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Rhonda Ferree's ILRiverHort

Rhonda Ferree's Horticulture Blog

Horticulture Program GROWing Stronger

Horticulture programs are not only fun and popular, but they teach homeowners how to use good landscaping to increase their property values, use fewer resources, and reduce home energy costs. Gardeners also reap many personal benefits from gardening.

I am working hard to GROW the horticulture program in Fulton, Mason, Peoria, and Tazewell counties. My ultimate goal is to provide knowledge to gardeners that will show them how to design, install, and maintain attractive, sustainable landscapes and gardens, thereby improving the quality of life in their community.

I work alongside my colleagues across Illinois in five priority topic areas:

  1. Master (Gardener/Naturalist/Composter) Programs coordination and training
  2. Invasive Species Education (especially Emerald Ash Borer)
  3. Sustainable Landscapes (i.e. LEED, rain gardens, green buildings, etc.)
  4. Local Foods (assisting Small Farms Educator, community gardens, etc.)
  5. Production Horticulture (local green industry, pesticide safety education, etc.)

Because of its broad reach, media work is a priority for me. By now you should have seen my news releases in local newspapers. I send at least two news releases each week to all local media covering timely topics. I am now writing three regular newspaper columns and hopes to add more in the near future. Watch for my articles each Saturday in the Canton Daily Ledger, every other week in the Pekin Times, and every third week in Jacksonville's The Source. You might have also heard Rhonda on WBYS-AM 1560 or WLDS-FM 107.1 radio. My Facebook page averages 10,000 views per month and I am adding other social media tools, including blogs and twitter. Go to my Unit websites at and for links to most of my media work, including my Facebook and Twitter pages.

The Fulton-Mason-Peoria-Tazewell Extension Unit has a successful Master Gardener (MG) volunteer program. In 2010, MG volunteers contributed 8,596 hours to their communities. The value of their volunteer service is worth more than $179,227 (using an estimate of $20.85 per hour as calculated by Independent Sector). Program Coordinator Julia Pryor is responsible for day-to-day operations of the MG program. Julia approves Master Gardener activities, online records, and assists with coordination of MG training and projects. Rhonda does MG training statewide in the area of lawncare.

The Calhoun-Cass-Greene-Morgan-Scott Extension Unit has nine active Master Gardener volunteers. Program Coordinator Michelle Berg-Vogel is responsible for day-to-day operations of the Master Gardener program.

I am excited about implementing a new Master Naturalist program in this Unit. A planning committee is in place and plans to implement training in Fall 2012. The Master Naturalist program educates and trains adult volunteers to help disseminate natural resource information to the public and to assist with conservation activities.

To meet changing societal and personal needs, I intend to develop more distance education opportunities using the internet and other high tech approaches. This includes the Four Seasons Gardening teleconference programs and adaptation of former home study courses on perennial design and lawncare.

Of course, I will also use traditional, face-to-face meetings to deliver her research-based, high-impact programs. Get ready...get set...and watch the horticulture program GROW in this new Extension Unit.

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