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Master Gardener program growing strong in Manitoba

Manitoba now has 50 graduates from its newly offered Master 
Garden program, administered by Assiniboine Community College

Participants in a new program training Manitobans to be better gardeners are hitting the ground running — literally.

That’s because those who study to certify as a Master Gardener take their classroom learning out into the community both as students and later as community volunteers.

Master Gardeners are trained horticulturalists who are educated and certified through accredited universities or colleges.

It’s a relatively new program in Manitoba.

Ontario has more than 800 Master Gardeners and Saskatchewan more than 700. Manitoba currently has about 50, some of whom began studying for it prior to 2008 in other locations.

Assiniboine Community College agreed to broker the program from University of Saskatchewan and launched it in Manitoba in the fall of 2010. It has produced graduates in both 2011 and 2012 and there are plenty more to come.

Uptake for the training has been excellent and they expect to see those numbers double again shortly, said Colleen Zacharias, co-chair of the Manitoba Master Gardening Association.

“I do feel that in 24 months we’ll have 100 Master Gardeners in Manitoba,” said Zacharias, who is scheduled to speak at the Growing Local Conference in Winnipeg March 2.

Those studying for Master Gardener certification can take up to three years to complete their studies in botanical Latin, common plant diseases, garden fundamentals, insect and tree identification, safe use of pesticides, theory, and communications. Students also complete a 40-hour internship and must continue putting in hours in community involvement to retain certification.

It’s that community volunteerism that distinguishes a Master Gardener from graduates of other types of horticultural programs. Demand is growing to have those with the certification lend a hand to community projects, says Zacharias.

“If you were to define a Master Gardener it would be as a trained volunteer,” she said. “It means service to the community, by sharing information and helping to grow the love of gardening.”

Word has spread about what their students can offer and their services are in high demand, she said. “We have organizations coming to us asking to partner with them on a community garden initiative or a park.”

Master Gardeners get involved with a whole range of projects from tree planting at Habitat for Humanity projects, helping families learn to grow some of their own food through Food Matters Manitoba’s Dig-In Challenge, and caring for unique urban oasis like Pollock Island, a treed area bounded by the Red and La Salle rivers in St. Norbert.

They have students of all ages, multiple backgrounds and from all parts of Manitoba, Zacharias added.

Assiniboine Community College (ACC) delivers the program, which is open to anyone with an interest in gardening. A recent change is that students can now write their exams, which are mailed out from ACC, at home.

Previously, Master Gardeners in Training (MGITs) were required to write their exams at a designated location.

The total cost for all courses and the large manual that accompanies them is around $900.

Local Master Gardener training now includes Manitoba in a much larger organization that first began in Washington State University in the 1970s after staff there found themselves overwhelmed by questions from the public hungry to learn about gardening.

Master Gardener groups are also found in B.C., Alberta, Saskatchewan, Ontario, Nova Scotia and 46 U.S. states.

The Manitoba Master Gardener Association, which facilitates communication between Master Gardeners around Manitoba was formally organized in 2011.

For more information about the program log on to its website at http://www.mgmanitoba.com/.

About the author

Reporter

Lorraine Stevenson

Lorraine Stevenson is a reporter and photographer for the Manitoba Co-operator with 25 years experience writing news and features. She was previously a reporter with the Farmers Independent Weekly and has also written for community newspapers in Winnipeg and Manitoba's Interlake.

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