Serve – September 2018

2018 Gold Badge Profiles

by Bethany Thies, EMG

One of the highest levels of service an Extension Master Gardener (EMGs) can receive is the Gold Badge, which is bestowed on those EMGs who have reached 1000 hours of volunteer service.  This year, the MSU Extension is awarding this honor to three area EMGs: Marina Deering, Cheryl Gross and Michele Worden.

Recently, the Real Dirt asked these three hard-working EMGs to talk a little bit about their time as Master Gardeners.  Here are their comments:

The Real Dirt:  When and where did you get your Master Gardener training?

Marina Deering:  Northwest Michigan Horticulture Research Station in 2004.

Cheryl Gross:  MSU Extension in Leelanau County in 2011.

Michele Worden:  I took the class in 2002 when I was taking a temporary leave of absence from work due to my pregnancy.  I could not travel.

RD:  What prompted you to apply for Master Gardener training?  

MD:  Two reasons: To serve the community and learn how to garden in four seasons. I moved here from Southern California, which has a year-round growing season, and had no clue how to garden with four seasons.

CG:  Like many, I was interested in the comprehensiveness of the training.  I wanted to know more for personal reasons. I did not have a clue about the volunteering aspects.  I thought about taking the training when I lived in Wayne County, MI, and again when I lived in Allegheny County, PA.  FINALLY, 20 years later I managed to fit it in to my schedule in Benzie County!

MW:  I had wanted to take the course since I first learned about it as a newlywed home owner in Ferndale, MI, in 1993.  I was eagerly landscaping my house and planting a vegetable garden and read every garden magazine I could get my hands on.  When I first read about it in Nancy Szerlag’s column in the Detroit Free Press, I wanted to take the class.

RD:  What have been some of your more memorable volunteering assignments?  

MD:  Assisting the residents at Grand Traverse Pavilions with their planter boxes on their porches; helping install and maintain the rain gardens at the Boardman River Nature Center; working at the Leelanau Community Garden in Suttons Bay; and the MGANM bus trips to visit nurseries, gardens and horticultural distributors to expand our gardening knowledge.

CG:  Oh, my.  That is a hard one.  Most of my hours have been earned as the editor of the Real Dirt.  Working with Whitney Miller, aka Techie Chick, and the original volunteer group… Sonia Clem and Nancy Denison as we felt our way through a redesign and change from a mailed paper document to an on-line format is certainly memorable.  I have really enjoyed meeting and working with ALL of the contributors.

Also, working with Habitat for Humanity recently required a lot of listening, flexibility and adapting to juggle a landscape design to suit the site as well as the homeowner’s vision and the limited number of donated plants available.  I guess the most memorable projects are the ones that make me work outside of my “bubble” or comfort zone.

MW:  I was certified and became the mother of twins in the same year.  I started volunteering in the Traverse Area Children’s Garden, first as a garden mentor then leader, when the twins were toddlers.  That was a magical time. Arts and crafts in the garden.

When the kids went to a local Montessori school I helped a bit in their gardens and was eventually tasked with taking over the school garden and greenhouse as the director of the Della Terra Program.  I loved starting seedlings with the kids in the greenhouse each spring for a spring plant sale to parents and planting a pollinator garden in 2009 to pollinate the squash and tomatoes, way before it was a “thing”.  I remember digging potatoes with the toddler classes and their parents for the Harvest Dinner I organized at the school in the fall. I also started a Food of the Month program to teach students about the cycle of food – planting, tending, harvesting and cooking in the school’s kitchen classroom.  Monthly presentations with the plants and different foods made with the plants was an amazing show and tell.

RD:  What volunteer projects are you working on now?  

MD:  The Botanic Garden at Historic Barns Park in Traverse City where I am Board secretary, docent, gardener.  I also work with the Smart Gardening program, sharing information with the community.

CG:  The September Real Dirt!  And arranging speaking dates for 2019.  Garden Clubs plan their calendars well ahead of time so in August and September they are looking for programs for the entire year ahead.  Keeping track of who called and what topic we settled on can be hard, I am learning to keep better notes!

MW:  I have been the president of the MGANM since 2015.  We have done a lot of administrative work modernizing the association – incorporating, joining the Michigan Master Gardener Association.  Recently we upgraded our financials to Quickbooks Online. I do most of the programming and PR. It has been a lot of work. Fun, but does not leave a lot of room for other volunteer activities at the moment.  I look forward to passing the mantle to the next president and getting my hands dirty again.

RD:  How has becoming a Master Gardener and volunteering with the Master Gardener program every year changed your life?  

MD:  The Master Gardener program has improved my life a great deal. I continue to learn, use and share new science-based information related to responsible horticulture practices. And, I have established wonderful friendships with some of my fellow Master Gardeners.

CG:  I was already a native plant devotee before I took the class, and since taking the class I have had to broaden my knowledge of (a lot) and use of non-native plants (but only a little).  Understanding plant care, soils and pruning techniques PLUS insects has been very beneficial when I manage my own gardens and talk to others. I spend quite a bit of time studying, researching and learning more about Master Gardener topics.  Further, I appreciate the other Master Gardeners I have met through the Real Dirt and MGANM meetings. Gardeners are a lovely group of people who appreciate beauty and do not mind getting in the dirt to create it!

MW:   I have made so many lifelong friends that I cannot imagine being without it.  Before I took the class I worked as a consultant and traveled to clients every week.  That stopped when I had the twins and was certified. Being a Master Gardener made that an easy transition.  

RD:  What advice would you give new Master Gardeners just starting the volunteering process?  

MD:  Congratulations on your commitment to improving quality of life in the community!  The initial 40-hour volunteer requirement for certification may seem daunting at first.  It is worth the effort!

CG:  FIND YOUR NICHE!  The Master Gardener program is extensive.  While comprehensive in one aspect, the class offers only the tip of the iceberg.  If bugs are your thing, focus on IPM. If food gardening is your thing, go be great at that.  Native plants are my focus. I know the most about that topic. If you are unsure? Try several areas of volunteering in your first couple of years… one or more will call you in.  When that happens, follow your passion.

MW:   I think trainees should find an existing project they are passionate about and volunteer most of the hours there as a kind of apprenticeship.  It is the best way to learn through doing, and Master Gardeners are great teachers. I would also say to make the most out of their experience they should become active in the local MGANM association.  The meetings have excellent educational opportunities and it is easy to earn hours by helping.

RD:  Thank you ladies.  And congratulations on reaching 1000 hours of volunteer service!

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