James Pinsky: The green-thumbed army

James Pinsky

If you want to plant the seed of knowledge in a child, it helps to have a green thumb.

In fact, it might help to have a small army of them. I know of just such an army.

Clad in identical green shirts, warm smiles and sharp botanical minds, the Northern Shenandoah Valley Master Gardeners Association marched into Hilda J. Barbour Elementary School on Wednesday to teach third graders all about the cycle of life.

What exactly is a master gardener? According to the Virginia Cooperative Extension website: “Extension master gardeners are trained volunteer educators. They work within their local communities to encourage and promote environmentally sound horticulture practices through sustainable landscape management education and training. As an educational outreach component of Virginia Cooperative Extension, the Master Gardener program brings the resources of Virginia’s land-grant universities – Virginia Tech and Virginia State University – to the people of the commonwealth. All volunteers are trained and have at least 50 hours of horticultural classes and return at least 50 hours of volunteer community service through their local Extension office.”

So, imagine if there was a school for gardening super heroes. This would be it.

I was lucky enough to work with the Northern Shenandoah Valley Master Gardeners all day helping to educate and entertain four classes of third graders. I partnered to teach the importance of water in the life cycle covering the water cycle, the fact that water is reusable but not renewable and the impact of non-point source pollution from runoff. I’m sure the students learned quite a bit – but so did I. How could I not? Master gardeners make anything and everyone they encounter grow; sometimes physically, other times intellectually; but, always better. Expert after expert, all from the local community, delivered accurate, fun and useful conservation knowledge that anyone fortunate enough to witness easily understood and enjoyed.

If you’ve ever worked with a master gardener, then you know just how fantastic a day this was for those children. Quite simply, if you haven’t, then you need to add it to your bucket list. And, the sooner, the better because a master gardener can do a lot more than help you feed your family from your backyard; if you listen to them, they’ll teach you how to save the world one tulip bulb at a time.

According to their website, www.nsvmga.org, the Northern Shenandoah Valley Master Gardener Association offers free help to area homeowners through their virtual help lines, called Greenlines, and in-person help desks. Master gardeners can help with things like identifying plants and diagnosing plant diseases and or pests, getting the latest research-based care advice for lawns, trees, shrubs, and vegetables, and the safe use of pesticides and fertilizers to help protect water quality and the environment. They’re also good for green-thumbed fun and optimism.

How much better would our world be if the ones with all the knowledge shared it as freely and as enthusiastically with others as master gardeners do? These folks deserve to be called so much more than just gardeners.

Or do they?

After all, good gardeners know how to plant a seed, biologically or mentally. They know how to cultivate the seed’s growth. They know how to help it grow big and strong. They know how to protect it from disease, predators, and even misguided humans. They know how to reap the benefits of that seed not just once but for years. And, they know how to take the fruits of their labors and share it not just among themselves, but share it with their community. Maybe being a gardener is something we all ought to aspire to be; and if we work hard enough and are lucky enough we can earn the title of master gardener.

James Pinsky is the education and information coordinator for the Lord Fairfax Soil and Water Conservation District. Contact him at 540.465.2424, ext. 104, or james.pinsky@lfswcd.org. Visit us at www.lfswcd.org or follow us on Twitter https://twitter.com/lfswcd