By Karen Fredrickson
Photo: Courtesy of Dona Crawford
Cornell Cooperative of Ulster County began as an answer to the needs of local residents, providing them with education and reliable information about farming and raising animals. It is a nonprofit extension of Cornell University that works extensively with volunteers dedicated to four main areas: agriculture, horticulture, healthy communities and parent and family education skills.
I spoke with Community Horticulture Educator and Master Gardener Program Coordinator Dona Crawford, who explained, “Our programs are developed in direct response to community input and are based on the most current information available from Cornell and other land-grant universities from across the nation.” The information is used to benefit the many programs run by the Cornell Cooperative because, as Crawford said, “We are very busy folks!”
Master Gardener volunteers provide the public with gardening programs and activities that draw on the horticulture research and experience of Cornell University. They are one of the most important parts of the Cornell Cooperative and are essential to keeping it functioning and running smoothly. “We couldn’t do it without them,” Crawford said. Being a volunteer is a commitment, as volunteers help with education programs; soil testing; identification of different insects, plant diseases and weeds; and maintain a demonstration garden where the Cornell Cooperative teaches hands-on gardening education at no charge. If all of that weren’t enough, the volunteers also staff a helpline three days a week where they answer questions and solve problems for callers.
To become a volunteer, candidates attend a training course in partnership with local professionals and Master Gardeners. After completing that, they become Master Gardeners and pledge their time to give back to the community as volunteers. “Ulster County couldn’t do without these folks,” Crawford said. “We currently have 80 pretty active volunteers in the Master Gardener Program.”
People of all backgrounds volunteer for the Cornell Cooperative. “Many of the Master Gardener volunteers are retired people that really understand the value of giving back to their community,” Crawford said. “They have lots of learned skills and life skills that they add to the education they receive from Cornell. Parents, students and family members are involved… and we reach out to other volunteers in the community…We recruit folks by word of mouth, media or through other local nonprofit organizations. Thankfully, there are a lot of blatant volunteers living in Ulster County!”
Master Gardeners participate in many community events. Recently, they hosted a plant swap and sale where the public could bring in extra plants they had and exchange them for plants brought in by others—a lovely and inexpensive way of expanding the variety within your garden! Another event was a fundraiser to benefit a scholarship honoring the founder of the Master Gardener Program in Ulster County.
For those interested in participating in a program and seeing the Cornell Cooperative function up close, they host a free gardening workshop on the third Saturday of the month at the demonstration garden at SUNY Ulster. They also participate in the Ulster County Fair with a horticulture exhibit.
Crawford has been a volunteer in the Hudson Valley throughout her life, participating in many projects, but she describes the Master Gardeners at the Cornell Cooperative as “the best folks I have ever worked for and with. While I am the program coordinator for the Master Gardener Program and a community horticulture educator, there is so much more to Cornell Cooperative Extension.” Crawford invites anyone interested to contact the other program educators, who can be found on their website.
For more information, visit http://ulster.cce.cornell.edu/ gardening or contact Dona at 845.340.3990 ext. 335. █