at the national, state and local level. EMG coordinators and guest contributors from various states will take turns sharing a weekly blog post on a topic geared toward the national EMG community. Master Gardeners are encouraged to discuss items appearing in blog posts by submitting comments using the blog’s commenting features. This is a fantastic national resource for connecting stakeholders with Master Gardener content and one that our Extension staff members can use to reach Michigan Master Gardener volunteers and others with horticultural interests in Michigan. It will be a great place for EMGs to communicate with each other about gardening project ideas, educational opportunities and events. It will be interesting to see the exchange of knowledge between regions and states. Blog posts can be found directly at or through the new national Extension Master Gardener website at

 The blog is part of eXtension, an interactive learning environment. If anyone would like to serve as a Michigan State University Extension eXtension “expert” by answering questions from the public in your area of expertise, you can take advantage of the short Adobe Connect sessions being offered right now to help people get oriented to the system. Contact Lela Vandenberg ( or Liz Wells ( for more information.

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Hundreds flock to learn about urban ag in Edible Flint tour

What is it that makes gardening seem so wholesome? Whether it’s to beautify an altered landscape or to put juicy slices of tomato on a sandwich, gardens appeal to many – even those who don’t have a clue about how to get started. A recent MSU Extension program in Flint showed that the interest in gardening is serious and growing.

On August 29, residents filled busses to tour five different urban agriculture projects in Flint. The organizers of the Edible Flint Food Garden Tour expected about 40 or 50 interested tour participants. Imagine their surprise when more than 220 people showed up!

Kudoes to Terry McLean, MSUE horticulture educator, and the rest of the Genesee County staff members and Master Gardener volunteers who worked not only on the tour, but putting the plans in place to make sure that the people in their community have access to fresh vegetables.

Read more about the celebration of goodwill, community and food gardening here.

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Growing chocolate in Michigan

The chocolate garden at the Barry County fair.

The chocolate garden at the Barry County fair.

Michelle Rodgers and I had a guided tour of the Barry County fair yesterday by two outstanding 4-Hers, David Comeau and Julie Feldpausch. After touring many of the 4-H exhibits, we ended our tour with the incredible gardens exhibited at the fair. There’s a great mix of showcase gardens, some by Master Gardeners, some by 4-H youth, and some by our nutrition education program staff for SNAP-ED participants. One that caught my eye (and nose and taste buds) was a garden that featured plants connected to a chocolate theme. We can’t grow cacao outdoors in Michigan, but there were many others that tied together around an attractive theme: chocolate sunflowers, chocolate peppers, chocolate mint, chocolate daisy, chocolate pansies, chocolate Ajuga, and even chocolate cosmos. In addition, they used a mulch made from husks of roasted cacao beans. What a great idea, and it’s the brainstorm of Master Gardener volunteer Diana McGuire. I’m sure others have found other plants linked to chocolate either by aroma, flavor or color. I think I’m ready for an iced mocha about now.

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