Extension Master Gardeners exploring online teaching program

Posted October 31, 2012 at 10:55 am

A few years ago, Mary Roduner sat across from a young couple who had both just lost their jobs. They were looking for ways to cut expenses and still provide healthy meals for their three young children. They came to her to learn how to garden.

“Nationwide, because of the economy, many people look to gardening as an economical way to feed their family, but many have not gardened before,” said Roduner, SDSU Extension Master Gardener Coordinator.

That’s where SDSU Extension’s Master Gardener program can help. Master Gardener volunteers across South Dakota help train both young people and adults in techniques for growing vegetables in the South Dakota climate and soils.

In her new role as the statewide Master Gardener Coordinator, Roduner will provide guidance and help develop training materials for the program which trains about 100 South Dakotans each year, in classes offered at locations throughout the state.

About 1,400 South Dakotans have taken the intensive training course since the program began in 1985, said Rhoda Burrows, SDSU Extension Horticulture Specialist and the Master Gardener Program Coordinator for the last 10 years.

Volunteers receive more than 60 hours of classroom and hands-on training over a nine-week period. SDSU Extension staff provides the training for a nominal fee, asking that in return, participants volunteer 50 hours over the following two years in their communities sharing their knowledge. Once the hours of service are complete, trainees then receive the status of Master Gardener.

“The Master Gardener program is a perfect fit with the mission of SDSU Extension. It educates the public and encourages participants to share the knowledge they gain from the program with their community,” Burrows said.

The result is more than 7,200 volunteer hours shared with South Dakota communities each year. Master Gardeners do everything from leading workshops and training seminars on gardening and answering gardening questions at local farmers’ markets or being available for call-in questions at county and regional Extension centers; to working with local food banks and nonprofits to facilitate community and school gardens.

“Master Gardeners are actively involved in the groundswell movement to produce food locally and increase the consumption of fruits and vegetables,” Burrows said. “It’s especially exciting to see the work they are doing in school gardens to train the next generation of gardeners.”

Accessible for everyone

Traditionally, all Master Gardener courses were taught in a classroom setting. For some participants, this meant driving many miles to the nearest training location and made it prohibitive for others to participate.

Burrows and Roduner are currently working to pilot a new training method for Master Gardeners. According to Burrrows, the goal is to make much of the course training available online, with a smaller portion of the class in-person for subjects best learned with hands-on experience. This would minimize travel to a classroom, as well as making the Master Gardener program more accessible to a wider range of South Dakotans.

“SDSU Extension is committed to this program and wants to make it work for everyone,” Roduner said. “We live in a state where many live miles from the nearest training center. One participant told me that she had to wait to take the course until she retired because she worked full-time and could not take nine days off for the training. Once the course is converted to an online platform, then no matter where you live in South Dakota, you can participate.”

Roduner and Burrows are currently working with other SDSU Extension staff and SDSU Horticulture faculty to develop the online courses. Anyone interested in participating in Master Gardener training in 2013 should contact Roduner at mary.roduner@sdstate.edu or 605-394-1722. 

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