A garden planted to encourage interest in building a local Penn State Extension’s Master Gardener program not only grew, it benefited some of Clearfield County’s less fortunate residents.

A demonstration vegetable garden was planted earlier this year by Extension employees Education and Strategy Manager and Master Gardener Coordinator for Pennsylvania’s Northwest Counties Andy Faust and Educator Jacqueline Amor-Zitzelberger and her son, Connor. The location is directly behind the Extension office at 6395 Clearfield Woodland Hwy., Clearfield on land owned by Harry Salvatore.

Throughout the summer months, produce was harvested and donated to the Central Pennsylvania Community Action to be distributed to clients of the Clearfield and Curwensville food pantries. Faust said nearly 900 pounds of vegetables including tomatoes, peppers, squash, cucumbers, corn, lettuce and carrots were provided. He estimated if the food pantry had to purchase a similar amount and variety of vegetables it would have cost more than $1,000.

Manager of the Clearfield Ministerium Food Pantry and the Curwensville Food Pantry Robin Clark referred to the demonstration garden project as “wonderful.”

“It has given my clients a fresh and wonderful gift every week since the harvests began,” Clark said. “One in six Americans is food insecure — meaning they do not know where their next meal is coming from. Food pantries try to help fill that gap but are seriously lacking in fresh healthy produce to offer. When Andy and Master Gardener from Centre County Brenda Rumfola of Curwensville, brought the weekly harvest people were so glad to have fresh vegetables.”

Rumfola said, “It was really gratifying to do that and get that type of a response.”

Several local businesses and organizations donated to the project.

“A number of local businesses were in favor of the demonstration garden project and supported the garden by contributing products for its development,” Faust said. Businesses who contributed items included Tractor Supply of Clearfield, Curwensville Feed Store, Philipsburg True Value, Auto Mart and Owner Harry Salvatore and the Clearfield County Conservation District. Since that time, other local business have expressed an interest in being part of the 2020 project.

Faust told The Progress, “The goal of the demonstration garden was to validate the positive impacts of vegetable gardening in rural Pennsylvania counties by measuring food production totals, local business and industry interests, educational opportunities and outreach potential and synergies for the local Clearfield Food Pantry, public schools, community and beyond. The garden also allowed community members to engage with PSU extension staff for awareness and education on horticulture topics relevant to the area including but not limited to plant and insect/disease identification, soil testing, vegetable production and common lawn, garden and landscape questions.”

Faust said the garden project provides an opportunity for outreach by allowing community members to engage with Penn State Extension and its staff for awareness about and education on horticultural projects.

He said through the demonstration garden, he hopes residents would become interested in becoming educated and forming a Master Gardener program for Clearfield County. Although Clearfield County was the inaugural county in the state to have a Master Gardener program, it no longer has one and is noted in Penn State Extension publications as one of three counties in the state that is currently without a Master Gardener program.

Faust said he would love to see the program, which provides training on topics including basic botany, propagation, soil, plant disease and composting, and interest among county residents becoming trained in horticultural expertise rekindle.

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“Clearfield County was the first county in Pennsylvania to launch a Master Gardener program. Now is the time to bring it back,” he explained.

Faust provided some history about the Master Gardener program and its Clearfield County connection. He said in 1980, Philip N. Rhinehart was serving as the vice president of the Clearfield County Extension Executive Committee. He happened on an article about the Master Gardener program. Aware Clearfield County’s extension staff was inundated with gardening questions, he immediately identified with the problem that led to a Master Gardener program being formed in other states.

He inquired with former County Extension Director Harold R. Bock, who in turn proposed the idea of a Master Garden program in Pennsylvania to Penn State University. PSU supported the idea and in 1981 a committee was formed to organize a Master Gardener program. In 1982, the first participants in the program completed their training, according to the 2016 Master Gardener manual.

Faust said reviving the Master Gardener program in Clearfield County would make a positive impact.

“There could be community education, outreach and relationships fostering positive community outcomes. The goal would be to replicate extensive impact on other Pennsylvania counties that have a Master Gardener program, particularly a gardening hotline,” Faust said.

For more information about the Master Gardener Program call the Clearfield County Penn State Extension Office at 765-7878 or email, clearfieldext@ psu.edu. The office also has a Facebook page.

There is information about the Master Gardener program on the website https://extension.psu.edu/clearfield-county.