OSU Master Gardener volunteers

Liz Olson teaching students in Newport, Oregon how to grow vegetables. Photo by Bob Rost.
Liz Olson teaching students in Newport, Oregon how to grow vegetables. Photo by Bob Rost.

About 8,000 trained Masters volunteered in Oregon in 2009. Nearly half were Master Gardeners, who collectively put in nearly 200,000 volunteer hours that amounted to more than $4 million worth of service to backyard gardeners, students, church groups, and others.

Elementary school teaching garden

The Oregon Coast seems an unlikely place for a garden. The conifers that persist along the sand and wind-beaten cliffs that skirt the Pacific can look less like flora and more like severe abstract sculpture. And the storms, with their horizontal rains, would seem to make gardening nearly impossible.

But just north of the Yaquina Bay Bridge in Newport, not far from the historic lighthouse, a group of Master Gardner volunteers trained by the Oregon State University Extension Service has coaxed a verdant garden from the difficult soil (watch an audio slideshow). It’s a teaching garden and with it the Master Gardeners have taught hundreds of school children how to make vegetables grow.

Liz Olson is one of these volunteers. On a wet, blustery day in October, she and several of her colleagues gathered 30 third-graders from Newport’s Sam Case Elementary School for the garden’s final harvest of potatoes, carrots, lettuce, kohlrabi, and squash. The students were involved in the process from the beginning. They planted seeds in the greenhouse, transplanted them to the garden, watered, and weeded. They also tasted their crops, discovering the sweet crunch of a carrot and the bite of arugula.

“It’s a thrill to see students being introduced both to the natural gardening process and healthy eating habits, and getting them to try new things,” said Olson.

The thrill of learning and teaching what you’ve learned attracts many people to OSU’s Extension's master-level volunteer programs.

Learn more about OSU Master Gardeners »

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