You may be surprised to learn that the signature of Abraham Lincoln on a Senate bill in July of 1862 put into motion actions and ideologies that would culminate in a nation-wide program that includes the UC Master Gardeners of Butte County.
Sponsored by Vermont Senator Justin Morrill, the Land-Grant College Act called for the donation of public lands “to the several States and [Territories] which may provide colleges for the benefit of agriculture and the Mechanic arts…” Through this Act the Federal Government was committed to grant each state 30,000 acres of public land, which became the basis of our national system of Land-Grant state colleges and universities. It is important to acknowledge that lands nationwide had been occupied by Native Americans for tens of thousands of years. In keeping with the dominant world view of that time, the land appropriated by the federal government was considered “public” and could be given to each of the states for beneficial use.
In California, the University of California at Berkeley was established as the Land-Grant College. Today, UC Berkeley, UC Riverside, and closest to home, UC Davis carry on that legacy by housing the Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources. Cooperative Extension specialists and Experiment Station Faculty are based on these three campuses and coordinate their education efforts with UC-funded Cooperative Extension Advisors. Fifty of California's 58 counties support a UC Cooperative Extension department.
The University of California Cooperative Extension (UCCE) County Advisors are valuable resources who conduct outreach and education that encompasses much more than crop development. In addition to plant sciences, pest management, and soil and water health, they oversee agricultural economic issues; management of livestock and natural resources; nutrition, family, and consumer sciences; and youth development – particularly through the 4-H program.
Over time, as the reputation of the County Extension programs and California's population grew, busy Farm Advisors increasingly found themselves fielding questions about plants, pests, and problems from home gardeners. The Master Gardener (MG) Program was developed to help the Farm Advisors extend information by training volunteers in the science of gardening and horticulture. This program was conceived by Dr. David Gibby of the University of Washington Cooperative Extension. Gibby ran a pilot program in Tacoma, Washington in 1972. Following its resounding success, the Master Gardeners were officially established, along with a rigorous training program and curriculum. The concept quickly spread throughout the US and Canada. Each MG program in the US is affiliated with a land-grant university and a county UC Cooperative Extension office.
In California, Riverside and Sacramento Counties were first to launch programs in training and certifying Master Gardeners, beginning in 1980. Since then, certified Master Gardener programs have been founded in more than 50 California counties.
In 2007, Butte County UCCE Farm Advisor Joseph Connell and Family and Consumer Science Advisor and County Director Susan Donohue identified a real need for a local MG Program. Working with UC Davis, the county, the UCCE office in Oroville, the Butte County Farm, Home, and 4-H Support Group, and three Master Gardeners trained elsewhere, Connell and Donohue organized a local MG training program. The MG training course was to be taught by Advisors, Specialists, and professors from the UC system and the Butte County UCCE put out a call to enroll volunteers. In May of 2008 the inaugural group of Butte County Master Gardeners completed their training. The 17-week training program of weekly classes is now offered every other year in Butte County. The upcoming 2022 class will constitute our eighth cadre of graduates.
The Butte County MGs have come a long way since the first class of 21 volunteers graduated in 2008. Currently we have 94 active Master Gardeners, and a new class of 24 will graduate next May. We staff a Hotline for gardening questions which can be reached by phone at 530-538-7201 and by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Each spring and fall we present a public education workshop series covering a wide variety of topics. Our Living Lab program is bringing plant science to several local schools through school garden projects. We've established a helpful and beautifully-designed website which contains a wealth of information and tips specifically focusing on our local gardening environment, as well as details about our upcoming activities. Every month we email a newsletter to subscribers. Our Gardening Guide and Three-Year Garden Journal contains information, tips, and note-taking space for every week of the year. You can find our outreach booths at local farmers markets and garden-related events. Twice a year we hold a plant sale, highlighting plants that grow well here. And on Fridays we publish an article on a gardening topic in our Real Dirt column in this newspaper as well as on the Real Dirt blog on our website.
The UC Master Gardeners of Butte County owe our inception to the foresight and hard work of Joseph Connell and Susan Donahue, Cooperative Extension Advisors Emeritus. Major portions of the Demonstration Garden were made possible by funding from the Farm, Home, and 4-H Support Group. And we owe our continued existence to our MG volunteers and all the gardeners and plant lovers in our region. Thank you!
UC Master Gardeners of Butte County are part of the University of California Cooperative Extension (UCCE) system. To learn more about us and our upcoming events, and for help with gardening in our area, visit our website. If you have a gardening question or problem, email the Hotline at email@example.com (preferred) or call (530) 538-7201.