Local Master Gardener members take top three state awards

sw4The Union County Master Gardeners program has grown and gained respect over the past few years for their annual home and garden show and recently they added another honor: three of their members took the top awards at the Mississippi Master Gardener Conference in Brookhaven.

Tim Burress was named 2012 Master Gardener, Stanley Wise was named Extension Coordinator of the Year and Pat James was named 2012 Friend of Master Gardeners.

“Other local organizations have won three awards in the past, but not the top three,” Burress said.

Burress has served as chairman for the annual home and garden show as well as writing garden columns and hosting a gardening-themed radio show.

Wise is director of the Union County Extension Service as well as a farmer and owner of the Wise Farms Corn Maze.

James is retired from the U.S. Department of Defense and his work with the organization began when his wife, Lisa, became a Master Gardener.

The Master Gardener program can be found in nearly half the counties in the state and its equivalent exists in most states.

The first Master Gardener program was begun in Washington State in 1972 by Dr. David Gibby as a way to better disseminate information about gardening in the face of increasing requests for specific answers from the public.

He came up with the idea of finding gardeners who would be able and willing to answer the public’s questions, and of providing specialized training in horticulture in exchange for a commitment to do a specific amount of volunteer outreach work in the community.

Here, a prospective Master Gardener must go through 40 hours of classroom instruction by professionals from Mississippi State University followed by 40 hours of community service. The following year they go through a reduced number of houses of training and also continue their community service.

In reality, Master Gardeners are always expanding their knowledge and putting their skills to use. They have undertaken a variety of beautification projects all around the area and sponsor the farmers’ market and the annual home and garden show.

To win state level awards, Master Gardeners, coordinators and volunteers are nominated at the local level and rated by out-of-state judges on a variety of criteria.

Tim Burress became a Master Gardener in 2008 along with eight others. They became Union County’s first Master Gardener group. For a project Stanley Wise suggested a farm day and a farmers market. During that year Burress set up the farmers market every Saturday morning as well as coordinating 13 different programs all put on by the new Master Gardeners. As the summer closed he turned his attention to the farm day. The farm day quickly gained momentum and turned into what we all know today as the New Albany Home and Garden Show. The first year he hoped for 100 visitors and hit the mark with over 500 visitors from across three states. This past year the show drew over 3,200 visitors from across six states. The New Albany Home and Garden Show has been rated in the top two garden events in the state.

In 2012 he was co-chairman of the Southern States Master Gardener Conference in Natchez, covering Master Gardeners from the 13 southeastern states. This event turned out to be the largest southern states conference ever with over 600 visitors.

Burress has been involved in teaching groups of all ages from science fair students to garden clubs. He has been a garden writer for the local papers, worked with the News Exchange in the startup and production of the Union County Green magazine, which is distributed across nine states and three countries abroad. He hosts a weekly garden radio show on WNAU radio on Saturdays.

Last year Burress was involved in the start up of the Victory Demonstration Garden with the result of 2315 pounds of produce being harvested and distributed to the needy. This year the garden has been doubled in size and his goal is produce 5000 pounds of produce for the needy.

Burress lives and gardens out 348 on Center Hill along with his wife, Janet. He often says that he could not have done any of this without the direction of his wife. “She is the one that makes sure I am where I am supposed to be when I am supposed to be,” he said. Also, he acknowledges that where as he receives a lot of the attention and credit for things it is the Master Gardener Association as a whole that gets these larger events done.

Stanley Wise, Jr. is the County Agent/County Director of the Mississippi State University Extension Service here.

He earned his degree in Agriculture from MSU in 1974. He has served three counties over the past 26 years with various positions in MSUES including 4-H Agent and County Agriculture Agent. He is past president of the Mississippi Association of County Agriculture Agents and received that organizations Distinguished Service Award in 2003. Wise is responsible for the direction of educational programs in Agriculture and Natural Resources and Enterprise and Community Resource Development. He is coordinator of the Union County Master Gardener Program and is also responsible for coordinating activities at the Union County Fair and Livestock Show which has a yearly attendance of over 15,000.

Stanley is co-owner of Wise Family Farm with his brother, Jimmy. The farm has been in the family since 1926 and they grow and sell tomatoes, sweet corn, purple hull peas, watermelons, field corn, soybeans, and hay for sale at the farm and local farmers markets. Stanley is a believer in “leaving the tiller in the shed.” He loves no-till farming. In 2010, Wise Family Farm received an NRCS grant to build a High-Tunnel where Stanley grew tomatoes using the hay bale method without ever disturbing the soil. This helps to retain soil structure, biological processes, conserves water and nutrients, and negates soil loss. He also promotes using other no-till methods for backyard gardens and small-scale horticulture production.

During October, Stanley and the Wise Family host one of the largest Corn Mazes, sunflower mazes, hay bale mazes, and pumpkin patches in the Mid-South which produces a fun and educational experience on a real working family farm  for students and adults alike. Through his work as a county agent and his experience on the farm, he has developed a reputation for innovation in agri-tourism, market gardening, and unique gardening methods and techniques. Stanley helped organize the Mississippi Agri-tourism Association in 2006 and is currently serving as president. He also assists farm families in Mississippi who want to add an agri-tourism enterprise to their farm.

He is a frequent speaker at local, state and regional conferences, garden clubs and extension educational programs. Stanley is an innovator and has developed growing techniques through experimentation on his own farm. One such innovation is growing tomatoes in bales of hay. He began this experiment in 2003. This method of gardening lead to his publishing a local information sheet called “No Stoop Gardening” and co-authoring an extension publication called “Growing in the Bale.” Growing tomatoes in hay bales has spread throughout Mississippi and the U.S.

Stanley likes to refer to himself as an Educated Tractor Driver and Philosopher of the No-Tellin. No tellin what might come out of his mouth.

The Pennsylvania-born Pat James has been described as “probably the best friend of Master Gardeners yet.”

In 2012 James’ wife, Lisa, chaired a beautification project in front of the Ladies Building at the Union County Fairgrounds. The project took a turn south when a drainage problem was discovered. This problem was filling the ladies building with water, James came to the rescue by taking the lead on installing a French drain system saving the master gardeners a considerable amount of money.

James, retired from the U. S. Department of Defense, came to the Master Gardeners by way of being co-manager of the Biscuits and Jam Farmer’s Market alongside his wife. He would arrive every Saturday morning before everyone else to set up tables and assist vendors in getting set up. At the end of the day he was the one who was left to finish tearing down and putting things up. James soon knew all the vendors and regular customers by name. At the end of the season he cooked up a barbecue dinner for all the vendors that was described as being fit for a king.

He then gave his talents as a builder by helping to build and paint the decorations for the New Albany Home and Garden Show. During this event his talents as a “Grillin’ Chef” came to light once again as he prepared barbecue and grilled chicken halves that resulted in a complete sellout.

Since this award Pat has completed the Master Gardener training himself and has more than earned his volunteer hour requirements for the year.