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The Practicum Story 2011-2024

 

As the leadership changes, a written record of Practicum history was deemed important. Here goes, although bear in mind, much is from memory which at times can be faulty.

 

In 2005 and prior years, Master Gardener students were required to participate in one of three activities: Greenhouse, Grandma’s Garden, or designing, constructing, and manning an educational booth at Spring Garden Fair (SGF).  Greenhouse consisted of growing plants from seeds for selling at SGF.  Grandma’s Garden propagated plants using other methods, also for selling at SGF.  The educational booth was discontinued after 2005.

 

Two mentors, Janet Rantz from Grandma’s Garden and me (Jane Moyer) from Greenhouse, noticed that every year many students expressed the desire to be able to participate in both.  So, we put our heads together to figure out how to accomplish this “merger”.

 

In 2011 a pilot program was run by combining the Thursday morning groups from Grandma’s Garden and Greenhouse, teaching the lessons from both programs.  The rational was that, even though the lessons would take about twice the time, there would be double the number of students to start and grow the plants. Therefore, the end results would be the same.  As in any new program, there were bumps along the way; but when asked, the pilot students unanimously expressed their appreciation for having been in the new pilot program versus one program alone. That summer, the mentors from both Grandma’s Garden and Greenhouse met together to consider combining their programs. Not all mentors were in favor, but the majority came to agreement that doing what provided the best education for students was the goal.

 

Those who decided to continue with the effort to design a combined program spent September through December 2011 writing lesson plans, painting the inside of the garage of the Creepy Old House a bright yellow, and combining supplies and equipment.  Rick Evans, a commercial painter and husband of Master Gardener Carol Evans, painted murals on the walls, cupboard, and filing cabinet.  Michael Riding, 2012 President, named the new program “The Jackson County Master Gardener Practicum.”

 

The first problem to surface was scheduling the Practicum sessions.  Historically, all sessions were held in the morning. With a class of 75, that would require many morning Practicum sessions with a high student-to-mentor ratio held in a small space. The solution was to switch to the current practice of having six morning sessions and three afternoon sessions every week.

 

Each year, changes have been made based on evaluations from both students and mentors.  Mentors now have an annual training before Practicum begins, take turns each week conducting a review of the lessons for the upcoming week, and sign up to be responsible for both one-time jobs and recurring jobs.  Students are no longer required to take Practicum (although most still do), they are asked to read articles and/or view videos online in preparation for the topics for the upcoming week, and they attend for 14-15 weeks.

 

In 2017-18, a Prop House and Lathe House were torn down and Greenhouse #2 was built. A valuable lesson was learned along the way: next time we build anything, we should hire a contractor rather than try to do it ourselves!

 

2018 brought a mandate from the Oregon Dept. of Agriculture and OSU that sent us all into a tizzy for a while!  Up until that time, we had asked Master Gardeners who were dividing plants in their yards to bring any extras divisions to us.  We would divide them, if needed, pot them up, and care of them until they could be sold at the SGF.  Because this practice had caused the spread of some harmful insects, viruses, and weeds up north, MG programs were told they could no longer accept plants grown in garden soil.  We couldn’t even accept divisions from our own demonstration gardens.  That was about a fourth of the plants for Spring Garden Fair!

 

Lynn Kunstman introduced the idea of growing native plants from seeds and cuttings instead.

In 2017 Lynn, a Jackson County Master Gardener and Practicum mentor, had been giving butterfly garden presentations. Influenced by the books “Bringing Nature Home” and “Nature’s Best Hope” by Doug Tallamy, Lynn began propagating native plants from cuttings taken on the SOREC campus and seeds purchased from Klamath Siskiyou Native Seeds.  Growing natives, which requires less water and maintenance, also aligns well with recent directives from OSU regarding sustainable gardening practices.  The Native Plant Nursery has expanded and is now an ongoing source of revenue for JCMGA.

 

In March 2020 everything came to a halt.  With all we had heard about the dangers of COVID, the JCMGA board had an emergency meeting and canceled the Spring Garden Fair.  Classes were canceled.  The campus was shut down.  All Practicum seedlings were given to members to take home and raise.  No-contact honor sales were held from members’ driveways.  We learned to hold lessons and classes via Zoom.  Practicum mentors put together kits for each student to use during online classes.  The 2020 graduation was held over Zoom.

 

And so it went for the remainder of 2020, 2021, and 2022.  There was no MG class in 2021.  The 2022 class took place entirely over Zoom.  Eight students graduated. Plans for Practicum were made and canceled.  The gardens were open for summer work with strict limits on how many MGs could be in them, then closed again.

 

Finally in 2023, things began returning to “normal” with a difference.  Classes were offered in a hybrid format, meeting in-person only a half day each week, while the rest of the classes met online.  The Creepy Old House had been condemned due to asbestos, so a Practicum teaching area was set up in Greenhouse #1 which cut down on space for plants. Some of the Practicum mentors decided not to teach anymore so each session had only two mentors instead of three. There were frequent absences due to COVID.  The Spring Garden Fair was held at the Extension instead of the fairgrounds due to the expense and lack of volunteers. But the Practicum mentors pulled together and made it work.

 

During the summer and fall of 2023, a small team of mentors went through the lesson plans to update them.  All teaching charts were professionally remade, laminated, and mounted.  Four mentor teams were organized (Curriculum, Greenhouse Maintenance, Native Plant Nursery, and Seeds).  Mentor positions were all filled.  It looked like it was going to be a great year for the Practicum.

 

Then two of the leadership mentors had health and/or family situations that kept them out for most of the season.  Virginia Brown assumed the chairmanship and with the help of a great mentor group was able to guide the Practicum through.  Spring Garden Fair was a financial success even though the first day set records for rainfall and low temperature (and probably mud).

 

And so, Practicum continues to grow, expand, and improve.  The first and major goal of Practicum is education with a second minor goal of fundraising.  Practicum is one of the main pillars that supports the efforts of JCMGA to learn, practice, and teach the art and science of gardening in the Rogue Valley.

 

Future changes: Barbara Low and Nicole Smith are assuming the leadership of Practicum.  The Creepy Old House, the tool shed, the Propagation Greenhouse, and the Practicum Plant Infirmary are all going to be removed by the county. An ad hoc committee is exploring the possibility of replacing them along with Greenhouse #1.