Volunteers are a very important part of the Texas AgriLIFE Extension office in Orange County according to Dr. Roy Stanford, AgriLife Extension agent. Over one hundred volunteers assist the staff of five which includes two other extension agents. Paula Taker is the Family Consumer Science agent and Marie Kenney oversees the 4-H program.

“Working with volunteers, you find out what in the community are the issues and how can we educate the public on those issues,” said Stanford. “We make the connection with the people in the community and find out what they need to know to improve their lives or help them in what ever way that is. People in north Texas, their issues are different than the people down here.”

Over the next few months, we will be highlighting some of the areas that, with the assistance of volunteers, the AgriLIFE office is working to educate the public in areas of need.

One of the programs near and dear to Jan Dicharry’s heart is the Junior Master Gardeners. She has also worked diligently to help plant demonstration gardens at the location of the recently dedicated greenhouses located in the Jewel Cormier Park in Orangefield.

Dicharry became a member of the Master Gardeners about a year and a half ago and is also a Texas Master Naturalist Sabine-Neches Chapter. “Our Master Gardener group does work hand in hand with the (AgriLIFE) Extension office on many different projects,” she said.

“I’m helping to build a demonstration garden at Bridge City (Middle) School. My sister is a science teacher there, she has a Junior Master Gardeners group. We’re trying to get a demonstration garden over at the Bridge City school. Those are just going to be demonstration gardens that shows our trial roses,” she said. “We’re trying to teach them water conservation and the roses are good for water conservation. They last a long time, a lot of them should be disease free and if they do get any kind of disease it’s usually mild and they can get rid of it.”

Dicharry’s sister used to teach at Little Cypress Intermediate. They worked together to develop nature trails for a couple of years. When her sister changed schools, there was nothing set up at the Bridge City Middle School. The sisters are working to change that. “It’s like a white slate we’re working on.”

“Over at Bridge City we’re hoping to start rain water harvesting, you know, different things like that and vegetable gardening. Master Gardeners and some churches are building gardens to teach youngsters about growing things and eating healthy,” said Dicharry.

She said many of the students did not know that something can actually grow from a seed– and they can eat it. They did not know that potatoes, carrots and peanuts grow underground.
“They learn a lot. The teachers learn, the kids learn, its fun, they get together, it’s a great program.

“Any teacher, anyone that wants to start a Junior Master Gardeners group can do it at any school,” said Dicharry. “If they need any information, they can call the extension office.
Dicharry said, “The kids love it. My sister told them oranges grew on trees and they said ‘No, the come from the store.’”

“Kids nowadays, they really do not understand the concept of you can grow your own food. So now, they get it and it’s so much fun to watch them learn. Their eyes are just so big and they’re like, ‘Oh my gosh, I didn’t know that.’”

Dicharry said, “It’s just a great feeling. There are more and more schools getting involved. You don’t even have to have a garden in your back yard, you can do container gardening. You can grow a tomato plant in a container and have a lot of tomatoes or herbs or anything. We had big tubs we grew potatoes in.”

After Hurricane Rita, the Vidor Fire Department had no place to keep their vehicles, so these covered structures were purchased for interim housing of the trucks. Once the fire station was rebuilt, the department no longer needed them, so Stanford was able to procure them for the Master Gardeners. One of the structures is a covered greenhouse, the other two frames will be covered with shade cloth.

It’s been a real challenging project,” said Joyce Kennedy, a member of the Master Gardeners since 2001.

“We had to deconstruct it in Vidor and move it over to Orangefield to Jewel Cormier Park and reconstruct it,” said Kennedy. “Weather has been a challenge, but I think its gonna be a really big plus for our organization, having a place for us to keep our plants and propagate them, over-winter them and then have our plant sale earlier than we have been able to just working out of our own yards and homes. I think that’s going to be a real plus, being able to do programs; doing things for the community.

“We’re doing a rose trial,” said Dicharry. “For the next four years we’re planting trial roses to see how well they do in our area.” Dicharry said other Master Gardeners are doing these trials in different places around the state to see if they could be called “Earth Kind” roses. “Those are roses that require little or no care.” Dicharry said these roses don’t require much water and frequent pruning. “They’re just really easy for anyone; especially like elderly people or people that love roses, but don’t have time to mess with them. These are just plant and go,” said Dicharry.

There will be other crops at the greenhouses besides roses. “We are going to be growing vegetable gardens and perennial gardens out there. Junior Master Gardeners will be working with us. We teach them propagation and different things like that.

Kennedy said being a member of the Master Gardeners is something she and her husband started doing together. “I’ve done just about everything in the organization, being an officer and going to specialist trainings and things like that. I try to help wherever I can with what is going on.”

About Penny LeLeux

Penny has worked at The Record Newspapers since 2006. A member of the editorial staff, she has "done everything but print it." Most frequently she writes entertainment reviews and human interest stories, with a little paranormal thrown in from time to time.She has been a lifelong member of the Orangefield community.