Want to Master your Gardening techniques and grow your own food?

Food and water are critical for human survival, but aside from acquiring our food from out in the “wilds” of grocery store shelves or a fast food drive through, do any of us have a real relationship with our food? Do we know where our food comes from before is processed, or how it is grown?

The answers to these questions can be found within the Washington State University Master Gardeners Program. Funny enough, some people were thinking about the exact same questions back in 1973 when the first WSU Master Gardeners Program was initiated in the state of Washington. The program just celebrated its 37th anniversary with an estimation of 1,600 volunteers having completed the course. This program not only teaches a person how to grow their own supply of fruits and vegetables, but it expands to teaching volunteers about pest management, selection of appropriate plants, reducing the impact of invasive species within the area and the conservation and quality of one’s water supply.

Now you may grunt and groan at the prospect of having to grow your own food, you may even say, “How is that supposed to help me eat now, let alone help me with my hot pocket deficiency?” Your answer would be that due to the work of both master gardeners and farmers over the growing seasons, you have access to food (though hot pockets are another story).

Growing one’s own food can be a pain if one doesn’t know a thing about gardening, but that is why programs such as this are important. They keep the access to that knowledge flowing, so that anyone who takes an interest in learning how to grow can readily contact and receive assistance, whether it be preparing land for their first crop or knowing which crops grow best at certain times.

Though the program requires a commitment of around 85 hours of training it brings with it the learning of a new skill. As Erika Johnson, the programs coordinator explains, “It means serving as a steward of our planet’s natural resources. Personal and professional gains associated with volunteer service as a Master Gardener are many and varied depending upon the goals an individual has.”

The program deals with more than just learning to garden, as Johnson brought up. Greenhouse operations, public speaking, presentation development, writing, leadership and project coordination are just a few of the additional things one can get involved with learning and teaching about in the program.

Robert Bacon, Sustainability Engineer at WSU Vancouver, is a trained master gardener. Bacon recalled a specific volunteer experience regarding a tree that appeared to be sapping. Bacon was able to use the knowledge he attained through the program to explain to a person who thought a tree simply losing sap but it was in fact ants moving aphids around the tree to produce sap the ants could eat.

The Master Gardener program allows for volunteers to benefit the community through volunteering their time to not only answer questions such as what is happening with trees, but also to do hands on work in communities. This hands on work is not only through planting gardens, but helping in the planning and developing processes, which ultimately benefits both the community as well as giving the volunteer meaningful experience and knowledge.

“I haven’t had one point that I’ve decided where [the Master Gardener program] wasn’t beneficial, and that’s something that I think I’ll keep with me forever. I’ll be able to just keep going and 30 years from [now] I’m hoping to have that many years of back-up knowledge that I can impart towards others,” said Bacon.

For those interested in working in community development, this program could be very useful. For the rest of us, how is this knowledge important? Bacon poses this question in reply: if this system wasn’t here, could you feed yourself? Whether one wishes to simply learn this knowledge or become a more active member in the community, either way will provide information that can be used throughout the entirety of your life.

To learn more about the Master Gardener program visit their website.

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