Jessica Walliser
October 20, 2011

Jessica Walliser and Master Gardeners at the Master Gardener's Conference
Courtesy Jessica Walliser
At the Master Gardener’s Conference, I got to meet some Master Gardeners who do amazing work in their communities.

Sorry, folks. I missed posting last week. I was in the beautiful state of West Virginia for the International Master Gardener’s Conference, where I had the incredible opportunity to serve as both the Master of Ceremonies and a breakout presenter. Nearly a thousand Master Gardeners there from across the country attended the event; a few dozen came from Canada and a handful even traveled from abroad. What a pleasure it was to spend four days with so many kindred spirits!

The program crew there did a fabulous job piecing together more than 42 educational tracts on everything from “greening” your garden and the sex lives of plants to soil science and new plant introductions. Speakers included folks like Rick Darke, Anna Ball, Joe Lamp’l, Bill Cullina, Lee Reich and Vincent Simeone—what an amazing line-up! They also offered day trips to a ginseng and medicinal-plant farm, the grounds of the state capital and Museum of Culture and History, and the Allegheny Highlands. There was also a wonderful trade show with participants hawking everything from tools, peonies, jewelry, books and herbs to body products, wines and plants.

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It was an amazing gathering and an incredible opportunity to find out what Master Gardener groups across the nation are doing to help better their communities. I met many people who dedicate thousands of hours every year to educating and helping others. A group from Illinois works in a 7-acre garden built exclusively to serve their regional food pantry. A group from Chicago organizes and operates a community garden with more than 100 4- by 6-foot beds planted and harvested by low-income families. Another group from Oregon grows food on-site for the chimpanzees at a rescue sanctuary. Still others include those working with inmates at a penitentiary to grow their own food and teach them valuable job skills in hopes of making them more employable upon their release; another group trials poinsettias for breeders and then sells them as a fundraiser for a local special-needs school; and many other groups who go into public schools every day to educate children about nature and pass along their love of gardening.

Master Gardeners are a group that hammers home the value of volunteering like none other. If you love getting your hands dirty and want to make a difference in your own community, contact your local land grant university and become a Master Gardener. You’ll learn a lot about gardening for sure but more importantly, you’ll learn the joy of helping others. 

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