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Regional Archives The Altamont Enterprise, July 26, 2007
Mater Gardeners celebrate 30 years of fertile advice
By Rachel Dutil
ALBANY COUNTY Gardening used to be something that Phyllis Rosenblum did, but now, she says, "It’s who I am."
Rosenblum, of Altamont, is a volunteer with the Cornell Cooperative Extension of Albany Countys Master Gardener program. The program celebrated its 30th anniversary this week; Rosenblum has been with the group since it began.
The program, she said, "has evolved, expanded, and is more useful to the public" than it was in 1977, when David Reville an Albany County horticultural agent started it locally.
When the program began, Rosenblum said, it had five members, and the time those members had to donate was limited.
Today, the program exists in 48 states and three Canadian provinces. New York has 47 counties that participate, and Albany County currently has 74 Master Gardeners, and 15 volunteers in training, said Susan Pezzolla, community educator with the Cornell Cooperative Extension of Albany County.
"I never have to recruit volunteers," she said.
The master gardener program was the brainchild of Dave Gibby, an extension agent in Seattle, Wash. Gibby began the program in 1972, because he "couldn’t meet the demand for gardening advice," Pezzolla said.
The 1970s marked the beginning of "the gardening boom," she said.
Gibby designed the Master Gardener program to help meet the need for horticultural information in the community, and to provide training for individuals who would then volunteer in the same realm, Pezzolla said.
By the mid-70s, the idea had made its way "clear across the country" and into New York State, Pezzolla said.
To become a Master Gardener, individuals must complete a 55-hour course and final exam, and then perform at least 60 hours of volunteer work annually.
Sixty hours sounds like a lot, but, said Rosenblum, it doesn’t take long to "realize how easy it is to do."
Many Master Gardeners volunteer more than 100 hours a year, said Pezzolla.
Volunteer work includes answering questions via e-mail and the horticulture hotline; tending information booths at local farmers markets, the Altamont Fair, the Capital District Flower and Garden Show, and the Apple Festival; and speaking at garden-club meetings and state employee lunches.
Albany County Master Gardeners also maintain the memorial garden at the Voorheesville extension building, the Pine Hills Library butterfly garden, as well as gardens at the Ten Broeck mansion and Cherry Hill in Albany.
"They’re needed quite heavily," said Pezzolla of the Master Gardeners. In 2006, she said, the Master Gardeners volunteered over 4,000 hours, and responded to over 6,500 calls and e-mails.
"We’re a good listening post," said Rosenblum. "Unfortunately, we can’t resurrect a dead tree," she said.
"The loss of a plant is sad," but residents can dial the local hotline number and, she said, "Someone is there to talk to you directly.
"It’s not gardening; it’s gardening help," said Rosenblum of the program. "It’s about us helping other people garden successfully."
Rosenblum first moved to the Capital Region in 1973. "When I first moved here from the Midwest, many gardening things were a mystery," she told The Enterprise.
"When this opportunity arose, I took advantage of it, and it was great," Rosenblum said. "I’ve made so many really wonderful friends through the program," she added.
Organizing and overseeing all the volunteers "is not an easy job" It’s akin to herding cats," Rosenblum joked.
"The biggest revelation for me," she said, "has been how desperate people are for accurate information.
"Some people are so removed from nature that they don’t even understand natural processes," Rosenblum said. Volunteering with the program helps people get back in touch with nature, she said.
"We are of great value to people," said Rosenblum. "I think that’s what attracts people to the program."
The group is a "happy bunch of people," not to mention, "a lot of excellent cooks," Rosenblum said.
"It’s been altogether, for me, a wonderful experience, and I think other Master Gardeners would echo that sentiment," she concluded.
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