ALBION — Orleans County Cornell Cooperative Extension is hosting a new, hybrid (online / in-person) Master Gardener training program starting in January. The training is the first step towards becoming a Master Gardener volunteer with Cornell Cooperative Extension.

Master Gardener training has been offered for decades across New York state, but the core coursework has been in need of an update for some time. With the help of grant funding and input from volunteers and staff across the state, senior extension educators at Cornell spent the better part of 2019 curating the online content to offer thorough and in-depth lessons geared toward the adult learner. The result is an online course packed with information on key topics such as plant biology, food gardening and entomology, as well as options for more detailed content on specific topics.

The new hybrid program is impressive. There is much to learn within the training program, and an online format really allows participants to work at their own pace, on their own schedule. The online portion also includes extensive additional information that could not be accommodated in traditional MG training due to time constraints.

The new training program will begin January 13th and continue through April 7th. Participants will be given access to the online portion on the Moodle educational platform, where they complete lessons on their own. The class will meet in-person every other week (dates vary) to reinforce key concepts and complete hands-on activities designed to put into practice what they previously learned on Moodle.

Observed Nancy Halstead, an Orleans County Master Gardener who took the online course to test it last winter: “This new online format makes it so much easier to access valuable resources, and there are a lot. There’s so much excellent information included in this training, several of the videos and links to articles I can’t wait to re-visit and look at again.”

To become a full-fledged Master Gardener volunteer, a gardener completes the training and then completes 40 hours of volunteer service with various programs at Orleans CCE.

Becoming a Master Gardener allows gardeners to join a nationwide volunteer association that's focused on extending Cornell University's research and expertise to the public in their own local community.

Current MG volunteers in Orleans County serve the community in many different ways: offering educational classes to the public, hosting informational tables at local events, speaking at area garden club meetings, displaying at farmers markets and the 4-H Fair, collaborating with other extension programs such as 4-H and Master Food Preservers. There are about 20 active MG volunteers in Orleans County, and in addition to monthly meetings, the volunteers get together for field trips, gardening conferences and social outings.

“I really love the camaraderie that comes with being a part of this group,” longtime MG volunteer Eileen Sorochty said. “It’s so wonderful to be around like-minded people caring about our environment and each other’s well-being. Being a Master Gardener has enriched my life in so many ways.”

The deadline to register for the upcoming training (with a $50 non-refundable deposit) is December 22nd. Cost of the training is typically $200 per person, but there is a 50% discount for the first 10 people who register (a $100 value). Reduced-rate tuition is also available for prospective participants as needed. If internet accessibility is an issue, participants can utilize WiFi and computers at the Orleans County CCE Education Center during business hours (Monday through Friday, 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.)

For more information, or to register for the upcoming Master Gardener training, contact me at 585-798-4265, extension 125. or email klo54@cornell.edu.

Katie Oakes is a horticulture educator and Master Gardener Training instructor with the Orleans County Cornell Cooperative Extension. 

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