Master Gardener, Here We Come!

Amanda and I completed our second and final shift yesterday on the Alabama Master Gardener Help Line.

This completes the requirements we must satisfy so that we can graduate with the other members of our intern class as Master Gardeners on August 9. For both of us, it’s an opportunity to reflect on the whole of our experience as Master Gardener interns.

Our association with Central Alabama Master Gardeners Association (CAMGA) began poorly. Before we moved to Elmore County we applied for the Master Gardener program in the Spring of 2009, but we were summarily rejected. Feelings hurt, and a little angry at the snappy letter that told us we didn’t make it, we moved on, concentrated on other ways of learning to grow, and forgot about Master Gardener.

It was early the following July when Amanda got a call on her cell phone from Becky Brown, whose husband Bob was President of CAMGA. Would we still like to participate in the Master Gardener program, and if so, would we like to enroll in the session that was due to begin in August of 2010? It’s breathtaking how fast we agreed. Yes, we would be there with a big smile on our faces.

The rejection for the 2009 classes was painful, but we know now it’s the best thing that could have happened. Had we attended those 2009 classes, we would have been such rank beginners that much of the information provided would have been lost on us. We would have done our best to absorb it, but too much of it would have washed over us. Waiting a year meant that we entered the classes with the benefit of a year’s living at the farm, making mistakes, cussing at bugs and weeds, and seeing what worked and didn’t work for us. The classes were more useful to us as a result, we asked more focused questions, and we were able to be more effective companions for our fellow students.

As our mentors never tired of telling us, the 2011 intern class has been one of the most engaged, socially active classes in master gardener history. These are genuinely nice people who enjoy hanging out with each other, asking tough questions, and exploring together. Our experience with Master Gardener has been uniformly pleasant and constructive.

We began the Master Gardener experience a little nervous about the time commitment we were making: 2-4 hours of study time and 4 hours of class time each week, plus 40 hours of service/education and 10 hours of time staffing the Master Gardener Help Line. Would we be able to take that much time away from our work on the farm? Our concern was unnecessary. Once we got started, the time commitment never seemed burdensome. As I write this, both of us have recorded more than double the required service/learning hours. We had to miss one class during the fall because of travel but were able to make it up easily in the Spring with a Master Gardener group meeting in Montgomery.

It helped that the entire Master Gardener experience, beginning with the opening class and including most recently our service with the Help Line, has been superbly organized. Classes begin and end on time, people show up when and where they’re supposed to be, and the whole process functions smoothly. It’s a joy to be part of a well-run organization.

The term “Master Gardener” is misleading. We know now and will freely admit to anyone willing to listen that we have by no means “mastered” gardening. Perhaps a more accurate term would be “Gardening Servant,” because that’s what Master Gardeners do. We help schools, churches, and other organizations improve their growing practices, acting as the eyes, ears, hands, and feet of Alabama’s overworked and over-extended extension agents. Also, I’m not sure what this has to do with Master Gardening, but we Master Gardeners cook and eat a lot, too.

I’m confident Amanda and I will help with the training of the 2011 class of Master Gardeners that will begin as soon as we graduate. We will prepare and serve food, we will schlep papers, and we will be flunkies. While that’s going on, though, we will also continue our studies. It is our hope and expectation that both Amanda and I will go on to earn “Advanced Master Gardener” status. Our present plan is for Amanda to focus on organic home scale vegetable production and for me to focus on organic, home scale fruit production. We shall keep you posted.

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