Spring Valley, Ohio – Sixteen Extension Master Gardener (EMG) volunteers have returned from Ecuador, where they used their gardening skills to lend a helping hand in rural communities. They were on a gardening volunteer vacation, which was sponsored by The Ohio State University Extension Master Gardener Volunteer Program and The Tandana Foundation. Garrettsville resident Judy Novak-Hrdy was one of the gardeners on this trip. The volunteers really enjoyed the trip.

“The opportunity for our volunteers to work with the people in these communities and experience the culture first-hand is incredible,” said Pam Bennett, State Master Gardener Volunteer Coordinator.

From February 22nd to March 1st, the group relaxed at night at the lovely La Posada del Quinde in Otavalo. They spent most of their days working in the surrounding communities of Achupallas, Padre Chupa and Muenala on various gardening projects.

In Achupallas, the EMGs helped out at a tree nursery. They filled bags of dirt, which will be used to plant seedlings. The group weeded the acclimatization beds as well as the seedlings. The seedlings also needed their roots trimmed. The volunteers planted new trees near the nursery’s entrance and helped out with the construction of a new greenhouse at the tree nursery.

Along with working at the tree nursery in Achupallas, the group also prepared horticultural lessons for children from the local elementary school. The EMGs set up three stations for the children to visit. At the first station, the children used vegetables and plants to make stamps.

The volunteers taught the children about seeds at the second station. They soaked a variety of seeds overnight and then had the children open the seeds and use a magnifying glass to identify the different seed parts. At the last station, they helped the children plant flower seeds in planters that they made from plastic bottles.

The group shared the same lessons with children in Padre Chupa. Some of the EMGs helped plant potatoes in the school garden in Padre Chupa, while others helped students plant beautiful ornamental plants at the school’s entrance.

“Our volunteers were totally engaged in teaching as well as learning,” said Bennett.

The volunteers participated in the Andean tradition of minga in Muenala. A minga is a community work day where many community members work together on a project to benefit the entire community. Together the EMGs and community members planted acacia and alder trees by the school and the soccer field to prevent erosion and create a windbreak. They also put up a fence at the school to protect the trees from cattle. After the minga, everyone enjoyed a delicious community lunch.

The group also spent time exploring horticultural sites in the region. They toured a rose plantation, where they learned about the plantation’s growing process, fertilization, and pest-control methods. They also visited an orchid greenhouse, where they saw an impressive collection of rare orchids.

When they were not having fun digging in the dirt and touring, the group had plenty of time to enjoy the local culture and see beautiful scenery. The trip included a boat ride around Lake Cuicocha. They visited a master weaver and a traditional healer. The EMGs learned to cook a delicious traditional Ecuadorian meal at a cooking class and practiced their bargaining skills at the world-renowned Otavalo market.

The Ohio State University Extension Master Gardener Volunteer Program provides intensive training in horticulture to interested Ohio residents who then volunteer their time assisting with educational programs and activities for Ohio residents through their local Ohio State University Extension county office. For more information on this program, please visit http://mastergardener.osu.edu.