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Gardening for Good


Lori Voll-Wallace, the Master Gardener Area E coordinator for 15 counties in northern Pennsylvania helps lead the “Seed to Supper” program which offers free gardening classes and resources in collaboration with hunger-relief groups. During our interview, Lori discussed the Master Gardener program, Seed to Supper and her tips for starting a garden.

Tell our listeners about the Master Gardener program and outreach programs offered.
The Master Gardener program is for volunteers who support Penn State Extension’s educational consumer educational programs and consumer horticulture. In other words, we provide homeowners with answers to their gardening questions. 

Master Gardeners are volunteers who developed their horticultural knowledge or expertise through participating in educational training classes that have been conducted by the Penn State University faculty or extension staff. Master Gardeners help Extension serve the public in a variety of ways. By speaking to groups such as gardening clubs or other civic organizations, writing gardening articles, providing fun educational programming or activities for youth, providing demonstration gardens of various styles, or even to demonstrate techniques. They participate in Penn State pollinator research programs and much more.

To become a Penn state Extension Master Gardener volunteer is pretty easy. Every fall, we conduct a basic training program, which is open to any individual who is interested in becoming a volunteer and sharing their gardening knowledge with the public or through community outreach. You don't have to have prior gardening knowledge, just a keen interest to learn and share with the community. It is an intensive horticultural training, which is administered at the county level. It usually begins in October and ends by the end of March or so. Some counties have classes every fall and some counties have it maybe every two years.

Let’s talk a bit more about the Seed to Supper program. How will the program work and what will participants learn?
The Seed to Supper program is a comprehensive beginning gardener program that gives novice adult gardeners the tools that they need to successfully grow a portion of their own food on a limited budget. It's more than just gardening education and improving access to healthy foods. It actually provides participants with transformative experiences that might increase community food security through food literacy, resiliency, a common connectivity, self-pride, and other supportive social networks. It highlights practical, low cost techniques for planning, building, maintaining, and harvesting a successful garden. It's not just a lecture, but an interactive peer-led discussion on gardening.

The Seed to Supper program began in Oregon at the Oregon Food Bank who partnered with Oregon State University's Master Gardeners. The Seed to Supper curriculum has been shared with a number of other states including Washington, North Carolina, Kentucky and Pennsylvania, just to name a few. It is being adapted right now for use by Penn State Extension in numerous communities. Approximately 15 counties this year are starting the program including Fayette, Butler, Chester County, Potter, Washington, McKean, Lackawanna, Luzerne, Wyoming, Columbia, Erie, and there's more. Many more are planning to start next spring in 2022.

The program is offered in collaboration with community-based host agencies, such as headstart programs, schools, churches, hunger relief agencies, and more. The host agencies usually provide the participants and a space for the education and the Master Gardeners provide a free course book, the horticultural knowledge and hands-on activities. Extension's Food, Family and Health Team are also part of this program. They provide the nutrition, health education, cooking, and preserving education. It's a team effort.

One of the many impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic has been an increased interest by consumers in growing their own food. With many of our listeners eager to plant their garden this spring (if they haven’t already), what tips do you have for a beginning gardener?  
My most important tip is to start small. Having a garden does involve some work, and you don't want to be overwhelmed. 

Plan ahead and study up on what you would like to grow. You want to know how much space it needs and how tall it will get. You want to put the right plant in the right space. Some plants like it sunny and dry, and some like it's shady and wet. 

For example, if you're going to grow a few vegetables, make sure you're putting them where they will get enough sunlight, near a water source, and somewhere that's convenient for you so that it's easy for you to tend the garden and make sure that your family will eat those vegetables that you plant. 

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