Our Mission:

The Rock Prairie Master Gardener Association, located in Rock County, Wisconsin, is the 42nd association of the Wisconsin Master Gardener Program.

This blog is used to distribute timely information to association members regarding volunteer opportunities, MGV highlights, and other social tid bits.

Horticulture related information is to be directed to the Horticulture Educator or the Plant Health Advisors.

This blog is not for garden related questions.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

We meet again

Thursday evening, March 5, the Rock Prairie Master Gardener Association Advisory Committee invited all active master gardeners to meet at the Horticulture Center at Rotary Botanical Gardens for snacks and conversation. 

Ruth Flescher served as spokesperson for the Advisory Committee and opened the meeting by introducing committee members: Deb Grams, Bev Drew, Mary Kay Thompson, Steve Bartz, and Rose Last.  Mary Louise Johnson, who is out of town for the winter, has been working with the committee from a distance. 

Special guest Cheryl Rezabek, new Director of Administration and Development for RBG, was introduced to the group.  Herself a MGV, Cheryl is president of the Green County Master Gardener Association .  She said she is looking forward to developing a continually improving relationship between the RPMGA and RBG.  She noted that her organization presents a spring symposium each year. This year's symposium, "Gardening With a Purpose" was held March 14.  Educators from her group did presentations for the event. She suggested we might want to consider a similar event for our group. 

Ruth introduced Rock County Horticulture Agent Christy Marsden who explained in her role as advisor she can help MGVs and the RPMGA.  

For the last month or more the Advisory Committee has been working to find and clarify ways to make the RPMGA an organization that will support and encourage MGVs in the full use of their expertise and abilities. We are also seeking to revisit organizational considerations.

At its first meeting the committee identified an issue that we feel needs to be clarified. What is the difference between the RPMGA and the University of Wisconsin Extension Master Gardener Program?  Isn't it the same?  It may seem so, but in reality they are two different things.
  1. The Master Gardener Program is an educational program administered by UW Extension. Christy Marsden is the horticulture educator and teaches the Master Gardener Program for Rock County.  She also serves as advisor for the RPMGA.
  2. The Rock Prairie Master Gardener Association is an independent group that annually collects $15 for RPMGA dues and $5 for WIMGA (the Wisconsin Master Gardener Association) from qualified MGVs.  (RPMGA collects WIMGA dues at the county level and forwards them to WIMGA.)   
  3. What's the difference?  An MGV Program graduate does not have to become a dues paying member of RPMGA.  It is not a requirement.  Graduates who choose not to join the group can receive the monthly newsletter, attend meetings, work on RPMGA projects, do pretty much what any other MGV does except for one thing. They cannot vote at RPMGA business meetings.  Only dues paying members can vote. 
  4. The RPMGA is self-governing. Active members are subject to the rules of the MGV Program.  When working with the public MGVs are serving as the face of the UWEX Master Gardener Program.  As such there are UWEX MGV rules of conduct that must be adhered to.  MGVs cannot earn money for their efforts.  MGVs cannot wear their badges when they are doing paid work. MGVs cannot educate or advise commercial enterprises.  If an MGV wishes to volunteer to help a for-profit enterprise they can do so, but in that context they are not MGVs, they are just volunteers.  In some instances this can be a fine line. Volunteering to teach gardening classes to residents at a senior center (a for-profit business) may be approved as suitable volunteer work because the goal is to educate the residents, not help the business earn money.  Working in a gift shop at a botanical garden  (also a for-profit business) may not.  Therefore if there is any question as to the appropriateness of a volunteer opportunity or project, ask Christy.  In her role as advisor to the RPMGA she can help us with those decisions.     
Brainstorming session elicited a range of ideas
Attendees were given Interest Surveys which will be used as a skills assessment and interest evaluation so the committee has some idea of what skills are available and what projects the people who have those skills would like to become involved with.  The surveys asked, "What do you like to do?"  and "Kinds of things to do?"  Results will be tallied and the results used to help the committee in its deliberations.

Ruth next asked for suggestions and ideas and a whiteboard was soon filled with a wide range of ideas. Those ideas, and others, will be incorporated into future planning for continuing education opportunities, volunteer opportunities, field trips, social events and get-togethers.  

