On July 14, 2018, Georgia Master Gardener Association, the state association of Master Gardeners, gathered in Atlanta for their annual conference. If you weren’t there, you sure missed lots of good stuff, including a presentation by Staci Catron and Mary Anne Eaddy about their book, Seeking Eden. MGEVs from Fulton County were instrumental in the planning and hosting of the conference, and they were introduced and recognized by Von Baker, the County Extension Coordinator for UGA Extension’s Fulton County office. I loved the way Von brought together these volunteers and projects spread out over three (!) offices in Fulton, so I asked her if I could share her speech here. Because she graciously agreed, I can share this with you here:
Good morning my name is Von Baker and I am the Director of Fulton County Extension. And from what I heard we had some gardeners in the house today! On behalf of the Fulton County Master Gardener Extension Volunteers, welcome to: Atlanta, Fulton County, and to the 2018 Georgia Master Gardeners Association Annual Conference! I want to thank you all for being here this morning. I know many of you braved Fulton County’s world famous traffic and traveled great distances to be here so I will start by giving you around of applause. Let’s get right into it:
Why is Fulton special? Well there are a few facts I want you to wrap your brain around. Fulton County stretches 70 miles long, has 1 million residents and we also have only 160, what we like to call not just UGA “Master Gardener Extension Volunteers” but “Mighty” Master Gardener Extension Volunteers. So what makes Fulton County’s UGA MGEV team so mighty? When we look at the big picture, through a combination of: phone calls, site visits, projects, office hours and educational presentations there is only (1) MGEV to service every 6,250 residents in Fulton! If we dig a little deeper and look at that from the perspective of a year, that’s (1) Fulton MGEV helping an average of (17) residents per day, 365 days per year! And that ladies and gentlemen is a whole lotta gardening and a very Mighty job done by these volunteers!
Another thing I want to emphasize is that the Fulton County Master Gardeners are a family. Now let’s be real, we do have our moments and can definitely be a dysfunctional family at times, but we are a family nevertheless. And we are a family of (3) distinct personalities. And it’s not that I’m telling you all of the family business today, but I will tell you how proud I am of this family. I am going to rundown a few receipt’s so you too will understand how special they are to me. So let me tell you a little bit about my family.
Because of the massive size of our county (and that traffic Lord Jesus!) the Fulton County MGEVs have (3) associations that you will see a short visual presentation on in just a few minutes. Those associations are the North Fulton; the Central Fulton; and the South Fulton MGEVs.
We’ll start at the top of the county in North Fulton. I like to think of the North Fulton MGEVs as that side of your family with a very organized and “aspirational” lifestyle (and they have the gardens to match!) They have it all the way together and tirelessly service the people of the North Fulton suburbs through community classes in: Alpharetta, Roswell, Sandy Springs, and Farm Chastain. They also develop and maintain several project gardens that illustrate different plants and garden techniques. These include various styles of gardening such as: shade, rock, wildflower, historical, herb, and vegetable. And this isn’t where their volunteer efforts stop y’all. The MGEVs also host weekly workdays at their Demonstration Gardens all throughout northern Fulton County. These places include Fulton landmarks such as: Autrey Mill Nature Preserve & Heritage Center; Big Trees Forest Preserve; Bulloch Hall; Farm Chastain; The Archibald Smith Home and the William Payne House. I told y’all they had some receipts! And if that was not enough—these North Fulton MGEVs love volunteering so much, every year they host an annual ‘Garden Faire.’ It is a full on party show and their way to welcome in the spring garden season! The lines start early for their famous Pass-A-Long plant sale (think about those Black Friday lines the day after Thanksgiving) but with plants! ‘Garden Faire’ also has a vintage fleatique, bake sale, garden art, food vendors, and what is a spring party without some live music? I told you my North Fulton family had it all the way together!
Now let’s talk about my Central Fulton Family. They are what we sometimes call the “cool kids” of the MGEV group, as they are the heartbeat of Atlanta, literally. Atlanta is known world wide as “The City too Busy too Hate” and my Central Fulton Family takes these words very seriously and are very much service oriented in everything they do. My Central Fulton families are true foot soldiers of the Atlanta gardening streets! They have a very active Speakers Bureau and host presentations on everything from: Crape Murder, to Container Gardens, to Nuisance Wildlife and Insects, Diseases, and Weeds of Vegetables; to good ol’ Gardening 101. This group clearly loves to talk!
Now let’s talk about some of their projects, and they don’t just have projects, they have partnerships. The Central Fulton MGEVs receipts read like a VIP list in what is means to serve your community. They have partnered with everyone from: Trees Atlanta, to the Beltline, to the City of Atlanta Fire Stations; Atlanta Habitat for Humanity; Hillside Children’s Hospital; Historic Oakland Cemetery; Covenant House for Homeless Youth; and the Gold Medal Garden at Centennial Olympic Park. There is hardly a public area that you can go in Atlanta proper where Central Fulton has not made a lasting impact.
And not to be out done my Central Fulton Family wants my North Fulton Family to know they aren’t the only ones that know how to throw a fun garden party! Central Fulton gets it in every year at the Inman Park Festival with their world famous plant sale—take that! Every year at the festival, the Central Fulton MGEVs set up an “Ask a Master Gardener Booth” where they help people from all backgrounds with their very unique garden questions. This is why I love my Central Fulton family.
And now we come to the third branch of my family the South Fulton MGEVs. This part of my family has: So. Much. Soul!! They rep hard for the south, they are very proud of their cultural heritage; and celebrate a long history of African-American gardening in South Fulton. They have a special place in their heart for seniors and the youth and they also have a special place in mine.
The South Fulton MGEVs know all to well that knowledge is power! And they use their wealth of knowledge as MGEVs to stimulate the interest of gardening through their volunteer projects in an enthusiastic and responsible way. South Fulton partners regularly with Adams Park Library to host a variety of gardening presentations. They spend countless hours in schools giving presentations teaching Fulton youth not only about gardening but also about garden careers! They know the importance of representation in Horticulture and spend countless hours in schools exposing: low income, immigrant, and children of color, to careers that they rarely see themselves represented in. This includes lessons in Entomology, Botany, Agronomy, Garden Design, Turfgrass Management, and Farming. They are blazing the path for the future of Agriculture to be more inclusive and we are so proud!
South Fulton doesn’t have “Senior” garden volunteers—they just have what we lovingly call “Old School” garden volunteers. And these “Old School” volunteers bring it every time they dig into the garden. They want you to know their community gardens are Poppin!! On your next trip through Fulton, check out the gardens they designed and installed in South Fulton and Camp Truitt through a partnership with 4-H and G.R.O.W.L. They know how to mix the old school design styles and gardening techniques with the new school and you will see why their gardens have so much soul!
Oh, and speaking of throwing a party—the South Fulton Group wants the North and the Central group to know that they shouldn’t sleep on them! While the South may not have a yearly plant sale, they do take the vegetable plants they grow organically, season them to perfection, and absolutely throw down in the kitchen and on the dance floor for their annual Christmas Garden Party! Get into it!
I’ll close with this. Whether it’s the suburbs, the city, or the hood Fulton County MGEVs are the true definition of diversity and are making an impact everyday in every way through gardening. I encourage you to get to know them while attending the conference today and learn from the array of speakers on the roster. Whether they are Old School or New School MGEVs we make learning in Fulton fun! We hope you will open your minds and your hearts at and take all the knowledge you learn from Fulton MGEVs and their guests to make a positive impact in your community. Thank you!
Thanks, Von, and congrats to GMGA for a great day of gardening education!