URI Master Gardener Program honored for school-garden mentorship program

Awarded top prize at international conference

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Vanessa Venturini (left), state leader of the URI Master Gardener Program, is joined by Master Gardeners Lee Menard and Sue Dunn, and Tom Bewick, national program leader with the National Institute of Food and Agriculture, in accepting the award for best youth program at the International Master Gardener Conference in July. (Photo courtesy of URI Extension Outreach Center.)

KINGSTON, R.I. – August 10, 2017 – The University of Rhode Island’s Master Gardener Program has been awarded the top prize in the International Master Gardener Search for Excellence for its Desourdy School Garden Mentor Program.

The award, in the category of “youth projects,” was presented last month at the International Master Gardener Conference in Portland, Oregon.

“It was a wonderful experience to represent all of the master gardeners in Rhode Island on a national and even an international scale and be recognized for the impact that our school garden mentors have in their communities,” said Vanessa Venturini, state program leader of the URI Master Gardener Program. “Of all the award winners, it appeared that we had one of the most far-reaching projects of them all. With a few trained volunteers, we were able to impact thousands of youth and hundreds of adults by supporting outdoor classrooms.”

The Desourdy School Garden Mentor Program was established in 2010 thanks to a bequest from former URI Master Gardener Catherine Desourdy. From an initial group of nine schools, the program has grown to include partnerships with 42 Rhode Island schools and over 13,000 children.

The URI program was selected from among 55 applicants. It was singled out for the number of people it reaches, the significant learning that occurs through the program, and the creativity and importance of the project.

At the award ceremony, the 1,200 conference attendees viewed a video produced by URI that outlines the program and features school superintendents and teachers discussing the value of the mentoring program. The video can be seen at https://youtu.be/VtCTjGmGDto. It will be used to recruit additional volunteers, schools and funding agencies to support the program.

According to Venturini, many schools in the area need assistance with their gardens, so the URI program is meeting a significant need. She said that numerous opportunities exist for children to learn in a garden, including lessons about where food comes from.

“But the biggest thing with the next generation science standards is that schools are looking for authentic learning environments,” Venturini explained. “Gardens are outdoor classrooms that help schools meet those standards. Students get to go outside and conduct experiments in the garden, learn about life cycles, and gain experience with concepts in natural science, math and environmental stewardship. Gardens are a living laboratory.”

More than 40 URI Master Gardeners serve as mentors in the free program. All have been certified after receiving additional training to qualify. Their mission is to assist schools in achieving the school’s gardening goals, facilitate year-to-year gardening continuity, and serve as a conduit for science-based gardening advice.

For more information about the Desourdy School Garden Mentor Program, visit http://web.uri.edu/mastergardener or call 401-874-2900.