The committee discovered early on that one of the biggest concerns members have is communication.  Suggestions for making it easier for MGVs to find information they need is to establish a single website that serves as the central "clearing house" for all things MGV.    
Christy explained that there is already a sort of "clearing house" of information for MGVs that she maintains which is located online at:

There was more good news.  Christy has purged the old Rock Hort listserv of over 200 outdated or incorrect email addresses. It is now up to date with current MGVs and a few friends and educators and ready for comments and input, following the guidelines Christy outlined in her recent email - Listserv Update: Guidelines and How to Post.  Look for it in your email Inbox.  

Mary Kay has volunteered to return as blogger for RPMGA.  New posts will be sent to the listserv as simple announcements with a link to the post.  If you'd rather visit the blog directly it is located at:

The blog submission email posted in January is still a place to send announcements, stories, volunteer opportunities.  Any submissions that are made directly to me will be reviewed by Christy before posting.  The guidelines for the listserv are the same as for the blog.

Christy is building a library of Power Points that RPMGA members can use. The PPTs have been prepared by Christy and other UWEX horticulture professionals and cover a range of topics. When preparing to present a program supplies and presentation materials may be available through the UWEX office.  Supplies are kept in a storage unit in the basement of the Court House, or can be borrowed from the materials stores in Madison.  Ask Christy for help obtaining those materials.

Previously the RPMGA published a small paper directory that included all active MGVs by name with their addresses, phone numbers and email addresses as well events for the coming year.  The paper directory was abandoned in favor of an Internet version. Many MGVs have expressed a desire to see the paper directory return        

Past successes that have been abandoned have the potential to be revived into projects with right group of people at the helm.  At Thursday's meeting new projects and new ideas were suggested.  
  • Garden Festival was arguably RPMGAs most visible project and ran for eight years under the expert direction of Deb Grams. The last year was the most successful event on record. Deb can no longer take on that project but expressed a willingness to help any interested group of MGVs to revive the event.  
  • Christy has grant funds waiting to be used for a container gardening project for low income families.  A similar project had been run before with MGV volunteers in conjunction with the UWEX Nutrition educator.  
  • Christy is seeking MGVs to help with school garden programs throughout the county.
  • Once a vibrant example of what can be done with a little effort, Merrill Community Gardens in Beloit has been inactive for several years. But the infrastructure is still in place, and the project could be revived with the commitment of a few MGVs.  
  • Mary Kay suggested a project to provide gardening classes at senior care centers around the county.  She explained her ongoing experiences at St. Elizabeth in Janesville teaching seniors at all levels of cognition about the joys of gardening. 
  • Using our skills to present classes at each of the seven libraries in the Arrowhead Library System was suggested.  Arrowhead is always seeking educational programming that will rotate through the system.  
  • A speakers bureau would provide opportunities for MGVs to speak about their specialty or passion for service groups, schools, churches, or other groups.   
  • Ruth suggested we consider adopting a Heritage Seed Loaning program like that which is currently being done at the Whitewater Public Library.  Using their library cards, residents 'take out' seeds at the beginning of the growing season.  After the season is through the person returns saved seeds to the library to be ready for the next growing season. Christy expressed interest in helping MGVs organize that project.  She was once an employee of Seed Savers Exchange in Decorah, Iowa, the internationally known non-profit that is dedicated to saving and sharing heirloom seeds.
  • Work with the volunteer coordinator at Dean/St Mary's Hospital in Janesville to expand and improve their gardens.  (Emphasis here, this is not to be grunt work.) 
  • Volunteer at the Community Gardens.  Deb explained the RECAP garden project belongs to the Rock County Sheriff's Department and is maintained by inmates. MGVs have worked with the inmates as educators for several years.  MGVs have provided educational programming at the Community Gardens gardens for area residents who have plots there.  At one time MGVs maintained a board with the bug of the week to help gardeners keep their gardens healthy.
  • Earn volunteer hours by working in the Healing Gardens at Edgerton Hospital. 
Attendees agreed that they would be glad to see varied approaches to the educational opportunities each month.  Day trips, speakers, authors, hands on projects, lectures.  
Suggestions for day trips included:  
  • Old World Wisconsin - Heirloom Gardens - Eagle
  • Tallgrass Prairie - Last stand of tallgrass prairie - Strong City, KS
  • Chicago Botanical Garden - Glencoe, Ill
  • The Flower Factory - Stoughton
  • Blooms of Beloit
  • Redtail Ridge Lavendar & Herbs (Cheryl's farm)
  • Seed Savers, Decorah, Iowa
  • Heritage Garden Program at Midway Village Museum - Rockford
  • Klehm Arboretum and Botanic Garden - Rockford
  • Northwind Perennial Farms - Burlington
  • Neese Memorial Rooftop Garden - Beloit
  • Anderson Japanese Gardens - Rockford
  • Allen Centennial Garden - Madison
  • Boerner Botanical Garden - Hales Corners
  • Olbrich Botanical Garden - Madison
  • Growing Power - Milwaukee
  • Green Bay Botanical Garden - Green Bay
Continuing education programs and community outreach programs could include workshops, speakers and educators.  Some topics of interest included:
  • Hold an annual symposium open to the public (Cheryl suggested we contact her group for advice)
  • Tree identification at Palmer Park because of its wide range of species
  • Trees and plants that are beneficial for birds
  • Identifying native plants
  • Companion planting
  • Native wasps and other insects
  • Work with Mark Dwyer doing "dig and divide" projects at RBG
  • Publish a Garden Journal (Dane County MGVs use this as a fund-raiser)
  • Organize a Speaker's Bureau made up of RPMGA members
  • Seminar on how to create a Power Point presentation
  • How to use online resources to find research/education based information about insects and diseases
  • Earn volunteers hours by becoming involved in the Downtown Janesville Revitalization project.
Last year Christy sent all active MGVs a needs assessment hoping to use the results to gauge what MGVs want from the program.  The advisory committee used the assessment to gain insight into what MGVs want from RPMGA.  We found:
  1. We need effective leadership which is tuned in to the needs of the MGVs. Members want leadership that is interested in working to promote our educational mission.  Less meetings, more projects. 
  2. Numerous respondents feel a committee based organizational structure would be more effective and less cumbersome than an officer driven executive structure.
In an effort to address those questions the Advisory Committee has already done a little housekeeping on the by-laws.  Copies of suggested changes will be distributed to all voting members.  

