Two things I read over the last week have impelled me to finally rant on what bugs me the most about master gardener programs. The first is a column by Buffalo horticulturalist Sally Cunningham in which she writes about the recent passing of two local master gardeners, one of whom she trained. The second is Kathy’s post at Cold Climate Gardening, in which she speculates on why more twenty and thirty-somethings don’t garden and why that should matter.
I’m going to assume that the late Adrian Kyriakopoulos, one of the master gardeners Sally trained, was older than she, as she notes that he tolerated the sobriquet “wise old man.” I’m guessing Sally is about my age. It would probably be safe to assume that many of the master gardeners trained by Sally were older than she. Why? I’ll tell you why. Master gardener training is held during the day on Fridays where I live. From what I hear, weekday training is quite common in other areas—at least it is in Austin, Chicago, and Cleveland, as I was told by Pam, Gloria, and Kim.
So, who’s free to attend a day-long session on Friday or any other weekday? I’m going to go out on a limb and speculate that a lot of the attendees are retirees. The training is just one day a week. Why couldn’t those hours be allocated to late afternoons on weekdays or Saturdays? The weekday training shuts out anybody who works—and these days most of us can count on working fulltime well into our sixties, as hideous as that sounds. (Personally, I don’t plan on retiring, though I’d like eventually to move into 100% freelance.) Is this a factor in keeping young people from gardening? Probably not a major one but it certainly can’t help. If one thirty-something is taking a master gardening class on Saturdays, he or she could tell friends. At least it would be a known possibility. I’ve heard some of the justifications for having the classes during the weekday; one was that the accompanying volunteering would take place at that time. Well, that’s just not true. I volunteer for public plantings all summer, always on Saturdays and weekday afternoons. And, boy, could we use some younger volunteers! (I could probably pull down some cold weather duty at the Botanical Gardens too.)
Obviously, I can’t begin to answer the question of why younger people don’t garden; I’ll leave that to Kathy’s post and its many interesting comments. But I do think that master gardener programs should adapt themselves to the way people live and work in the twenty-first century if they don’t want all their graduates to die off before a new generation of MGs can step forward and take their place. As Susan has compellingly related here, there are plenty of problematic issues with these programs. I feel a good start toward fixing some of them might be to make the training more accessible to all gardeners.