Volunteers are expected to share their knowledge by helping the public.
By BOB JACKSON
VINDICATOR COURTHOUSE REPORTER
YOUNGSTOWN -- How does your garden grow?
Is it quite contrary and in need of some prodding to produce? Is it infested with crawling critters you've never seen before?
Perhaps Mahoning County's master gardeners can help.
The master gardener program is offered through the Ohio State University Extension Agency in Canfield. It started in 1994 and has been steadily growing since, said Pete Morabito, extension agent.
David Goerig, horticulturist, said there are now more than 71 volunteers in the program, who logged nearly 5,000 hours of service last year.
"We're here to serve, and we're reaching out now more than ever," Morabito said, noting that the program fits in the extension agency's philosophy of outreach.
Program participants receive 50 hours of instruction by extension agency staff in topic including botany, vegetable and flower gardening, house plants, lawn care, soil improvement, growing fruit, plant propagation, and the planting, care and pruning of trees.
When they complete the training, including quizzes and exams, they are deemed master gardener interns. The volunteers then use their new knowledge to help the agency in its community activities.
"We encourage them to be leaders, not weeders," Goerig said. "We don't want them out pulling weeds from some municipality's flower beds."
Instead, the volunteers are expected to provide instructional help to the public, with either a hands-on approach or through oral instruction.
"It's whatever they are most comfortable with," Goerig said. "Some like getting their fingers in the soil, some prefer to teach other ways."
Volunteers perform tasks like speaking to garden clubs and other organizations, planting and maintaining the extension agency's demonstration garden, working with 4-H youth in projects, working on horticulture projects with nursing home patients, judging garden contests and assisting at garden fairs and plant sales.
Other projects include design and maintenance of herb gardens and doing basic landscaping work.
Those are all jobs historically done by the extension agency. But keeping up with those tasks strains the agency's limited staff in its ability to do other work, like providing services to farmers.
"The extension agency relies a lot on volunteers," Goerig said. "They are the backbone of what we do."
Another important task is helping staff the agency's office to field questions from the public, Goerig said. Last year, the agency received some 2,350 telephone calls from people inquiring about everything from how to plant flowers to identifying bugs around their home or plants.
If the volunteers are unable to answer the question, the call is referred to Goerig.
"That's why we train these people, so they can in turn help other people," he said.
Once the 50 hours of service is completed, the volunteer is designated a master gardener. The designation is good for one year. Six hours of follow-up instruction is required to maintain the status each year after that.
Goerig said Fellow Riverside Gardens at Mill Creek Park also has a master gardener program, whose volunteers help maintain that facility. He stressed that the county's is not intended to compete with the park's.
He said the next training class will begin as soon as enough volunteers are signed up, probably in the fall. There needs to be at least 25 people to fill the class, he said.