The deadline for applying for the Master Gardener certification in Cook County for 2010 is November 1, 2009. The certification program is a great learning opportunity for gardening enthusiast and beginners. I asked Ron Wolford, University of Illinois Extension Urban Horticulture/Environment Educator, to tell me about the program and why it would be of interest to gardening enthusiasts in Chicago.
"The Master Gardener program is the engine that runs our horticulture programming in Chicago. We have over 200 certified Master Gardeners who last year contributed 14,000 hours of volunteer time to University of Illinois Extension-Chicago horticulture projects in the city," he said.
"80 Master Gardeners planted, maintained and gave tours of the Museum of Science and Industry Smart Home Vegetable Garden," Wolford said. "The garden will receive the 1st place award for Public Institutions City-Wide at the Mayor's Landscape Awards ceremony on November 14 at Garfield Park Conservatory."
The University of Illinois Extension provides assistance with the Urban Farm at the Cook County Jail, where inmates take the Master Gardener courses and receive certification as Master Gardeners.
How much gardening experience does someone need to be able to complete the Master Gardener Course?
"No experienced needed. That is what I love about all the people who take the course. We have people who have been gardening all their lives to brand new gardeners. We have had 20 year olds to gardeners in their seventies. We have people from all over the city from Chicago's south side to Lincoln Parkers. It is really great to watch each year as these gardeners come together connected by their love of gardening," says Wolford.
The course to become certified a Master Gardener in Chicago is 11 weeks long at the Garfield Park Conservatory from January 13th through March 24th. Classes are held Wednesdays from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. and the course costs $275.00.
I became acquainted with Ron Wolford via Twitter because he manages several social networking accounts and performs the functions of a social media ambassador for the University of Illinois Extension. So, it is no surprise that the University of Illinois Extension also provides Master Gardener training online so that internet savvy gardeners can also take advantage of the training. According to Ron Wolford, online Master Gardener trainee numbers grow each year and so far this year 24 people have expressed an interest in taking the course online.
The fee for the program can seem pretty steep, especially considering the Recession this year, so I asked if he thought being certified a Master Gardener could help someone career wise.
"Yes, the Master Gardener Certification is well known and highly respected. We often have people take the course looking to make a career change into horticulture and see the Master Gardener training as a good first step," he said.
The most famous graduate of the Master Gardener program, according to Ron Wolford, is William Moss- who does garden features for the CBS Early Show. Chicago gardeners and listeners of Mike Nowak's Sunday morning gardening show on WCPT 820-- where Beth Botts is a frequent guest may also recognize them as Master Gardeners.
If you become a Chicago Master Gardener you'll be in pretty good company.