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Barton County Master Gardener trainees ready to serve
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Students in the Master Gardener Training Program offered in Great Bend through the Cottonwood Extension District this year, learn about pruning ornamental and fruit trees from KSU Professor of Forestry Charles Barden. Barden is also Director of Tuttle Forestry Research Center. - photo by Photo courtesy of Alicia Boor

Editor’s note: Veronica Coons participated in the Cottonwood Extension District’s Master Gardener training class, the subject of this report.

It’s been said that a rising tide lifts all boats. As far as horticultural knowledge is concerned, Barton County’s ship is about to come in. Thursday, March 15, 11 Master Gardener trainees in the Kansas State University Extension program will complete their training and will begin efforts to give back hour for hour for the education they’ve received over the past seven weeks.

For the past three years, Alicia Boor, Ag Agent with the Cottonwood Extension District, has been a vocal advocate for bringing Kansas State University’s Master Gardener training to Barton County. In the fall of 2017, she received confirmation that the class would finally be offered in Great Bend in 2018.

That’s important because Extension currently offers Master Gardener training in eight locations. Six are permanent, located in the eastern half of the state, and two are floating, moving to a different community each year. Barton County’s was a floating location this year, and the only one offered in the western half of the state.

Instructors include state specialists from Kansas State University, local extension agents and local experts in specific subject matter. While this face-to-face experience is preferred by all, the time and expense of travel is a limitation for the program. Participants in Barton County this year experienced “zoom” learning, where instruction was streamed live over the internet, much like a webinar. This format may be utilized further in coming years, allowing more flexibility to would-be Master Gardeners to receive training closer to home. For those who were unable to attend a session, DVDs of the instruction have been made available and participants will be tested on the material.

County projects will provide volunteer opportunities
Barton County and Pawnee County participants were joined by several certified Master Gardeners and trainees from Ellis and Russell Counties who opted to make the drive to Great Bend once a week for instruction.

Master Gardener trainees are provided 40 to 50 horticultural instruction at no cost, plus a nominal materials fee. In exchange, they agree to provide an equal number of hours of community service their first year in the program.
Cottonwood Extension District Horticultural Agent Rip Winkel has outlined three initial projects trainees will be encouraged to take part in: assisting with the Kansas Wetlands Education Center garden, orchard management at the Great Bend Brit Spaugh Zoo, and managing a vegetable test garden at Washington School.

“Education requires two things -- learning and teaching,” Winkel said. “Learning is for me, teaching is for other people. It should be fifty-fifty, or even forty-sixty, because it is better to receive, but you have to have it up here before you can give it.”

In all the projects going forward, Winkel wants to emphasize one question.
“I want us to ask how,” he said. “How are we going to learn, and how are we going to educate others.”

In 2014, Master Gardeners throughout the state gave 101,040 volunteer hours, an average of 80 hours per volunteer. According to KSU Extension, that’s the equivalent of 48 full time staff positions, an estimated value of $2,109,130.