Master Gardeners

Four Master Gardeners in McKean County received membership pins for their involvement in the program Thursday at the Donald Comes Center in the Smethport area. Shown, from left, are the recipients, Julie Taylor, Rhonda Bish, Richard Putnam and Bob Harris.

SMETHPORT — Following a year of uncertainties with food supplies due to the pandemic, more people have turned to growing their own vegetables and fruits.

The 38 people involved with the Master Gardeners program through Penn State Extension understand this trend and have been sharing their gardening knowledge with the community through speaking engagements, programs and environmental stewardship.

On Thursday, the program awarded four individuals with membership pins for their involvement throughout the county, said Gloria Wilson, coordinator of Master Gardeners in McKean County.

“Bob Harris of Bradford received his 25-year pin,” Wilson said. “Bob currently works with the Crook Farm Heirloom (garden) project, as well as numerous other projects in the county, including the upcoming Master Gardening Basic class.”

She said Rhonda Bish of Kane is working with the Poor Farm trail beds in Smethport, while Julie Taylor of Smethport received her five-year pin and has worked with the Vegetable Garden project at the Comes Center. In addition, Richard Putnam of Smethport received his five-year pin and works mainly with the Meadow Project at the Comes Center.

“The projects named are just a few of the projects that the Master Gardeners are involved with throughout the county,” Wilson said.

She noted that those interested in joining the program must first take a Master Gardeners Basic Class offered in October by Penn State Extension. The hybrid class will be offered virtually and in person.

A Master Gardener for two years, Wilson said the 40-hour training provides classes on botany, plant propagation, soil, native plants, pruning, vegetables, small fruits, landscape design and indoor plants, among others.

“It’s actually a 19-week class so it’s pretty intensive,” she added. “In gaining knowledge, it’s not just for yourself, but it’s to partner with the community to do projects.”

The sharing of knowledge can be accomplished through speaking at clubs and organizations and helping with community projects. Along those lines, students in the program also provide 50 hours of volunteer work in the community.

“The mission of the Master Gardeners is to provide scientific-based information on gardening” in the community, she continued.

Wilson noted that there has been an increased interest in the program as people have become eager to do home gardening.

“People are more interested in growing their own food because of what had happened during COVID — and the supply chain of getting fresh vegetables,” she explained.

An upcoming class the program plans to offer in January will involve growing food at one’s own home. The program will identify people in the county who would benefit from a food program and invite them to participate. The residents will be offered a free six-hour beginner’s garden class along with all the supplies they will need to start their own garden.

“We did it with one group in McKean County this year and other counties will be doing it also,” she commented. “It is a good program and there is no cost … we want to help the people who really have a need.”

For more information about the program or the upcoming class, contact Wilson at 814-887-5613, ext. 208, or by email at

(Contact reporter Kate Day Sager at Follow her on Twitter, @OTHKate)

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