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The Humble Gardener

At University of Illinois Extension, our volunteers are at our core. Hear their voice on this volunteer driven blog.
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Volunteers Give Presence


As the meeting room at the Knox County Extension Office filled with folks gathering for the annual holiday potluck in early December, I marveled at how "good" we cleaned up. The attendees, bearing dishes to the communal table, were Master Gardeners who I usually see in less formal circumstances- dirty, disheveled, and doing the tasks needed to keep local gardens growing.

Part of the Master Gardening program requires each of us to donate 30 hours a year to community projects. One garden in sore need of attention was the Carl Sandburg Birthplace in Galesburg, Il. Site coordinator of the Carl Sandburg State Historic Site Martha Downey asked for direction and assistance in maintaining the site gardens in 2013; Master Gardeners Jamie Yemm and Sylviane Stites responded. Jamie said that "preserving a piece of history that deserved to be maintained and preserved for future generations to enjoy" guided their willingness to get involved in the project.

Annual spring and fall cleanup days were attended by community members and Master Gardeners. Area businesses stepped up to help fill the gap created by the lack of funding from the state of Illinois to maintain the grounds. The local Target provided volunteers and tools. Spring Green Lawn Care treated the grounds. A grant from the G.L. Vitale Family Foundation resulted in a fence for the grounds and painting of the visitor center. Thrivant Action Team Service Project granted funds for mulch, which resulted in the mulching of the extensive gardens and grounds.

Jamie Yemm, along with current co-leader Pat Kane, continue the work started four years ago. Improved grounds welcome visitors but the work is not done. Extensive tree trimming is on the Wish List. Labeling of plants for visitors is the next project. Jamie said, "We are always on the hunt for businesses, organizations, and individuals who would be willing to donate their time, services or materials towards community gems like the Sandburg birthplace. Does this project-to help preserve a piece of history-call your name? If so, contact Martha Downey at 309-342-2361."

Another of the many projects Master Gardeners participate in is the Knox County Nursing Home in Knoxville, Illinois. Kathy Breeden and Joy Gordon have led volunteers with enthusiasm and energy to create and maintain gardens for the residents. Both are former employees of the Home. Since retiring, they have taken on the massive task of maintaining the many gardens at the site. It exhausts me just seeing what the two of them were able to do with little help. A few years ago, other Master Gardeners joined them, resulting in more opportunities for gardening for the residents.

Annually, there is a work day that is one of the most enjoyable gardening experiences I have ever had. Planters and a raised bed for flowers and a second one for vegetables are prepared with soil and other amendments prior to the workday. The residents go on a field trip to an area nursery and choose plants. Then Master Gardeners arrive to assist residents in the planting of the planters and raised beds. Every year, as we plant, I love the stories that the residents tell of former gardens they have had. One long-term resident mentioned that she would be returning to her farm and working in her own garden when we finished planting the raised bed. We had a nice long chat about gardens as we worked. I hope our time planting and the presence of vegetables and flowers in easy access helped substitute for her own long ago gardens.

To fund our work at the Home, an annual plant sale held Mother's Day weekend is an annual tradition. Area gardeners donate plants from their gardens and Kathy and Joy head a crew who repot plants from the Home's gardens. It's a lot of work, especially since it occurs during the busy spring gardening season, but the community's support helps fund the plants and mulch needed for the residents' gardens.

In 2016, forty Master Gardeners in Knox County donated 2,513 hours to community projects. The economic impact is $ 59,216, using an hourly rate of $23.56, provided by the Corporation for National and Community Service. In current times of declining funding, this volunteer effort brings much to our local communities.

If you are interested in becoming a Master Gardener, training will likely be offered this summer. Contact the local extension office in Knox, Mc Donough, or Warren counties for more information. You will join the one in four Americans who routinely donate their time to the betterment of their community. And you will have the opportunity to learn, educate others, as well as improve your community. Plus you will be invited to an awesome potluck with plentiful food and amiable, hardworking people. Who clean up "good".

 

Master Gardener

Sandra DePalma-Odell


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