If you’re like me, you’re still getting to know the awesome community of urban gardeners that exists beyond the confines of your own backyard beds.
Once a month Capital City Farm Co will profile one of the leaders in this growing community; if you’re brand new to gardening we’ll introduce you to the some of the pioneers, and if gardening is old hat for you we’ll offer you unique insights on familiar faces.
This month, we’re profiling Sandy Farber, the coordinator of the University of the District of Columbia’s Master Gardener and Junior Master Gardener programs.
Not familiar with the Master Gardener Program? There are Master Gardener programs in every state. (My Aunt Lynne is a Master Gardener in Pensacola, Florida.) These training programs are run by land-grant universities like UDC, and participants get trained in the basics of horticulture, and then use that knowledge to contribute 50 volunteer hours to gardening in their own communities. They happen during the “off-season” and this year’s training program is happening right now; class started 2 and ½ weeks ago.
I sat down with Sandy before class last Tuesday to talk about the program, how she got her start, and where she thinks things are headed.
Sandy grew up in Rockville, between a creek and some beautiful woods. As far back as she can remember she was exposed to the beauty of nature. And like me she comes from a matrilineal line of gardeners: her mother had her own azalea collection, including some that were passed down from her great-grandmother. And she describes her dad as an unabashed “bulbaholic” and remembers “father-daughter bonding days” of garden work.
But Sandy didn’t go straight from childhood gardening with mom and dad to being a cooperative extension agent and coordinator of the Master Gardener program. She took a detour, like many of us do, spending 11 years working for the judicial system in Maryland. But she dreaded going in to work every day, so she took the leap. She quit, got a job at Behnke Nurseries, met someone there who’d completed the George Washington University Landscape Design program, pursued that certificate herself, heard about the Master Gardener program and decided to do that. She never looked back.
The year Sandy was a Master Gardener trainee there were only 5 people in the class (this was fall of 2000). And the questions were all about turf management and trees.
This year there are 55 people in the class – full disclosure: I’m one of them! – and the questions are about community gardens, edible plants and sustainability.
Ultimately, Sandy says, we as a society will have to become more self-sustaining. And food security problems aren’t going to go away. So more and more of us will need and want to know how to grow our own food. And we need to retain and pass on deep plant knowledge and plant diversity. And this is the direction Sandy sees the program going in, and the role she says she sees its trainees serving: becoming the stewards of that knowledge and diversity, and bringing more and more people into the gardening fold and giving them the ability to sustain themselves and their families.
I found this view of the future to be frightening, of course, but also inspiring.
If you’re interested in participating in the Master Gardener program – you can apply online now. Sandy will review your application and get in touch to schedule an interview. The next Master Gardener class starts in February 2014.
If you’re thinking about making a career change to horticulture – Sandy has some advice for you: do it! But before you do: get out of debt, save up a little money, scale back so you can live with less… then dive in. And don’t worry about what people think. If you’re in an impressive professional position now, some people might comment on the fact that you up and left that position to go work in a nursery like Sandy did… but don’t sweat it. The people who really care about you – Sandy says, from experience – will back you no matter what.
And, you’re not alone (for better or for worse). Sandy says these days about 1/3 of the Master Gardener class each year is considering a career change to horticulture. This can only mean good things for the gardening community in D.C.
Want to read more about Sandy? She was profiled not too long ago in the Express online magazine.
Is there someone you’d like to see us profile? Leave a comment. We’d love to hear from you!