On a late summer day, I met with Dara Palmer and her partner to discuss her new leadership role as Montana Master Gardener Coordinator. Since Dara worked with Toby for six and a half years, the transition seems less daunting, although Toby’s and Dara’s personae and styles are very different. We receive benefits of both! Specific goals and attention to detail excite Dara. As a big thinker, she plans to accomplish lots while in her new role.
Incidentally, ‘Dara’ rhymes with ‘Sara.’ Her new position began this past July. Prior to this achievement, she earned her Horticulture Bachelor’s of Science degree from MSU (Bozeman) and has completed all levels of the MG program. She really knows the nuances. Prior to the position as Toby’s assistant, Dara worked as a landscaper and in a greenhouse for a combined total of 12 years, so her depth of knowledge and experience in gardening reign formidable.
Toby has not left us. He continues to write Mont Guides plus bulletins and serves on the weekly Ag Live PBS television show. In addition, he continues as state Horticultural Specialist, conducts workshops, and is very involved with Heritage Orchards in Montana. When clarifying what he continues to do, I wonder how he managed it before and can even keep track with his various on-going duties! We wish him well in his future numerous endeavors and hope he will stay in contact.
Dara shared lots of information about the Montana MG program. Level 3 did not occur in 2016, but in 2017, 25 people attended. In no particular order, Billings, Great Falls, Helena, and Gallatin County boast the most active associations. Bravo, Billings! Gallatin County did not have a County Extension Agent at the time of this interview. Their former Volunteer Coordinator is none other than Dara. I asked about government cutbacks: Cutbacks will not be for the MG program specifically but rather the Extension as a whole, and the final word on those negotiations were not available at the time of printing. Neither people, the earth nor plants remain static.
Many Level 3 graduates request more continuing education, so she is toying with the notion of a gold designation in the future for those high achievers. To do so would serve the purpose of aligning us with national standards, a goal within sight. Dara considers camaraderie the greatest strength of the program, especially when coordinators from across the state meet. Those connections stem from a deep concern for horticulture, her passion. The fun factor must be front and center, too.
As a personal gardener, ornamentals (perennials, trees, and shrubs) interest her most. She had to replant her first real vegetable garden this past spring due to a cold, wet stretch in Gallatin County. Yet it did yield harvest.
Her greatest challenge with the program? IT improvements. She wants to customize the website so it is more user-friendly. I assured her that it is more user friendly than many websites with which I interface! Next on her to-do list is to write a new Level 2 Handbook, although she recognizes that that calling will take years. She longingly describes fine tuning the curriculum, re-writing exams, and new study guides. Based upon Dara’s intensity, I sense that demands on the students will increase. The expectations will be offset by a student manual which spells out steps, so the process registers as attainable. Food donations need to be standardized across the state, also. And less sweaty t-shirts, ah, an eagerly anticipated relief, will arrive soon.
Welcome, Dara, and let us know how we can help to better improve the program for everyone! We can make Montana more beautiful and healthy, one plant at a time.
Submitted by Bess Lovec