County Presents Master Gardener Awards

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LINCOLN — A Lincoln resident and a retired Lincoln coach and teacher received two of this year’s awards from the Washington County Master Gardeners.

Lincoln’s Judy Cohea was named 2021 Recruit of the Year and Lincoln Consolidated School District retiree Jim Sposato was named 2021 Mentor of the Year.

The awards were announced at the organization’s February meeting, hosted by Zoom due to covid-19 concerns.

Cohea did not expect an award and said she was “honoured and honoured” that Sposato, her mentor, had nominated her for the Rookie of the Year award.

“I was very surprised because there are so many wonderful new gardeners,” Cohea said.

Cohea heard about the Master Gardeners program through Sposato while helping with the Lincoln Community Garden. Sposato recommended that she enroll in the program and she said she accepted him.

Cohea, who is retired from the City of Fayetteville and the Fayetteville Police Department after more than 39 years, said she took the Master Gardener Course online in fall 2020. The course work involved classes online and a test on each section. A global test was given at the end of the course.

In addition to classroom instruction, trainees in the program must volunteer 40 hours on a master gardener project in Washington County to be certified as a master gardener.

Many Cohea volunteer hours have been dedicated to the Lincoln Community Garden and the landscaping of the Elkins Community Center.

Cohea said she likes the master gardener program because it’s so diverse.

“You get a bit of everything about plants, trees and shrubs. It’s not just gardening. It’s also flowers and design.”

The program also offers education courses on pruning techniques, diseases, different types of grasses, trees and weeds.

“You learn to spot problems and what to do about them,” Cohea said. “You learn how to plant and fertilize. It’s a well-rounded program.”

Sposato, who coordinates the Lincoln Community Garden, has been a mentor for many years. He said it’s easy to be a mentor with good students. He said he enjoys finding out what interests his trainees and then helping them develop that.

Colin Massey, Washington County Horticulture Extension Officer, said the rookie of the year award goes to a first-year master gardener. The program currently has 250 master gardeners and 19 sanctioned projects.

Anyone interested in becoming a Master Gardener must first submit an application for membership. A membership committee will conduct interviews with eligible applicants. Massey said the committee wants to make sure those taking the program understand there is a time commitment.

County extension staff and others provide 40 hours of horticulture training for initial training and students agree to volunteer 40 hours over the next year on a sanctioned project. To continue in the program, Master Gardeners volunteer 20 hours per year on a sanctioned project and complete 20 hours of continuing education per year.

The rookie of the year winner is someone who went above and beyond the basic requirements, Massey said.

Anyone in the program can nominate other master gardeners for annual awards. The awards committee reviews nominations and selects winners based on admissions, Massey said.

All who received the 2021 awards will be eligible for state awards given out by the Arkansas Master Gardeners.

“Judy has been a huge help to the Lincoln garden, especially with the watering during the summer,” Massey said. “She also helped harvest vegetables and donated some of her own money to help.”

He added that Cohea’s nomination form for the award said she was “essential to the success of Lincoln Community Garden.”

Mentors are important to the program, Massey said, because they act as a “buddy” for their trainees.

“He’s a friend they can have and someone to go to if they don’t understand something.”

The mentor acts as a sounding board, helping trainees learn about any sanctioned projects and explaining the program, Massey said.

Massey said Sposato mentors someone almost every year.

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