Take root in Haywood’s master gardener program

By Shelby Harrell Staff Writer | Feb 11, 2014
Photo by: Shelby Harrell The Open Garden is pictured at its location behind the Open Door Ministry. Produce harvested from this garden feeds the clients from the ministry.

Many Haywood County residents don’t realize that the local master gardeners do more than teach people how to garden — they provide a service.

The Master Gardener Volunteer Program is a national program made up of trained volunteers who work in partnership with the Haywood County Cooperative Extension office to extend information throughout the community.

At the root of the program are its 120 active volunteers, each of who are certified master gardeners committed to providing leadership and service to their community in gardening activities.

No one knows about gardening service more than Tim Mathews, an agriculture and horticulture agent with the Haywood County Cooperative Extension who has been involved with the Master Gardeners Program for more than 10 years.

Over the years, Mathews has taught a plethora of volunteers about gardening — something that has been a passion for him all of his life.

“This has been a lifelong thing,” Mathews said. “I’ve been working in gardens all my life. One day I just decided to do what I loved, which was to work outside.”

The master gardener volunteers provide services such as answering gardening questions, conducting plant clinics, planting demonstration gardens and talking to community groups.

Over time, master gardener volunteers begin to feel right at home with gardening — so much so that it becomes an essential routine.

Jim Geenan, who has been a master gardener volunteer for three years, loves being near the plants.

“I’ll put on the garden rags and then open my door and smile,” Geenan added. “It releases endorphins by just being around the plants.”

The training program also provides interaction with other experienced gardeners, which helps volunteers become more knowledgeable, Mathews said.

“It’s a really neat place to meet people,” he said. “If it’s not fun, those feet go to walking so we try to make it fun and educational.”

Gardens that give back

Many locals may not realize that the Master Gardener Program helps provide food to the community.

Geenan, who also oversees the gleaning network with The Open Door Ministry, has been busy recruiting volunteer gleaners and master gardeners to work with the local gleaning network.

Geenan also helped establish the Open Garden at the ministry, which provides fresh produce to the people who are fed at The Open Door.

After being so involved with the Master Gardeners Program, Geenan can only sing praises of all the wonderful gardening experiences he’s had and the interesting people he’s met along the way.

“This kind of thing will generate more generosity in the community,” he said.

Through the local gleaning network, fresh, nutritious fruits and vegetables that would otherwise go the waste are harvested and then donated to people who are hungry.

“The extension program allows people to become aware of our food needs, which is a positive thing in the community,” Geenan said. “It’s a cool thing to get involved in and help yourself learn these things.”

Mathews also supports the Canton Community Garden, which donates food to the Community Kitchen.

Master gardener volunteers also work in four school gardens at local elementary schools. Each week, master gardeners visit first and second graders and teach them about growing and eating healthy produce. At the end of the season, the students hold harvest feast and get to taste what they’ve grown.

“That’s where the whole learning to be healthy aspect comes in,” Mathews said.

Join the garden community

The Master Gardener Volunteer program is not all work. Volunteers also get to enjoy socializing at cookouts and potlucks during and after training.

Master gardener workshops are also held all over North Carolina, and all volunteers are encouraged to attend. In addition, the volunteers often take field trips to interesting gardens and nurseries.

One way the program raises money is through its annual plant sale. This year the sale is offering strawberries, blueberries, black/red/golden raspberries, blackberries, asparagus crowns, and hazelnut/serviceberry/elderberry/apricot trees.

Anyone interested in placing an order for the plant sale should call Mathews at 828-456-3575. Orders are pre-paid and due by March 14, and the plants will be available for pickup on April 12.

The Master Gardeners Program is always seeking new members, but potential master gardeners must have a desire to help others, Mathews said. To become a master gardener, one must complete the required training and volunteer at least 40 hours of service.

Master Gardener classes are held January through April — one day each week for 13 weeks. To put your name on the list for the next training program, call or come by the Cooperative Extension Service office for an application form. The cost is $65 to cover materials.