Graduates from the class of 2020 shared their advice on how to make the most of your first year as a Master Gardener volunteer and meet all of the first-year requirements.
You can do it!
As a 2021 Master Gardener intern, you will face similar challenges that I had as a 2020 Master Gardener intern because so many of the traditional volunteer opportunities will not be available due to pandemic restrictions. Don’t lose faith! Let me share my experience as a Master Gardener intern during 2020. I discovered many opportunities to not only continue to expand my gardening knowledge but also volunteer, all done in a safe manner.
One activity that was on again, then off again and finally on again was the Habitat for Humanity landscape planting. Our team wore masks and kept socially distant outdoors as we planned and then later implemented a beautiful landscape for a Habitat for Humanity home on Maryland Avenue in St. Paul. It was a terrific opportunity to learn from the more experienced Master Gardeners on the team while planting perennials, shrubs and even a tree.
Another great way to learn and then share that knowledge is to volunteer for the Speakers Bureau. The Ramsey County Master Gardener website has all the presentations and study guides that can be perused prior to any of the community Zoom online presentations. I honestly never felt I had the depth of knowledge to be the main presenter so instead volunteered as an aide. The duties of an aide are often administrative in nature, such as tracking chat questions and letting attendees into the meeting room. However, there were a few times that I could answer the ‘easy’ questions in the chat room. And of course with each session, there was much that I learned about the topic being shared with the community.
Finally, I had an opportunity to create Speakers Bureau training content by doing in-depth research. It is a great way to volunteer because half the hours could be logged as volunteer hours and the other as education! My research and content development focused on month by month climate data as well as what insects could be found in the landscape, garden and in the home. To do a deep dive into a topic was a very enriching, rewarding and worthwhile experience all which was all done in the safety of my home.
Good luck 2021 interns! You can do it!
FROM: Kathy Passe
Class of 2020
Watch out for those Sign-Up Genius invites
Getting 50 volunteer hours in during the year of COVID seemed unlikely in April 2020, especially if you hoped to get a wide variety of experience in your first year. However, thanks to Ramsey County Master Gardener leads who helped our organization pivot from “in person” activities to virtual, I met the requirement and was able to participate in several different kinds of volunteer events.
I joined the Speakers Bureau and volunteered to be a presentation aide for classes we conducted with Zoom. This was a great way to reinforce the information I learned from the core course and play a part in delivering science-based information to the public. I also participated in the Saturday morning Q & A events where residents could Zoom in and ask gardening questions from a team of master gardeners.
When it was difficult to be available at a specific time, I volunteered for the “Ask Extension” application and the “Arboretum Yard and Garden Phone Line”. You have 48 hours to respond to questions received through these tools. At first, I was a bit taken back by the wide range of questions that were asked but I found answers on the U of M Extension’s web site and got advice from my mentor and from other master gardeners through the MASTGAR and Ask Extension email listservs.
Best of all, I got to spend a beautiful fall day cleaning up a youth garden in St. Paul.
My advice to the 2021 interns: Watch out for those Sign-Up Genius email invites or come up with your own projects and have fun!
FROM: Brenda Anderson-Moser
Class of 2020
Be willing to try something new
My goal as an intern was to learn and experience as many different opportunities as possible. I was looking forward to participating in the plant sales, learning more about the compost sites, understanding the MG role at the Ramsey County fair and increasing my knowledge in gardening, with an emphasis in plant diseases and pests.
At the last in-person meeting in early March, I also learned about several different volunteer programs, such as the Speakers Bureau and Habitat for Humanity. Since I had done presentations and some teaching in my jobs, I thought the Speakers Bureau might be a good fit. Additionally, as an intern, it gave me the opportunity to sign-up as an aide and just learn more about various topics. At this same March meeting I expressed an interest in Habitat for Humanity.
In late February, I received information about the MG state-wide seed trials and decided to participate in a basil and purple bean pole trial. Having spent many years as a R&D food researcher, I was familiar with testing and thought this would be right up my alley. By mid-summer, I was drowning in basil plants and making all sorts of pesto. I really enjoyed both trials and received hours for planting and evaluating the trials. In the past month, I have started working with the organizers of the seed trials to help improve the evaluation forms and hope to participate in more trials in 2021.
Once the quarantine began and MG couldn’t interact in person, I decided to use this year learning as much as possible. I signed up as an aide for many different zoom classes which were taught by more experienced MG. I also completed the Food Preservation Course (additional education hours) and then taught several zoom sessions on food preservation. I will continue to look for zoom class opportunities in 2021. Habitat for Humanity moved from the summer to the fall and I spent 3 days prepping and planting at a Habitat home. It was really rewarding to work with the home owners and see their joy as their landscape changed. I hope to visit them in the spring and see all the new plants.
