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Master Gardeners bring university knowledge to Nevada’s growers

Posted 3/6/2012

By Marilyn Ming

3 Master Gardeners working in the garden.

In 1992, a seed was planted with the hopes of creating a community volunteer gardening program in Clark County. Twenty years later, the Southern Nevada Master Gardener program is in full bloom.

Over the years, more than 1,000 individuals have become certified Master Gardeners in southern Nevada, and 300 are still actively sharing their knowledge in the community.

Mary Rider (Class of ’92) was looking for a volunteer opportunity that would not only equip her with knowledge for her own backyard garden but allow her to give back to the community. Shortly after becoming a master gardener, Rider and several others found a unique way to do that when they began gathering leftover flowers from various strip hotels and arranging them in vases for the senior centers in the community.

"Giving back to the community has tremendous rewards," said Rider.

How the program works

2 Master Gardners working in garden.

The Master Gardener program, as part of University of Nevada Cooperative Extension (UNCE), trains local gardeners and works with them to disseminate safe, effective gardening information to their communities. In return for the extensive training they receive from UNCE faculty and other experts, master gardeners volunteer a minimum of 50 hours annually on community service projects.

Master Gardeners in both southern and northern Nevada keep their lawns healthy, grow luscious garden vegetables and choose trees and plants that flourish in a desert climate. Master Gardeners are trained to identify everyday gardening problems and cheerfully recommend an effective, safe treatment to eliminate it.

The northern Nevada MG program began 16 years before the program in southern Nevada and it continues to grow as well. Master Gardeners in Washoe, Storey, Douglas and Carson counties volunteered more than 9,000 hours (the equivalent of five full-time employees), had face-to-face conversations with nearly 14,000 people and answered nearly 13,000 phone calls and emails in 2010.

Since the program began in 1992 in Las Vegas, UNCE Master Gardeners of southern Nevada have contributed over 273,827 volunteer hours. The cash value is $5,709,293 (based on 2009-2010 volunteer valuation of $20.85/hour).

Linn Mills, local horticulturist and Las Vegas Review Journal columnist, was responsible for starting the Master Gardener program in Southern Nevada. Mills, then Area Director for Cooperative Extension, was a strong proponent of volunteerism and saw the Master Gardener program as a good fit for the Valley.

"Our Horticulture staff was busy fielding calls and offering classes and the community wanted even more," Mills said. "I had been impressed by the wealth of knowledge of local gardeners and felt we could merge the two."

Training and volunteering

In northern Nevada, UNCE Master Gardener Coordinator Wendy Hanson Mazet said MG candidates go through 54 hours of training. The classes are typically held in Reno in the spring and in Carson City in the fall. In addition, the fall training is offered in Douglas County and presented via interactive videoconferencing.

In southern Nevada, UNCE Master Gardener Coordinator Ann Edmunds offers 80 hours of training in Las Vegas in the spring and in the fall. "There are 20 classes consisting of a three-hour lecture followed by a 1 hour ’hands on’ landscape laboratory," Edmunds said. The southern Nevada trainings are presented to students in Pahrump, Laughlin and Logandale via interactive videoconferencing. In 2011, 85 new Master Gardener volunteers were trained statewide.

To earn certification, new Master Gardeners in southern Nevada spend 15 hours staffing the Master Gardener Help Desk at UNCE offices, answering horticulture questions from callers and visitors. In addition, they spend 20 hours on other gardening service projects and attend 15 hours of continuing education in variety of gardening-related topics.

Hanson Mazet said northern Nevada Master Gardeners volunteer by answering tough gardening questions by phone or in person, conducting plant clinics, performing soil tests, staffing booths at fairs and other events, and consulting within school and community gardens.

In order to retain their active Master Gardener status each year, Master Gardeners must donate up to 50 hours of volunteer service time and complete 10 hours of continuing education every year.

Master Gardeners also put on several free gardening presentations each year. One popular series in northern Nevada is "Gardening in Nevada." The sessions are on a variety of topics held each Tuesday evening in February and March at Bartley Ranch in Reno. On average, more than 100 people attend each session said Hanson Mazet.

In southern Nevada, Master Gardeners answer calls to the Home Gardening Help Line weekdays from 8 a.m. to 5 p., staff weekly "Ask a Master Gardener" information tables at Farmers Markets and other community locales, and volunteer their expertise at over 30 community gardening projects. Community partners include Nellis AFB, the Springs Preserve, Nathan Adelson Hospice, Nevada Division of Forestry and municipal Parks Departments.

Growing from the ground up

Group picture of Master Gardeners outside learning.

Master Gardener Joy Mandekic became a Clark County Master Gardener in 1998, but she’s been an integral part of the program since the beginning, serving as its first staff person. As the Master Gardener program coordinator from 1992-1998, Mandekic recruited students, supported instructors and developed volunteer projects.

"We had so much fun charting unchartered territory," Mandekic said.

Although Extension is associated with the University of Nevada, Reno, one of the Clark County MGs first volunteer projects was at University of Nevada, Las Vegas, where every year the group designs and plants the living, flowering UNLV "sign" and helps with landscape maintenance.

In the early years, the Master Gardener office in Las Vegas was located above an X-rated bookstore, so first impressions were critical! "Once we had people in the doors, they were avid supporters of the program," Mandekic said. "In fact, I loved the program so much that I stayed with it as a volunteer."

Volunteer Master Gardeners in southern Nevada staff the Help Desk at the Lifelong Learning Center, Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. for community members to bring in their gardening queries. Master Gardeners also assist government and nonprofit community partners on over 20 project sites across the valley, including: Acacia Park Demonstrations Gardens; Doolittle Senior Center Community Garden; Clark County Fair; Farmers Markets; Las Vegas Springs Preserve; Lieburn Senior Center Community Garden; UNR/UNLV Center for Horticulture and Water Conservation; Nathan Adelson Hospice Healing Garden; Nellis AFB Environmental Grove; Winchester Park Cultural Center; and Nevada Division of Forestry Nursery.

To mark the 20th anniversary, the University of Nevada Cooperative Extension Master Gardeners of Southern Nevada are hosting a number of celebratory events. The first, a Garden Gala on Saturday, April 21, is free and open to all gardening enthusiasts. For information, contact Antoinette Edmunds via email edmundsa@unce.unr.edu or 702-257-5587.

Master Gardeners website

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