Writer: D'Lyn Ford
ALBUQUERQUE - Cooperative Extension Service agents and master gardeners from eight counties agreed to form a permanent, statewide committee to strengthen New Mexico State University's Master Gardener program.
Extension agents and 64 master gardeners attended New Mexico's first statewide master gardeners conference Sept. 15-16 in Los Alamos. Participants agreed to form a cross-county committee to provide a permanent forum for agents and master gardeners to share information, unify program curriculum and assist in creating new master gardener programs.
"The number of counties with master gardener programs has grown enough that a cross county organization is now really needed," said Curtis Smith, NMSU Extension horticulture specialist and statewide master gardener coordinator. "The committee will help agents and master gardeners around the state communicate with one another and provide cross-county assistance when needed."
There are currently about 350 active master gardeners in New Mexico, spread among 11 counties: Bernalillo, San Juan, Santa Fe, Los Alamos, Sandoval, Valencia, Otero, Lea, Doņa Ana, Taos and Chaves.
The Master Gardener Program, directed by Extension, educates volunteers around the state about home gardening issues in New Mexico so that they can assist county Extension agents in educating the public and answering gardening questions.
Smith will serve on the new committee, along with an Extension agent and a master gardener from each county with an established program. In general, the committee will function as a central clearinghouse to provide information on gardening issues when requested by counties, plus technical assistance and advice about administering master gardener programs.
It will provide experienced volunteers to assist in training new master gardeners, and it will help novice programs set up local structures, such as county-level master gardener associations.
The committee will also work to unify course curriculum for master gardeners statewide.
"The committee will help develop uniformity so that all county programs have the same core curriculum in the future," Smith said. "It will be flexible so that county programs can continue to meet the unique needs of their local communities. But there should be enough uniformity so that a master gardener trained in one part of the state has the same basic knowledge of someone trained in another part of the state."
The conference participants also agreed to continue meeting annually to share experiences and attend advanced workshops and demonstrations. Participants said the conference helped fortify the role of master gardeners as community educators in the state.
"We are not just trained to be better gardeners in our own homes," said Ray Olson, secretary of the Santa Fe Master Gardener Association. "We are trained to become educators in our communities, and the conference has helped us to clarify that role a lot more."
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