When Cathy Edwards moved to Newton from Seattle 10 years ago, she did not know her passion for plants would lead to a decadelong stint as a volunteer for the Harvey County Free Fair.
"I knew that gardening here would not be the same as there, in the Pacific Northwest," Edwards said. "So the first thing I did was to take the Master Gardener course."
As part of K-State Research and Extension's Master Gardener program, Edwards committed to 40 hours of volunteer service over the year.
When Harvey County Extension Agent Scott Eckert asked Edwards to take over as superintendent of horticulture and floriculture for the Harvey County Free Fair, a role previously filled by Iva Reber, she readily agreed.
Reber taught Edwards the ins and outs of the job, which included matching exhibited plants with their entry cards.
"Cathy arranges volunteers and sees that exhibits are judged, ribbons are placed and this division runs smoothly at the fair," Eckert said. "She has been been doing this for 10 years and is doing a wonderful job."
"Last year was the first year the entries were online, which was a godsend," Edwards said with a laugh. "Before that, it was all manual."
Edwards also spends time organizing the plants by type and answering questions from visitors.
"What's the saying? 'Gardening is cheaper than therapy and you get tomatoes,' " Edwards said.
Tomatoes and vegetables, such as zucchini, are some of the most popular entries at the fair. Flowers, vegetables and fruits can all be entered.
"People bring in the most beautiful flowers and floral displays," Edwards said.
Edwards said it is still rewarding to see entries brought in by small children up through elderly adults.
"When they win a ribbon, their faces just light up," Edwards said.
Edwards said her interest in gardening came from her mother's skill at creating a beautiful yard and her father's volunteer service at Botanica. She encourages anyone interested in learning more about growing things to attend the Master Gardener program.
"It's for beginners," Edwards said. "They give you all sorts of information and bring in experts to talk about their fields."
With the Master Gardener program, K-State Research and Extension provides classroom training for a tuition cost of $110.
Master Gardeners are also asked to donate 40 hours of volunteer time over the year after completing the program. They can work in several areas, such as maintaining the Giving Garden near the intersection of Sixth and Walnut streets.
"We give (around) 7,000 pounds of produce every year to the Salvation Army," Edwards said.
Volunteers also spend time assisting with the Home and Garden Show, Newton Public Library's Garden Tours or the Harvey County Free Fair.
There are over 1,500 Kansas Master Gardeners who contributed over 85,000 volunteer hours last year to support the K-State Research and Extension Service, according to the organization's website.
"My Master Gardener friends help me to volunteer. I couldn't do it alone," Edwards said. "Some of them have been doing it for as long as I have and they're just wonderful. ... You can't run the Harvey County Fair without volunteers."
The 2019 Master Gardener class is accepting applications through Aug. 23. The course, held from 9 a.m. to 3:30 p.m., begins Sept. 12 and meets every Thursday except Thanksgiving Day through Dec. 14. To apply for the program, contact Harvey County horticultural agent Scott Eckert at 316-284-6930 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
For more information about the Harvey County Free Fair, visit https://harveycountyfair.com.
"The fair is just a lot of fun," Edwards said. "It's a good way to teach the next generation about cultivating and getting into flowers and gardening."