Tena van Andel, Toronto
With giddy anticipation and five bottles of local Seattle wine, fellow Toronto Master Gardener, Elizabeth A. Stewart, 998 other Master Gardeners and I walked the gangplank of the Westerdamn ready to experience an International Master Gardener Conference at sea. Lesson one – don’t call it a ‘gangplank’, it’s a ‘gangway’ and don’t spell Westerdam with a ‘n’. This will make the crew frown.
For the 16 Canadian delegates, the cruise started on high seas. We were very loud and proud when it was announced at the Search for Excellence Awards that our very own Thunder Bay MGs had won! Their very fine work on coping without pesticides caused a collective gasp from the American audience – gardening without pesticides, no way! Lesson two – although some US MGs and some of the speakers decried the use of pesticides it is still a prevalent practice that will not go away anyway soon. We, who have been gardening without pesticides for years now, were shocked, smug and then sad.
The conference was a veritable buffet of breakout sessions and keynote addresses. And, believe you me; by the end of the cruise, I gained much at the buffets - about ten pounds, in fact! Lesson three – not everything at a buffet is worth the calories. About half of my eight breakout sessions were very informative – how to use QR codes in garden education, plant diagnostics, MGs and plant phenology programs and an objective update on GMOs. Did you know there is a genetically modified tobacco seed that can detect landmines? Yup, when the plant grows over a landmine, it turns a rusty red colour. My other breakouts were not so filling. One speaker actually told us what a perennial is – you know, ‘those plants that come back every year’. Shoulda spent that session in the Crow’s Nest Bar partaking of the drink of the day (mmmm, strawberry basil bellinis)
It was very interesting how different the American MG system is as compared to ours. Paid University Extension staff manages most of the groups in the States. Groups may not be funded, but they enjoy the free resources of university scientists, communication departments, state administrators, inexpensive training and special MG liaisons. We, by contrast, are totally self-governing. Lesson four – we should be so proud of what we accomplish as highly motivated, dedicated VOLUNTEERS.
The cruise was wonderful. We had amazingly sunny weather, saw lots of whales, sea otters, sea lions and bald eagles. We visited Juneau, the Glacier Gardens with the upside down trees, Sitka, Ketchikan and Butchart Gardens in Victoria. Just lovely. However, I’m not sure a cruise ship is the best place for a conference. They did not have the facilities to host all the sessions they offered. We had breakouts in the piano bar and in a dark, ‘make out’ lounge – terrible locations for both speakers and the audience. Even the best rooms suffered during our day of rough seas with seasick speakers and jiggling projectors. Lesson five – folks who say these cruise ships are so big you never feel them move and have all sorts of stabilizers so you never feel the waves, LIED.
Of course, the best part of the conference, of any conference, is the gardeners you meet. We met kindred spirits from all over the USA – Florida, California, Arkansas, Oregon, Washington, West Virginia and even a delegation from Korea. BTW you are all invited to the Korean MG conference next spring. Lesson six – conferences are the best opportunity to be inspired by other Master Gardeners and to make them friends. Even with the glaring difference in pesticide policy, we had lots to talk about, lots to learn and lots to look forward to when we meet again at the next International Conference organized by Iowa and Nebraska in 2015. By then I hope to have lost the souvenir ten pounds!