Did You Know?: Purdue Master Gardener Program

September 7, 2012  

Purdue Master Gardener Program

Rosie Lerner, state coordinator of the Purdue Master Gardener Program, and Jeff Phillips, a Purdue Extension agriculture educator and coordinator of the master gardener program in Tippecanoe County, stand among sunflowers planted in a demonstration garden at the Extension office on Sagamore Parkway in Lafayette. (Mark Simons/Purdue University photo)
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From presenting tips for cultivating robust fruits and vegetables to providing opportunities to meet like-minded friends, the Purdue Master Gardener Program offers many ways for Indiana horticulture enthusiasts to grow.

Purdue Extension coordinates the statewide program, which is offered in 85 of Indiana's 92 counties. It provides gardening training to volunteers, who then pass their knowledge on to other community members.

To become certified as a master gardener, participants must complete the following requirements in order: receive a minimum of 35 hours of instruction from an approved instructor — including Purdue Extension educators, advanced master gardeners and local experts — pass a written exam and complete a minimum of 35 service hours, which typically involve educating others.

Statewide, there were 3,200 active master gardeners in 2010, the most recent year for which data is available. Those master gardeners volunteered more than 122,000 hours to educate community members and harvested nearly 50,000 pounds of fresh produce, which was donated to local food pantries. In Tippecanoe County, there are about 300 active master gardeners.

"The point of the program is about helping others grow — that means literally helping gardeners grow the best plants, as well as helping them grow within the master gardener community and as volunteer teachers in their own right," says Rosie Lerner, state coordinator of the Purdue Master Gardener Program.

In 1978, Purdue Extension launched the program in four urban counties: Marion, Vanderburgh, Lake and Allen. The program launched in Tippecanoe County 10 years later.

Tippecanoe County master gardeners meet monthly at the county Extension office, 3150 Sagamore Parkway South in Lafayette. The facility includes four acres of orchards, community gardens and demonstration gardens, which master gardeners often tend and use to help teach their workshops.

Local master gardeners conduct workshops year-round, says Jeff Phillips, a Purdue Extension agriculture educator and coordinator of the Purdue Master Gardener Program in Tippecanoe County. Topics include best practices for planting and growing trees, flowers and other plants; lawn care tips; butterflies' role in gardening; and tips for creating arts and crafts from crop yields.

More information about upcoming master gardener workshops in Tippecanoe County can be found at www.extension.purdue.edu/tippecanoe.

In addition to teaching community members how to garden, Tippecanoe County's program has a broader service component, Phillips says. Master gardeners typically donate their produce to local food pantries. Each year, gardeners sell seed packets to raise money for academic scholarships for students studying horticulture at Purdue or at Ivy Tech Community College's Lafayette campus. Statewide, master gardeners raised more than $30,000 in scholarship money.

Like many county master gardener programs, Tippecanoe County's program also sees advanced master gardeners become mentors to new participants. Learning leadership skills is just one unexpected benefit master gardeners often reap from the program, Lerner says.

"Participating in the master gardener program offers a chance for gardeners to come meet people in their community who share their interests," she says. "Oftentimes, lasting friendships between people who otherwise wouldn't have met are formed during the course of our training and workshops."

Purdue Extension educators typically offer master gardener training in the fall or winter. Tippecanoe County's training, which Phillips teaches, began Wednesday (Sept. 5) and will last until Dec. 19.

Training will be held from 6 to 9 p.m. every Wednesday during that time, Phillips says. As of this week, seats in the training class remain; cost for the training is $100, though scholarships through the Extension office are available. Those interested in joining this fall's training class should contact Phillips at jphillips@purdue.edu or (765) 474-0793.

Writer: Amanda Hamon, 49-41325, ahamon@purdue.edu

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