Master Gardener Program in Columbia County 2019

At the end of 2019, 38 Master Gardener Volunteers reported 2,177 hours of volunteer service for an estimated value of $52,243 (Independent Sector).  They also reported 655 hours of continuing education and reached an estimated 8,728 individuals with various outreach projects.

Growing Veggies for Those in Need at the Lincoln Park Learning Garden

Master Gardeners donated 318 pounds of fresh produce to the Portage Food Pantry this year as a result of a Growing Together mini-grant from FoodWise, the nutrition education program of Extension. The FoodWise coordinator in Columbia County asked if we would be interested in cooperating to create a new garden to improve access to fresh, healthy food by limited income families. The site was chosen for its proximity to the food pantry located in Lincoln Park. The city of Portage was a cooperative partner, allowing us to build raised beds, put up a fence and access water.  The MGVs used the $1390 grant to purchase lumber, fencing, and soil mix to create an attractive and accessible garden.

During the season, 38 varieties of vegetables, herbs and flowers were grown in the 288 square foot garden. Master Gardeners held work parties on days that the pantry was open, in an attempt to get pantry visitors involved. Lincoln Park is also one of the sites for the Summer Lunch Program in Portage and youth were engaged in garden activities before or after lunch. Youth learned how plants grown, and planted seeds in pots, which they enthusiastically watered and maintained during the summer. MGVs scheduled several direct educational opportunities which only reached one person.

The food pantry reported they served 510 people during the time the MGVs were bringing in fresh produce. The FoodWise coordinator supported the effort by providing nutritional information and recipes for the produce. The pantry staff was very supportive of the project and felt it was successful.

At the end of the season, MGVs reported 173 hours working on this project. They also set several potential goals for the next season:

  • Continue to donate produce, growing more popular vegetables and fewer unfamiliar types.
  • Encourage more neighborhood families to take part and adopt beds for their own use.
  • Provide opportunities for service clubs and youth groups such as 4-H and FFA to get involved.
  • Do more outreach to the entire community for the educational programming.

Evolving the Traditions at the Columbia County Fair Projects

After the retirement of the long-time Flower Department superintendents last year, the Fair Board approached the Master Gardeners to take over this role. Several members have helped out on judging day in the past, so members decided to take on this task as a group, with two people volunteering to serve as co-chairs. Besides cleaning and setting up the exhibit area, accepting and displaying the entries, and assisting the judging process, a goal was set of making the “flower department” more educational to the public. To this end, the co-chairs made some changes to the judging, allowing exhibitors and others to watch and listen to the judge’s comments. People found this fascinating and learned a lot. The fair board also allowed our MGV booth to move from the commercial building to the flower building, bringing another educational aspect to the display. The theme of the booth was “Celebrate Wisconsin Native Plants” and besides learning about the benefits of planting natives, fair-goers could play a fun activity to identify native plants visible in Columbia County around fair time. The third educational aspect was displaying our micro-farm unit, filled with seedlings, and promoting its use in schools. Volunteers noted that of the school-age youth who visited, many said they had seen the unit in their school or had used it in their classroom.

Educating the Public at Let’s Get Green and Growing 2019 – By The Numbers!

There was a definite chill in the air on the morning of March 30th as the vendors began to fill the gym at 7:00 am at Rio High School, but inside the air was warm (the heat was ON!) and full of thoughts of spring and all of its promise as we launched “Let’s Get Green and Growing” 2019.  Six months of planning, numerous meetings and countless emails came to fruition as 182 registered attendees joined volunteers, presenters, vendors and Rio High School staff and students to learn, network and share their love of gardening.

Twelve vendor booths lined the perimeter of the gym offering an array of garden related items.  The Master Gardener Swap table offered FREE books, magazines and seeds along with compost pails and gloves for sale.  Our keynote speakers, Ben Futa and Elin Filbey from Allen Centennial Garden in Madison challenged listeners to think about gardening in a different way, looking at possibilities for opening up gardening and public spaces to others.  They asked listeners to think about gardening “WITH” not “FOR” their target audience, a value of the Master Gardener program.

The day unfolded with the possibility of 29 breakout sessions with 26 different speakers, including numerous Master Gardener Volunteers and many others giving of their time and sharing their passion for their subject area.  Lunch and more shopping time rounded out the day. At the end of the day 136 attendees completed and turned in their evaluation forms – a whopping 75% return rate and 44 lucky people went home with door prizes. 

How is all of this possible?  Countless Columbia County Master Gardener Volunteer hours were shared to help plan, advertise, set up, host, photograph, sell, clean up, and teach in the weeks prior to the event and on that day.  In the evaluations, attendees shared incalculable amounts of learning, their appreciation for this economical learning opportunity and the effort and planning that went into it! As one attendee wrote on their evaluation, “See you in 2020”!


The first annual Tomato-palooza event was a success. It was held on August 17 from 11:00 AM – 2:00 PM at Edgewater Home & Garden in Portage. The owners of Edgewater, Jim and Carole Lavigne not only grow many varieties of plants, but also love cooking and eating vegetables. To share their passion, they asked the Master Gardeners to help them create a “greenhouse to plate” event. Edgewater staff grew the seedlings and MGVs were recruited to grow the plants in their home gardens, and help with the day of the event. More than 50 visitors sampled over eighteen varieties of tomatoes, along with four varieties of rare and spicy peppers. As well as serving up sliced tomatoes and peppers, identified by variety, the Lavignes prepared cheese quesadillas, regular and spicy nacho cheese dip, and fresh caprèse bites, made with local cheese for visitors to enjoy. MGVs answered questions about growing tomatoes and shared their experience with the gardeners who attended.

By the Numbers

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