By Rob Ollikainen
Peninsula Daily News
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“We’re really proud of that number because that’s the highest average per volunteer of any Master Gardener program in the state,” Clallam County WSU Extension Director Clea Rome told county commissioners Tuesday.
“We have a passionate group of Master Gardeners who are out in the community every day doing great work in our schools, with our plant clinics and with brown bag presentations that we give here at the county twice a month throughout the spring and summer seasons.”
Master Gardeners are trained volunteers who teach home gardeners about sustainable gardening practices, including pest management, watering systems, soil improvement and picking the right types of plants, according to WSU Extension.
The roughly 100 volunteers in the Clallam County Master Gardeners program helped more than 400 county residents in a series of clinics last year and taught more than 700 second-graders how to seed their own plants.
Citing an independent study, Rome said the value of a Master Gardener’s volunteer work is $21.70 per hour.
By that calculation, the program contributed $277,760 to the community in 2012.
“That’s a huge impact monetarily and in terms of reaching community members of all ages, senior citizens down to kids,” Rome said.
“We depend so heavily on our volunteers in the Master Gardener program and the 4-H program.”
In addition to Master Gardeners and 4-H, WSU Extension offers a small-farms program and a youth nutrition program.
Rome, who was hired in January 2012, is a WSU faculty member, not a county employee.
Clallam County pays a portion of her salary and provides office space for the Extension office in the historic wing of the courthouse in Port Angeles.
Rome reported that the Pullman-based land grant university is getting close to hiring a replacement for former Clallam County 4-H Coordinator Gena Royal, who retired last summer.
“Yesterday, we interviewed two stellar candidates for the position, and so we’ll be hiring a new 4-H coordinator in the next week or so to start in our office,” she said.
Clallam County 4-H engages more than 300 kids in livestock raising, arts and crafts, robotics and other activities, Rome said.
The small-farm program hosted workshops last year on hay-making, chicken-processing, alternative forest-products, mushroom cultivation and farmland changing hands.
“Our activities,” Rome said, “really focus on luring the farm sector here and strengthening the farm sector and allowing farmers new market opportunities.”
The Clallam Extension office also is teaching a 13-week course for beginning farmers on “the nuts and bolts about farm operation and about marketing opportunities and development of a business plan,” Rome said.
Last week, the Clallam and Jefferson County WSU Extension programs teamed up with Peninsula College and the University of Washington Olympic Natural Resources Center to host a workshop on broadband access on the West End.
“So many communities are lacking that and are still, in some cases, on dial-up,” Rome said.
Commissioner Mike Doherty said there were about 60 people, including 10 broadband providers, at the workshop.
“It was quite a feat,” he said.
Reporter Rob Ollikainen can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 5072, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.