Master Gardeners Help Improve the Beauty of Rockland County Communities

BY BARRY WARNER

You might not know that the Cornell Cooperate Extension has a program that aim to spread gardening knowledge throughout the community. The Master Gardener Program consists of a corps of volunteers, trained by Cornell Cooperative Extension instructors in gardening, a skill that truly is a cross between art and science.

The newly trained gardeners then use their horticultural skills to educate others. Each volunteer agrees to give back 100 hours of service over a two year period and then continue in the program as a certified Master Gardener.

Master Gardener activities include:

. Teaching gardening to children, adults and community groups.

. Working with schools in after-school programs and school gardens.

. Answering inquiries and assisting in the Horticultural Diagnostic Lab.

. Providing Horticultural Therapy at local healthcare facilities.

Rockland County residents are tutored by the Master Gardeners about container gardening, landscape and garden design, lawn care, native plants, vegetables and fruits, herbs, plant diseases, organic gardening and water conservation.

Donna Alese Cooke, Horticulture Resource Educator told The Rockland County Times, “Our mission is to provide continuing education to Rockland County residents by teaching friendly gardening practices such as composting, construction and use of rain barrels, sustainable gardening and Integrated Pest Management (IPM) techniques. We have over one hundred volunteer certified Master Gardeners in our program.”

A sustainable garden works in harmony with nature. Organic gardening is growing food without the use of petrochemical pesticides, herbicides and inorganic fertilizers that pollute the soil and water. It relies on the use of beneficial insects such as hover flies, the diversity of plants like elderberry and the use of compost to supply the soil with nutrients.

Integrated Pest Management (IPM) is a method used to control pests in an environmentally responsible manner. By reducing the dependence on pesticides, the process protects the environment and health of residents. Pests can include insects and mites, rodents, certain birds, plant diseases and weeds. Cockroaches and mice are monitored using glue traps. Bacteria-based pesticides are used on vegetables and other crops protecting natural enemies in house gardens. Practices that keep pests from their basic needs of food, shelter and water reduce problems.

Amy Albam said, “The Horticultural Lab staff identifies indoor pests and suggests treatment, diagnoses plant and pest problems, identifies ticks, tests soil pH and advises on gardening and yard care.”

Volunteer Master Gardener Donna DeSousa said, “On Thursdays from 9:30am –Noon, the Demonstration Garden Group meets and we maintain the plants, do weeding and watering. I have been gardening in my own yard for a long time and when I met a Master Gardener years ago , I was encouraged to take the training.”

Volunteer Master Gardener Kathy Dowd said, “I enjoy the physical exercise of working outdoors, as well as seeing things grow, such as flowers and vegetables. This is a good group of people to work with.”

Volunteer Master Gardener Celia Juris indicated, “I love gardening plus speaking to adults and working with children in the schools. I belong to a group called RISE or Retirees in Service to the Environment.”

Long-time Volunteer Master Gardener John Long said, “I enjoy gardening as well as growing food and pumpkins in my own backyard. I have volunteered about 4,500 hours in this program.”

Long-time Volunteer Master Gardener Frank Dickinson stated, “I started volunteering in this program about twenty-four years ago. I teach Horticulture Therapy to organizations that serve people with special needs.”

Being a Volunteer Master Gardener is a rewarding and gratifying experience.

For further information about the Training Program, contact Donna Alese Cooke, Community Horticulture Educator at (845) 429-7085, ext. 108.