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Master Gardeners look to expand Horticulture Program for students

The Agriculture classes at Pocahontas County High School had the pleasure of hosting Jan Cozart, a Master Gardner trained by West Virginia University.  She spoke about career choices, and cultural practices and marketing ideas in horticulture. Photo courtesy of Erwin Berry

Marlinton Middle School is out in front with its high tunnel and horticulture program currently in place. Now Master Gardeners Jan Cozart and Dondi Stemple are looking to build on that success by getting our children interested in gardening while still in elementary school, and cultivating that interest beyond middle school to high school students who take an interest in horticulture as a potential career.

Efforts are already underway at Marlinton Elementary School where Stemple, a fifth grade teacher, proposed the idea of a Junior Master Gardener program at the school to prepare students for the middle school project.

In this first phase of the elementary school program, Stemple has identified funds and a source for a greenhouse that will provide an environment where fifth graders can learn firsthand the fundamentals of growing plants while engaging in some fun projects. WVU Extension Service 4-H Agent Luci Mosesso has been instrumental in helping to research greenhouse options as well as support materials such as books and supplies necessary to provide a first-rate program.

Stemple’s goal is to have everything in place by early spring so that she and fellow fifth grade teacher Susan Grant can begin teaching the basics of how plants get started, to be followed by hands-on activities where students form teams, plant seeds, and begin to see the exciting transformation that takes place when things grow.

Once students experience growing fruits and vegetables as part of the middle school program, they can continue their interest in the science and technology of growing at Pocahontas County High School where horticulture is part of the curriculum offered to students who are interested in pursuing a career in farming or a related field.

On October 11, Erwin Berry’s horticulture classes hosted Jan Cozart who spoke to students about the Master Gardener program and the support services available to all West Virginians through the WVU Extension Service. She also stressed to students the need to approach any efforts to commercialize their products from a business perspective, pointing out some basics to consider in order to maximize their investment – identify your market and quantify its potential, get to know your competition well, price your product strategically and position your product so that it appeals to your target market.

Students get a taste of the business side of growing during the annual spring sale of plants and flowers grown in the school’s greenhouse. Berry has already begun discussions with the students about what to grow, based on what has sold well in the past, and plans are underway to get the greenhouse ready for all the activity.

Both Cozart and Stemple are eager to share their passion for gardening and to utilize what they have learned through the Master Gardener program to get students of all ages excited about growing.

The Master Gardener program is made possible through the WVU Extension Service and requires attendance at a class one night a week for 12 weeks plus a passing grade on an open book exam at the end of the course. Topics covered range from propagation, plant disease, and pest management to basic botany, the role of bees, and the importance of soil testing and composition – and so much more.

Aside from the wealth of information included in the course, one of the highlights of the program, according to Cozart, was making connections with the people who make up the WVU Extension Service.

“These are high level professionals who are dedicated not only to supporting small businesses and individuals throughout our state, but also to raising the bar for agriculture in West Virginia,” she said. “It is an impressive network of people starting from the leadership down to the county extension agents.”

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