I am hoping that in 2021 I will be able to participate in programs that were not offered in 2020 so that I can broaden my experiences. At the end of 2021, I might have found a few areas that I am keen to go deeper in and develop more expertise and I am trying to keep an open mind as to what those areas might be. The best part about the MG program is that there are endless opportunities to learn so just be willing to try something new!
FROM: Laura Hansen
Class of 2020
Adjust to the "new normal"
I started my intern year pre-pandemic and was so excited to be in a big room full of gardening nerds. My very first volunteer opportunity was teaching a class on vegetable gardening that was supposed to take place over three weekends. The first class came around and we had a room full of community members eager to learn. The class went well and I remember returning home feeling so excited about all the volunteer opportunities ahead of me. In the week between classes, it became clear that the virus was in the U.S. We decided to hold the second class date and try to squeeze the two days into one. Half of the registered attendees showed up. It was a very strange, nervous energy in the class. Ramsey County announced it was cancelling all in-person events the day after our second class.
It soon became apparent that I would not have the opportunity to volunteer in my community or in-person with other Master Gardeners for the rest of the year. I was initially really disappointed; one of the reasons I joined the program was to build community. Luckily, the program adjusted to the "new normal" and announced Zoom-based classes, writing opportunities, and even hours for photographing weeds and gardening chores like splitting perennials. I signed up to teach or aide as many Zoom classes as I could fit into my schedule. I logged every single quarter or half hour I spent preparing.
In the fall I had all but given up on getting my 50 hours in by December, but an opportunity came up to help put together a new class curriculum on gardening tasks by the season. The research and writing helped add on a bunch of hours!
In the end I was able to connect with a handful of other Master Gardeners via Zoom. My mentor and I hung out socially distanced outdoors in the spring and summer. I still learned so much from helping with the classes and doing my continuing education hours. It wasn't the intern year I envisioned, but I still feel like it was a great starting point for my many years to come, and I know eventually that will include in-person events and meetings!
FROM: Morgan Weinert
Class of 2020
Hit the Ground Running
Despite a year of general chaos, you have applied and been accepted into Ramsey County Master Gardeners! I am so excited for you to be involved in our organization and with the community we support. That said, RCMG looks a lot differently than it did in January 2020 when I began my own intern year. I am reaching out to you with some helpful tips and pointers on ways to accel at serving our community at this super bonkers time. I’m sure that the idea of fulfilling 50 volunteer hours during COVID must seem daunting given the continued need to socially distance. Don’t fret – it actually was much simpler and fun than I expected!
Be sure to attend the monthly meetings. My first RCMG monthly meeting was in person and, to be honest, I’m rather shy when I first meet people. It was bewildering to go to my first meeting and see so many new faces, including the large number of my own intern cohorts! Before COVID, I would sit with my mentor at meetings, and while that was both fun and informative, I tend to not put myself out there as much in-person. I have found that I feel more comfortable asking questions via the Zoom chat function and it’s helpful to be able to share links and references with others so simply! I get it – Zoom fatigue is real and jumping on the computer at 7 PM to attend can be a challenge! But these meetings truly are a way to connect with others and are both informal and informative. Plus – attending these meetings counts towards your Continuing Education hours!
Try out Speaker’s Bureau volunteer opportunities. Speaker’s Bureau teaching adult education classes to the community. There are a variety of course offerings, which you can browse on the RCMG website. I started off volunteering as an intern, and then because I have tech/Zoom skills, I was able to help out even more with these events as a “Tech Lead”. If you have skills in this area, be sure to get involved with this group! I discovered that by attending the events and hearing the presentation, that I learned a lot and was able to practice finding info on the extension websites as I responded to student questions in the chat. This helped me to build confidence and understand the type of questions students would ask. This confidence propelled me to sign up for a lead presenter slot in December teaching the Climate Change class, which went surprisingly very well! If you can purchase, I have found that having an additional computer monitor greatly assists me with Zoom calls, where I flip back and forth between web browser and Zoom.
Try out Diagnostic Clinic volunteer opportunities. Before COVID this event was held at the “Barn” on Saturday afternoons. This year, basically, members of the public come to the Zoom call with a question about their yard or garden plant or pest and we as Master Gardeners (and interns) diagnose and/or identify the problem. I found this group fun because you never knew what you were going to be asked! There is always both a lead and intern Master Gardener on the call, so you have support as you go! Also, it is really nice to be able to search on the extension site of google scholar while you are diagnosing – you can find resources much more quickly!
