In 2023 the UNH Extension Master Gardener program will be celebrating 30 years of sharing the science and joy of gardening in NH. As part of that celebration we’ll be featuring the impact of some of the volunteers who have contributed to the success of the program and made a difference during the past three decades. Jane O’Donnell of Littleton is one of those people.
Since graduating from the Master Gardener class in 2000, Jane O’Donnell says she’s “done many different things”. At a young age, Jane gardened alongside her mother in Amherst. As she moved through life, she continued her planting passion wherever she lived in New Hampshire. “While I was living in Lisbon, I learned of the Master Gardener course” offered in nearby Lancaster. “This class was the first in the North Country.” Classes at times were videos filmed earlier in the southern part of the state. Occasionally, a UNH specialist traveled north to teach a class, but the class was mostly led by Steve Turaj, former Coös County Extension Educator.
After completing the Master Gardener program, she gave presentations to various groups using slide shows that she created. Most of her volunteer work, however, has “been done on two big projects,” namely the Grafton County Complex Garden and Daughters of the Charity of the Sacred Heart of Jesus Convent Garden. She’s helped with the complex garden in North Haverhill for two decades.
Two years ago, she began volunteering at the convent garden and most of her time is now spent there. Last November, volunteers and Master Gardeners who helped sustain the garden were recognized with the Spirit of New Hampshire Award at the Volunteer New Hampshire annual award ceremony. Every summer on Mondays, two to three Master Gardeners and anywhere from five to 15 additional volunteers work in the garden. The produce is used year-round to feed the convent nuns and supply fresh vegetables to the Franconia and Littleton food pantries. “The past two years we have harvested more than 6,600 pounds of food to share and help keep people fed” in this “amazing project,” Jane says.
Over the years the Master Gardener program “has continued to evolve to give students the most up-to-date information…it has been tweaked to make sure the learning is appropriate for our mission,” Jane says. “Most of the time there are specialists teaching the class in person. During COVID online classes were used to keep everyone safe as learning continued.”
When she’s not volunteering, Jane is a self-employed medical assistant for various life insurance companies. For 10 years she taught the Medical Assistant Program at White Mountain Community College. She also works at Ammonoosuc Community Health Care, a non-profit with five locations in the northern part of the state.
She currently lives in Littleton on property she bought not only “because I loved the house, land, and pond, but I loved name of the road - Broomstick Hill.” A member of Women’s Rural Entrepreneurial Network (WREN), Jane’s Littleton home was once featured on WREN’s garden tour. Jane twice co-chaired and was secretary for the Grafton County Master Gardener Association.
Jane sees the Master Gardener program as “a win-win for all.” The volunteers in this “great group of friendly people share knowledge and feed people to make the garden experience better for the world. There is nothing better than getting our hands in the dirt. It’s therapeutic.”
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