Johnny Morgan, Benjamin, Sandra H.
HAMMOND, La. – The Master Gardeners of Tangipahoa Parish continues to have steady growth since its inception more than 15 years ago, according to LSU AgCenter county agent Sandra Benjamin.
With the high level of interest, agents and specialists at the LSU AgCenter are preparing for the next class this fall.
“We will begin the new class in September, and it will run through the second week in November,” Benjamin said.
Once the participants complete the class, they are required to provide 40 hours of volunteer work during the first year, Benjamin said. “Then they provide 20 volunteer hours each succeeding year.”
Those who successfully complete the course will use their volunteer hours to allow agents to take on other assignments, Benjamin said.
Master Gardeners are involved in a variety of activities, ranging from answering calls at LSU AgCenter parish offices to maintaining rare camellias at the Hody Wilson Camellia Garden in Hammond.
Benjamin, who leads the group, said they have projects throughout the parish that help lessen the work load for 4-H and horticulture agents.
Master Gardeners teach students how to grow their own food, and they teach sessions on the importance of eating healthfully, Benjamin said.
The Master Gardeners have developed a program where they go to all of the 4-H Clubs during February and present a program on plants and gardening, said Tangipahoa Parish Master Gardener Linda Vaccaro.
“We have school gardens at Roseland Elementary Montessori School and Robert Head Start,” Vaccaro said. “We’ve also received a $2,000 grant from Whole Foods that helps with the equipment for the gardens.”
Carmel Foret, a member of the first Master Gardener class in 1998, said her class got off to a rocky start, but it has been a great experience.
“It’s been 15 years since that first class,” Foret said. “We weren’t sure we would even have a class because we didn’t have enough people.”
To keep those who were interested from missing out on the opportunity, they were asked to join the St. Tammany Parish class, and that was the beginning of the Tangipahoa Master Gardeners, Foret said.
Stephanie Grimm, who lives in Metairie, said having her initial Master Gardener application turned down in Jefferson Parish has been a blessing in disguise.
“When Katrina hit we were up here helping a Master Gardener clean up the Hody Wilson garden,” she said. “After telling a Master Gardener our story, he said you should apply in Tangipahoa because you all are good workers.”
Grimm served as secretary of the organization for three years, and her husband has served as president.
She said she is always in attendance at the annual camellia stroll, which she said in a good year has as many as 400 people in attendance.
Retired LSU AgCenter agent Annie Coco said the annual garden day in March brings large numbers to the Hammond Research Station.
“The annual garden day that we help to sponsor on the second Saturday in March is just one of the highlights of our year,” Coco said.
It started as the azalea festival, but through the passage of time, Coco said, it has grown into a full garden show.
The Louisiana Master Gardener program began in Baton Rouge in 1994 as a way of extending the educational outreach of the LSU AgCenter's Cooperative Extension Service, said LSU AgCenter Master Gardener coordinator Rene' Schmit.
In 1997, the program was adopted statewide and now it is offered in 23 parishes with volunteer participation in 46 parishes. Louisiana Master Gardeners serve many roles in helping county agents deliver educational horticultural programs and information.
For additional information on the Tangipahoa Parish Master Gardener organization, contact Benjamin at 985-748-9381 or visit the website at www.LSUAgCenter.com.