The RPMGA has a right to chose its own form of governance.  
  • Do our current by-laws meet our organizational and administrative needs?
  • Do we want to use Robert's Rules of Order as our guide, or would we like to be more loosely organized? 
Organizational reorganization has been key in the Advisory Committee's deliberations. 

A suggestion was made that RPMGA consider a committee driven structure where a Steering Committee, made up of one representative from each permanent committee, would meet regularly with other committee reps to discuss progress on specific projects or programs.  Any committee member could be the rep for any given meeting.

An effective way to control our finances if of paramount importance. Ruth made note that the RPMGA has a fairly sizable pool of funds in its checking account. Those funds can be used to fund approved projects and/or programs.  How should we handle those funds? Who should administer the funds?  Would we need to stay with the executive committee model which would include a treasurer, or just elect or appoint a treasurer independent of an executive committee?  In April the committee will present our suggestions for by-laws and organizational modifications to the membership for consideration. 

Another fact gleaned from the needs assessment is that MGVs cherish their association with Rotary Botanical Gardens.  We discovered members feel comfortable there, like meeting there, like volunteering there.  So, on that note, we asked if we could hold Thursday's get-together there and were enthusiastically welcomed by Cheryl and Landscaping Director, Mark Dwyer.

The Advisory Committee is not permanent.  It is an interim committee of volunteers working with Christy and the entire membership to revamp the organization.  It will disband once reorganization is complete.  Until that time the committee will help you revitalize RPMGA into a tool that can be used to make your experience as a MGV better, fuller and more exciting.  Got an idea?  Tell us.  What to see something change?  Tell us. Keep us informed of your wants and needs.  It's our group.  We can make any and all changes that will make the RPMGA everything it could be.  Together we hope to make the RPMGA better than ever before.

For the immediate future regular meetings will be held on the first Thursday of the month from 5:30 to 8:00 pm - location subject to change.  Depending on availability we may meet at RBG, at the Rock County Court House, or even at UW-Rock.  Continuing education topics have been chosen for April and May.  Watch Rock Hort and the blog for more information about upcoming meetings.

On a final note the Advisory Committee took the initiative to donate $50 of RPMGA funds to RBG for the use of the Horticulture Center for this important get-together.  

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