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New crop of Master Gardeners earns diplomas

Master Gardeners Reba Gilliand, Battle Lake, left, and Donna Gill, Perham, at a recent training session--which was held at Mulligan's at Perham Lakeside Golf Course.

Gardening may be our salvation during these times of grave economic distress...

Gardening: To put food on the family's table.

Gardening: As a form of therapy, stress release and mental escape from family financial pressures.

To help gardeners throughout East Otter Tail County, 40 graduates of the recent "Master Gardener" classes are ready to volunteer.

Gardening is the fastest-growing hobby in the nation--and about to grow faster, as folks prepare for spring planting.

"I think there's going to be a lot of gardening going on this summer," predicted Perham-Devils Lake area Master Gardener Donna Gill.

The series of classes, hosted by Otter Tail County Extension and the University of Minnesota, was held in Perham in February and March.

Graduating from the class were gardeners from scattered locations--New York Mills, Perham, Dent, Detroit Lakes, Ottertail, Vining, Pelican Rapids, Ashby and other communities.

"To have 40 Master Gardener interns in rural Minnesota is amazing," said Reba Gilliand, a Master Gardener from the Battle Lake Area. "In some areas, they have cancelled the classes because there is a minimum of 20 needed to hold the classes."

Some of the top horticulture and landscape professors from the University of Minnesota are among the instructors of the Master Gardener series.

An outreach program of the U of M is how Gilliand describes the Master Gardener program. These "masters" are required to volunteer after they are certified, and become local authorities who share the latest information and research from the U of M.

"They are volunteers who are a go-between from the University," said Gilliand. The volunteers are required to give back through volunteer work, mostly through education to other gardeners, and assisting the U of M with research.

Local garden clubs are among the beneficiaries of the volunteer service of Master Gardeners, where they often give presentations. These volunteers also assist with the Children's Garden at the East Otter Tail Fairgrounds and the Courtyard of Caring at Perham Memorial Hospital and Home.

The 40 new graduates, who completed the eight-session course--held most Fridays and Saturdays in February and March, will be in full force at the upcoming "Garden Day" at the Underwood school on April 4.

In past years, there has been a Garden Day in Perham, usually in mid-March. But with the Master Gardener classes in full swing in March, it was decided to combine East and West Otter Tail and have one large Garden Day in Underwood, which is somewhat centrally located in the county.

To become a Master Gardener, you first must enroll and be accepted in your local county Extension program. Contact Vicki Schwanke at the Extension office (for Otter Tail County call 218-385-5420 New York Mills or 218-998-8760 Fergus Falls).

Master Gardeners are required to volunteer 50 hours the first year and 25 hours annually thereafter. Active volunteers are also asked to participate in continuing education of 5-12 hours per year, depending on the county in which they volunteer.

Other activities of Master Gardeners include:

* teaching classes and workshops

* answering phone inquiries concerning home horticulture

* assisting with county Horticulture Days

* guiding and supervising community plantings and school gardens

* teaching and judging youth horticulture projects

* media interviews and articles on horticulture topics

* speaking to schools and youth groups on gardening topics

* holding plant clinics at garden centers and farmers' markets

* representing the program at county and state fair exhibits

Many Master Gardeners are also involved with horticulture therapy for both children and adults, teaching horticulture in hospitals, nursing homes, and retirement centers.

To illustrate the impact of the University of Minnesota Master Gardener Program, if each Master Gardener contacts 5 people directly per hour of volunteer work (a conservative estimate): 2,200 active Master Gardeners x 25 hours volunteered per year x 5 people served = 275,000 people receiving information each year through the program.