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Monday, November 21, 2016

URI Master Gardener Program receives international honor

Awarded top prize for school garden mentor program



URI Master Gardeners (l-r) Linda Hogan, Agnes Hall and Chris Haase pose at the Richmond Elementary School garden, where they volunteer as garden mentors. (Photo courtesy of URI Extension Outreach Center.)


The University of Rhode Island’s Master Gardener Program has been awarded the top prize in the International Master Gardener Search for Excellence for its Desourdy School Garden Mentor Program.

The award, in the category of “youth projects,” will be presented next summer at the International Master Gardener Conference in Portland, Oregon.

The URI program was selected from among 55 applicants. It was singled out for the number of people it reaches, the significant learning that occurs through the program, and the creativity and importance of the project.


“It’s great to be recognized for the good work we’re doing,” said Vanessa Venturini, state program leader of the URI Master Gardener Program. 

“There is a huge need in the community for assistance with school gardens, so we were able to develop this program to meet that need. It has allowed us to work closely with teachers, parents and administrators to create school gardens where thousands of children can learn in an outdoor classroom.”

The Desourdy School Garden Mentor Program was established in 2010 thanks to a bequest from former URI Master Gardener Catherine Desourdy. From an initial group of nine schools, the program has grown to include partnerships with 42 Rhode Island schools and over 13,000 children.

According to Venturini, there are numerous opportunities for children to learn in a garden, including lessons about where our food comes from.

“But the biggest thing with the next generation science standards is that schools are looking for authentic learning environments,” Venturini explained. 

“Gardens are outdoor classrooms that help schools meet those standards. Students get to go outside and conduct experiments in the garden, learn about life cycles, and gain experience with concepts in natural science, math and environmental stewardship. Gardens are a living laboratory.”

More than 43 URI Master Gardeners serve as mentors in the free program. All have been certified after receiving additional training to qualify. 

Their mission is to assist schools in achieving the school’s gardening goals, facilitate year-to-year gardening continuity, and serve as a conduit for science-based gardening advice.


For more information about the Desourdy School Garden Mentor Program, visit http://web.uri.edu/mastergardener/the-desourdy-school-garden-mentor-program/ or call 401-874-2900.

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