Participate in a modified in-person event like Habitat for Humanity. During COVID, RCMG instated distancing practices so that we could still volunteer through Habitat for Humanity. I was placed on a team with two other full Master Gardeners. We met first in advance of the planting date with the H4H recipient outside, at 6’ distance and with masks. At this meeting we talked about plant options and laid our ideas for the site. It was so nice to get to meet and talk about landscape with our H4H couple! I made sketches of the site and helped to layout and imagine a rendering of what the house will look like after 3-4 years of growth. After this, we had a planting day where we brought all of our own tools (no sharing because COVID) and prepared the beds with compost, planted the shrubs and bulbs, and finished off with wood chips. The process was transformative to the location! It felt amazing to help support a couple’s transition to homeownership.
Develop your own solo project. This is something that I didn’t get around to and really wish I had! All RCMG projects have to be approved ahead of time and I definitely dragged my feet about that element. I did hear from other interns about projects that they did making “learning gardens” and I thought it was a great idea. For 2021 I’m interested in creating video content of how to build DIY structures that extend or adapt to a changing climate, like hoop houses and drip irrigation systems. I know that developing my own project in this way will motivate me to learn even more about these structures/systems and give my community the skills to create on a variety of budgets.
In addition to the above advice, I encourage you to hit the ground running! I did my first volunteer work of the year in February 2020 and I was glad to already be cracking away at hours so soon. You won’t regret breaking up and spreading out the hours over the entire calendar year! 50÷12= 4.15 so my goal was 5 hours a month of volunteering. Don’t put it off!
Good luck and I look forward to meeting you on Zoom at the January meeting!
FROM: Kit Leffler
Class of 2020
Don’t hesitate to reach out and connect with others
I was in your place a year ago, excited to begin my intern experience. As our COVID-year progressed, the MG program also necessarily adapted. At times it was disappointing or confusing, but ultimately this year was still a wonderful introduction to the MG program. The slower pace of the volunteer activities gave me time to build skills and knowledge, and to learn about the different program elements.
Now that most of the kinks have been worked out, I’m sure your intern year will be even better! To give you an idea of the possibilities, I’ll share some of what worked for me.
I spent many of my volunteer hours this year in the Speakers Bureau. Because these classes worked well in the virtual space, there were a variety of opportunities available. The Speakers Bureau format allows you to move at your own pace. I began as an aide, watching others and learning the material, and progressed to presenting.
Another activity I appreciated this year were the “Ask a Master Gardener” sessions, where MGs hold a virtual drop-in room to answer questions from the public. It’s a great opportunity to use what you learn in the core course, plus you’ll be paired with other MGs who can help fill in gaps in your knowledge.
Although so much is online now, there are also still some safe in-person activity options. For me, participating in the seed trials and in the maintenance at the Barn garden were fun chances to do hands-on garden work.
The thing I missed most this year was the chance to meet other MGs. I hope you can be less shy than I was. Even though we’re meeting virtually, don’t hesitate to reach out and connect with others!
FROM: Deon Haider
Class of 2020
Focus on what you control
My best advice to the incoming interns to fulfill their volunteer hours is to start early in the year to avoid the rush at the end of the year when there are limited opportunities.
Explore all of the SignUp Genius opportunities with the understanding that there are limited volunteer spaces. Act quickly to sign up.
Try everything. You secure the volunteer time and you will know what to expect if the opportunity comes up again.
Diagnostic clinics allow you to learn from other Master Gardeners while satisfying volunteer hours.
The Yard and Garden help line is an all-day commitment but retrieving messages/reviewing emails and answering the questions are at your pace and on your time (as long as responded to within 48 hours)
Lean on your mentor. They have the experience and are willing to answer questions on opportunities.
Understand that circumstances may limit opportunities but everyone within RCMG is rooting for your success. Focus on what you control.
FROM: Sue Grigal
Class of 2020
I completed my 50 hours just this morning and feel pretty proud about that given the challenges the pandemic has provided for holding activities. My advice for you as you start your year and are working towards the volunteer hour goal is to be brave! By that I mean don’t be intimidated by the material and the awesome MGs who know so much.
I served most of my hours by teaching and assisting with presentations via Zoom. I learned so much about MG topics, about Zoom and about other MGs. The most fun were the classes with 3 or 4 MGs involved. It was so good to visit if even briefly with other MGs. Being involved in classes provided a depth of information that allowed me to apply what I had learned through the initial training.
I also gained many hours by attending monthly meetings. I missed a few but was able to go back and watch them online. The meetings are informative and really provided good connections for the work we do as MGs.
I worked the Pest Detective line and really enjoyed that. It was good to learn from experienced
MGs how to find info. This assignment filled fast, I would have worked more if available.
My last assignment this year will be the Ask A Master Gardener phone line. I’m looking forward
to doing some research and corresponding with people in the community.
Good luck to you as you begin your tenure as a Master Gardener!
FROM: Jennifer Daul
Class of 2020