Extension Master Gardener working in a community garden

What one eat plays a critical role in a person’s health. Unfortunately, not everyone can easily afford healthy, fresh produce. University of Illinois Extension Master Gardeners provide many people with free produce through several “giving gardens.” Thanks to a partnership with Tazewell County Health Department, one of these giving gardens has expanded its offerings and is gearing up to add gardening and cooking lessons.

Picture of native plant Black-eyed Susan with butterfly

Each year in the United States, over one million acres of native habitat are transformed into urban and suburban lawns. The loss of these native plant resources is directly related to the decline of the native bird population by 3 billion birds. As news of species decline becomes more common, University of Illinois Extension has significantly increased the native plant educational programs to address this concern.

Profile picture of Tara Heath

Horticulture has been a part of Tara Heath’s life since she was a little girl. After a 20 year career focused on landscape management, Tara has joined the University of Illinois Extension team as the horticulture program coordinator serving Fulton, Mason, Peoria, and Tazewell counties.

Extension Master Gardeners standing by flower bed

Education and beauty go hand-in-hand with the new native plant landscape project at Morton Public LibraryUniversity of Illinois Extension Master Gardeners in the Fulton-Mason-Peoria-Tazewell Unit worked to beautify the landscaping at the library while educating the patrons about the benefits of native plants.

Screen shot of on-line training menu

The number of people going through online training to become a University of Illinois Extension Master Gardener increased in 2020.  Since the summer of 2020, twelve people have enrolled in online training program from Fulton, Mason, Peoria and Tazewell counties. This is an increase from 2019 when two people enrolled in the online training.

Pic of Sue Walters, Master Gardener award recipient

Volunteers of University of Illinois Extension's Master Gardener program were recognized at a virtual awards ceremony October 2. The annual awards ceremony recognizes the work of the 2,700 volunteers who provide horticulture-related assistance to their communities.

Children working on a school garden

University of Illinois Extension staff from horticulture, Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program—Education (SNAP-Ed), and 4-H teamed up to provide training to teachers, administrators, parents, and master volunteers with the goal to help them understand how to start and maintain a school garden. The four-session series, held October 2019 through March 2020 attracted 20 people from 15 different organizations.

Natures Best Hope book cover

One of the less mentioned benefits of being an Extension Master Gardener or Master Naturalist is the time you get to spend with other volunteers learning together and from each other. While shelter-in-place and social distancing protocols are being followed, University of Illinois Extension staff created virtual book study groups for our master volunteers that began in late March with the book Nature’s Best Hope and have continued to a second book.

gardening helpline info graphic

The nationwide Extension Master Gardener (EMG) program began in 1972 when the Washington State Horticulturalist recruited and trained volunteers to help him answer the high volume of calls from the public about gardening. From there the program expanded in scope and grew across the country, but answering the public’s gardening questions is still at the heart of what EMGs do.

When Illinois’ stay at home order began in March, University of Illinois Extension, Fulton-Mason-Peoria-Tazewell (FMPT) Unit staff shifted to working remotely and modified their current programs to continue to meet the needs of our residents, businesses, and local governments. Illinois Extension recently announced plans to continue providing programs in formats that support public health and safety priorities throughout the summer months. Staff and volunteers have approached the shift head-on and have a well-curated line-up of programs and services readily available.

group photo of Master Gardeners

Eight University of Illinois Extension Master Gardener (EMG) trainees in the Fulton-Mason-Peoria-Tazewell Unit showed up on two chilly days in March at the Peoria Zoo as part of a new approach to official EMG training. It was the beginning of an 18-hour long volunteer skills training program.

Volunteer Master Gardeners at Farmers Market

Master Gardeners from University of Illinois Extension serving Fulton, Mason, Peoria, and Tazewell Counties share a mission to “help others learn to grow.” Perhaps nowhere does this mission play out more directly than at the Peoria Riverfront Farmers Market (PRFM), where they answer hundreds of gardening questions posed by visitors from across Central Illinois and beyond.

group of people standing in front of brick building

Highly trained Master Gardeners from University of Illinois Extension serving Fulton, Mason, Peoria, and Tazewell counties enhance local communities and bring horticultural awareness and knowledge to hundreds of area residents. In recognition of this impact, a team of Extension Master Gardeners, and other volunteers, at St. Jude Parish Catholic Church and School received an award from Keep Peoria Beautiful, the local affiliate of the national Keep America Beautiful organization.

Nicole Flowers staff photo

University of Illinois Extension, Fulton-Mason-Peoria-Tazewell Unit is pleased to announce Nicole Flowers-Kimmerle, of East Peoria, has joined the team as the new horticulture educator. Her new role will include a wide range of horticulture programs, educational resources, and overseeing the unit Master Gardener and Master Naturalist programs.

“Attending the Master Naturalist training last year was one of my favorite educational experiences,” mentioned Nicole. “It is exciting to be working with that program in my new position.”

women touching a plant sitting in classroom

University of Illinois Extension, Fulton-Mason-Peoria-Tazewell Unit, Master Naturalists and Masters Gardeners have become involved in a partnership among the Illinois Department Natural Resources (IDNR), Mason State Tree Nursery, and Pollinator Partnership in an effort to enhance land across the Midwest to support our imperiled pollinators. The goal of Project Wingspan is to increase monarch and Rusty Patched Bumble Bee habitat in hopes of seeing an increase in their quickly declining populations.

garden with quilt art

Sonja Wright, University of Illinois Extension Master Gardener serving Fulton, Mason, Peoria, and Tazewell Counties, created a sensory garden in her hometown of Bryant, IL. Through her professional career as a speech pathologist, Sonja understands the value of using all five senses as a means of skills recovery.  As an active member of the community, and as a village trustee, she is aware several community members live with various types of physical and learning disabilities and the sensory garden is of special value to them and their families.

Dr. Shelly Nickols-Richardson shaking hands with a 4-H teen

The work being done through University of Illinois Extension programs and partnerships in Fulton, Mason, Peoria, and Tazewell counties is recognized for its positive impact at many levels through the University system. College of Agriculture, Consumer and Environmental Sciences (ACES) dean, Kimberly Kidwell, recently returned for her second unit tour, along with the new Extension director and associate dean, Shelly Nickols-Richardson. The duo spent the day learning about a few of our programs, engaging with unit staff, and networking with volunteers, 4-H members, and partners.

Ian Goslin standing a podium talking to a group

Ian Goslin, Horticulture Program Coordinator

ianmg@illinois.edu

 “I coordinate the delivery of high- quality horticultural education and volunteer action that are rooted in research-based knowledge and a commitment to inclusion and care. This empowers individuals and groups to build enriching, healthful, and environmentally sound communities that bring joy and growth to the residents of our four counties.”

five Master Gardeners in winter coats holding shovels

The 156 University of Illinois Extension Master Gardeners (MGs) who live in communities across the four counties of our unit are not waiting for the warm weather to arrive to begin their gardening activity. Planning meetings, new project proposals, educational opportunities, and special events are some of the activities our volunteers have been doing throughout the winter months.