After Doris Stahl’s two sons had moved out of the house in 1985, she was looking for a change. As a professionally trained fine artist and educator, she taught art sporadically at community centers and summer park programs while raising her two sons. But now that they were grown, Stahl wanted something more full-time. An avid home gardener, Stahl was drawn to accept a position as a horticulture educator with Penn State Extension. Little did she know the change she’d instill by bringing the Master Gardener Program to Philadelphia and building hundreds of urban gardens during her 26-year tenure.
The Master Gardener Program, which was established in Seattle in 1972 to meet the demands for urban horticulture and education, provides extensive training to volunteers who then go on to serve their communities through beautification projects, educational workshops, community garden maintenance, and providing gardening advice and education. Penn State adopted the Master Gardener Program in 1982, and implemented it in Pennsylvania counties where farming was already prevalent. But when Stahl came on board three years later, the Master Gardeners were nonexistent in Philadelphia, a city blighted by 33,000 vacant lots and minimal green space.