Thursday, December 12, 2013

A Master Gardener Story in Volunteerism.

Patty Latanzio

As Master Gardeners, we often keep a critical eye out on the vast array of flora around us.  Whether we look at plant species, form, growing space, etc....we assess and evaluate the beauty and the beast of plants and their spaces. This is a quick story about inspiration and change.  It is also a reminder about civic pride, volunteerism, and how one person can make a difference, directly and indirectly.  It's the essence of us, the Master Gardeners.

The area in these photos is a heavily congested place of pedestrians, traffic, and Septa Bus routes.  On the northwest corner of Bustleton and Grant Avenue in Philadelphia stands a wooded lot, now for sale.  At some point, a massive tree had fallen into the street, which was cut down years ago, leaving the stump.  After several years of sucker growth from this stump, a new urban jungle had emerged.  The limbs went vertically and horizontally, covering the sidewalk and jetting out into the turning lane of a major avenue.  Pedestrians had to navigate a dangerous sidewalk, where the only safe passage was a small footpath in the dirt of the lot.  When the tree has fallen, it lifted the sidewalk with its roots, almost as if to say that some trees are not meant to be contained.  For us, it is a harsh lesson on Right Plant, Right Place.  
Perhaps people accepted the fate of the tree and resulting sidewalk/street situation as maybe someone else will take care of it, it's not my responsibility, the city is out of money and no one will do anything, etc...On a recent clear, crisp autumn day, I brought my Felco pruning saw and pruners to start making a difference in what public service for the betterment of our city means.  After assessing the situation, I pruned the sucker growth from the tree stump, removed the suckers from other standing trees along the block, raked leaves, and picked up trash.  What stands out are not the "after" photos but the people I have met in the short few hours that I was there.  People waiting for Septa, elderly people with canes navigating the dirt path, teens walking by, seniors going shopping....these citizens were curious.  What was this woman doing and why? 

As Master Gardeners, we educate people and not always in a structured classroom.  The brief conversations touched upon tree structure, pruning techniques and why we prune, photosynthesis, etc....but it also brought out something else. People want to be engaged. They want to see purpose and a plan.  Most were intrigued that one person can decide to do something for the good of other people and the plan often starts with themselves.  The conversations made people aware that they are the community and they can do something about their space, whether through direct action, making a phone call, or inspiring someone else.  One elderly gentleman, in particular, stated that he was proud of the little people behind the scenes who make good changes for others.  

As anonymously as I came into the picture as one of those "little people", I left with a renewed sense of community spirit and Penn State Extension pride in having learned about horticulture and how to approach and solve a problem in the green world.  The sidewalk has been reported to the city and the local councilman's office has been informed of regeneration growth from tree  

Sometimes, it does start with us. We are often that first domino of change.  Be strong, and prune onward.......

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Mr. Yuck, In the Cabinet, With the Poison...

~ Jessica S. Herwick
Now that the weather is getting cooler, and school has started, it’s more likely that children will get bored and experiment with household items.   You are also more likely to have collected household items that are considered toxic or hazardous to humans due to your seasonal gardening, lawn or other household maintenance duties.  Many garden insect sprays, bottles of cleaner, bleach, pesticides, and even your organic fertilizers can be hazardous when ingested by young children.

I don’t know about you, but when I was a kid, Mr. Yuk™ stickers were law in my household.   I am not saying that my sister, brothers and I NEVER got into the hazardous materials, but we were much less likely to invade anything labeled with that ‘yucky’ green face.  My parents slathered bottles, cans, and containers of all shapes and sizes for a number of years throughout my childhood.  My siblings and I are first hand proof that this program works! Curious about those helpful little stickers?  So was I, and so I did a little research.  
Mr. Yuk (seen above and right, if you haven’t already recognized him) was the first poison education symbol in the nation, launched in 1971.  He was created by the Pittsburg Poison Control Center as a means to educate families about poisonous materials and prevent improper use of hazardous household materials (including ingestion).  Every Mr. Yuk sticker is labeled with the name of the nearest poison control center, and the national toll-free poison help telephone number (which is  1-800-222-1222).  
The Pittsburg Poison Control Center (PPCC) employs highly trained toxicology nurse specialists who respond 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, to an estimated 150,000 poison emergency phone calls every year.  And that’s not all they accomplish for Pennsylvania!  The Pittsburgh Poison Control Center serves nearly 6 million residents in 44 counties of Pennsylvania. They consult with national businesses and industrial corporations regarding poison control and safety, and developed a hospital-based poison treatment system involving 70 hospitals in western Pennsylvania. 

Mr. Yuk is still used in households all over the country.  Each state has a Mr. Yuk that keeps residents in touch with their closest Poison Control Center.  For residents of Pennsylvania, The Penn State Cooperative Extension can help you prevent poison emergencies by linking you to the Pittsburg Poison Control Center, and those wonderful stickers!
To get a sheet of Mr. Yuk stickers, send a self-addressed stamped envelope to:
Penn State Pesticide Education
Attention Mr. Yuk

222 Special Services Building
University Park, PA 16802

Teachers and other presenters/lecturers can obtain bulk quantities of poison prevention materials, Mr. Yuk stickers, and more information about the Pittsburg Poison Control Center at

For those of you who may feel a bit nostalgic upon seeing that old familiar face, the original commercial that ran in the early 1970's during the Mr. Yuk campaign launch has been cleaned up from an old VHS recording and posted on YouTube by a fan.  Click on the link below to view.