The Rutgers Master Gardeners of Union County have been part of the Union County community for almost 30 years. Last month the outstanding members of this all-volunteer program received some well-deserved recognition from their peers and Joint Legislative Resolutions in their honor from the New Jersey Senate and Assembly.
“Every year our Master Gardener volunteers enrich the lives of hundreds of residents, and on behalf of the board I would like to thank each of them for their dedication to improving the quality of life in our Union County community,” said Freeholder Bette Jane Kowalski, who attended the group’s 27th annual Volunteer Recognition celebration in September.
The joint resolution was introduced by Assemblywoman Annette Quijano and supported by Senator Raymond Lesniak and Assemblyman Jamel Holley. It reads in part:
Throughout many seasons of change and countless hours of volunteer service, the Rutgers Master Gardeners of Union County have worked tirelessly and effectively in benefit of the community and are recognized and saluted for their exemplary dedication and motivation.
“For many years, the Master Gardeners have worked behind the scenes to improve our neighborhoods and help others,” said Assemblywoman Annette Quijano. “It’s a real pleasure to bring attention to their efforts.”
Anyone can join the Master Gardeners. The program is run by Rutgers University experts through the Rutgers Cooperative Extension of Union County, supported in part by the Freeholder board. No previous experience in horticulture – or gardening -- is needed. Each volunteer receives University-level training leading to certification as a Master Gardener. A nominal fee covers the cost of the training course.
The 2015 honorees included 11 Master Gardeners who reached or far surpassed the 500-hour service milestone, as well as 20 newly certified Master Gardeners, each of whom logged at least 60 hours of volunteer service after completing a training program.
The President’s Council on Service and Civic Participation also provided a total of 29 Master Gardeners with Bronze, Silver or Gold awards based on hours of service in 2014, ranging from 100 to more than 500 hours.
In addition, special awards went to seven Master Gardeners in celebration of 10 years of service, and one for 20 years of service.
Special recognition this year went to Joanne Krueger in honor of more than 10,000 hours of service. Among her numerous volunteer projects, Ms. Krueger is committee chair for two of the programs’s major initiatives: care of the elaborate Demonstration Gardens, and organization of the annual Spring Garden Fair and Plant Sale, which draws more than 1,000 people each year to raise funds for Master Gardeners community projects.
Another special recognition went to T.J. Karns, who received the annual Wesley Philo award representing the highest honor for a Master Gardener. In addition to many other activities, Ms. Karns chairs the Grants and Publicity Committee and has been instrumental in raising thousands of dollars in grants for special projects, including a new kitchen for preparing produce for donation.
“This year’s recognition ceremony really underscores the important role that the Master Gardeners play in Union County, and I encourage every County resident with a yen for gardening – and for giving back to the community -- to come and join,” said Kowalski.
The Demonstration Garden is the platform for many ongoing Master Gardeners community projects, including the Sharing Garden, which has donated more than 25,000 pounds of fresh produce to local food pantries since 2002, and the Cutting Garden, which has donated 42,289 flowers and greens to local cancer treatment centers and hospitals.
The source of the Master Gardeners’ community mission is the Rutgers Cooperative Extension, part of the national Extension program established more than 100 years ago by Congress under the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The Extension program aims to connect the general public with up-to-date, science based information on nutrition and community health.
The Master Gardeners program receives the bulk of its funding from the Freeholder Board in the form of land for the Demonstration Garden, located on the grounds of a former County tree and shrub nursery in the Watchung Reservation in Mountainside, and administrative support and office space in the Colleen Fraser County Services Building in Westfield.
The County’s Open Space, Recreation and Historic Preservation Trust Fund also contributes substantially to the program. One recent example is a grant of more than $240,000 for a new greenhouse at the Demonstration Garden that will help expand the Master Gardeners’ community service mission.
To join or to get more information about the Master Gardeners, Master Tree Stewards, 4-H and other Rutgers Extension programs in Union County visit ucnj.org/rce.
2015 Master Gardeners of Union County Recognition Ceremony
State Legislature Joint Resolution Recipients and Newly Certified Master Gardeners:
Mary Anna Tramontana
Class of 2005 (10 years and still active):
Class of 1995 (20 years and still active):
Lifetime Hours of Service Honorees:
The Wesley Philo Award for Volunteer Excellence:
President’s Volunteer Service Awards for hours donated in 2014:
Bronze -- 100 to 249
Silver -- 250 to 499
Gold (500 or more)
Photo Caption: Helping to celebrate the outstanding volunteer Rutgers Master Gardeners of Union County are (l-r) Program coordinator Madeline Flahive-Dinardo of the Rutgers Cooperative Extension, Extension Head Dr. Karen Ensle, Freeholders Angel G. Estrada and Bette Jane Kowalski, Master Gardeners Joanne Kreuger and T.J. Karns, winner of the Annual Wes Philo, Extension Associate Director Mary Jane Willis, Freeholder Vernel Wright, and Jim Nichnadowicz, 4-H Coordinator for the Extension. For more information about Extension programs in Union County visit Extension programs in Union County visit ucnj.org/rce.
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