Perhaps you've noticed the rise in gardening in the last two years. Gardening interest increased 43% in 2020, according to Minnesota-based Axiom Marketing. Applications for the UMN Extension Master Gardener program increased also, adding 53 interns in Olmsted County in the last three years. Our program is changing to meet the demands of our growing county and a warming planet. Priorities like horticulture skills, local food, clean water, nearby nature, plant biodiversity, pollinators, and climate change address challenging opportunities for community impact, and our volunteer-led growth teams address each of these priorities.

We participated in 20 Rochester Farmers Markets in 2021 and returned to the Olmsted County Fair after nearly 20 years away. Our partnerships with local food organizations, neighborhoods, schools and government agencies create community food and pollinator gardens, control invasive species, restore landscapes and protect our stormwater. With over 7,000 reported volunteer hours, involving 5,000 contacts, and our popular social media tripling these figures, this was our biggest and best year yet for Olmsted County!

Despite these achievements, Olmsted County is one of only three UMN Master Gardener programs with over 100 volunteers and no paid program coordinator. Our priorities increased outreach and impact, justifying more support. Please let your county commissioner know our efforts are important and we meet county goals to "assure safe and healthy communities" and build "good stewards of our built and natural environments."

Tom Bellinger, volunteer chair, Olmsted County Extension Master Gardener Volunteers, Rochester

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