Community Agriculture Alliance: Colorado Master Gardeners fill vital role | SteamboatToday.com

Community Agriculture Alliance: Colorado Master Gardeners fill vital role

Todd Hagenbuch/For Steamboat Today

Community Ag Alliance

The typical extension office is usually a busy place in the summer with calls concerning the home garden. Which vegetables will grow here? When I can start my garden? What kind of bug is eating my tomatoes? Why is my tree brown on one side? Is this a weed or a flower?

The list is as varied as it is endless.

So, how does an extension office manage to answer all these calls, visit many sites to check trees and gardens and, at the same time, research the appropriate remedies specific to everyone's individual concerns? Usually, with the help of dedicated volunteers called the Colorado Master Gardeners.

The title of Colorado Master Gardener is bestowed upon someone who has participated in more than 60 hours training through an 11-week period and agrees to volunteer his or her time to local communities every year. The title is a registered service mark of Colorado State University and cannot be used by anyone other than a CSU certified and active volunteer.

A CMG's apprentice year requires that he or she volunteer 50 hours, in addition to classroom training. Each year thereafter, volunteers are required to provide 24 hours of volunteer time to the program.

So how do CMGs manage to fulfill volunteer requirements? One of the main services they perform for an extension office is answering questions from the public, in and out of the office.

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Inside the office, answering questions from phone calls, emails and walk-in clients is a big job. Outside the office, staffing booths at places such as the farmers market, Ace Hardware and trade shows and acting as tour guides for garden shows and public gardens are all ways CMGs extend the information services of the CSU Extension office.

Volunteers also write newspaper articles, teach gardening classes and mentor community gardening projects. Some maintain demonstration gardens, such as those in our cemeteries and nursing homes. Others excel in identifying noxious weeds on people's properties and helping educate homeowners on the various ways to manage those plants. Some CMGs serve on weed advisory boards or in other advisory roles, while others offer their expertise to other nonprofit groups, such as the Yampa River Botanic Park or Community Cultivation.

Colorado Master Gardeners are certainly one of Extension's most valuable groups of volunteers. Annually, $1.1 million worth of volunteer time is donated by more than 1,600 volunteers in 34 county-based programs across Colorado.

Because people often want the gardening education offered by CSU through the program but can't commit to the volunteer time, another option is now available. The Colorado Gardener Certificate is offered to those wanting to attend the classes, albeit without the discount in cost offered to CMG volunteers.

So how do you become a volunteer member of this incredible group?

First, you need to have a love of gardening and growing plants. Second, you need to be willing to share your love of gardening with the community, whether it's through a community greening project, volunteering to answer questions from your neighbors or teaching gardening classes in our area

Finally, you need to complete the Colorado Master Gardener program. Classes begin in January in Routt County, and applications are now available for the CMG and certificate programs.

Call our office at 970-879-0825 or email csumgprogram@co.routt.co.us for more information and to sign up.

Todd Hagenbuch is the agriculture extension agent for Colorado State University Routt County Extension.