July 18, 2023
Dream Big to Make it Happen
You never know what ideas might take root and grow when sitting around a table with energetic and enthusiastic Extension Master Gardener volunteers. That is how KSRE and Johnson County began their journey to host the 2023 International Master Gardener Conference in Overland Park, June 18 - 22.
Little did this group know that I had always thought Kansas should host the IMGC. I had previously mentioned it over my long tenure, but it generated little excitement or interest. I let the thought of showcasing our programming pass. That is until the EMG volunteers got excited about hosting.
I attended numerous conferences over the years as a participant and representative of K-State Johnson County Extension, and I always thought KSRE was not adequately represented and did not promote our good works. As Kansans, we are proud but not boastful. Many states require presentations at conferences to attend or attain credit for their promotion. Hosting the IMGC would put Kansas in the spotlight we deserve and feature our state’s outstanding EMG programs.
The Kansas City metropolitan area has a population base of approximately 2.7 million people. Programming must be planned big, or it gets lost. Extension users, as we know, do not recognize county lines or, for that matter, state lines. Over my career, I have been fortunate to have been given the opportunity to position Johnson County Extension as the area leader in research-based horticulture information. Hosting the IMGC was a natural next step for our program.
The Johnson County EMG program is second to none. We are one of the country's largest and most active programs. I would say stronger than many because of our grassroots connections to the volunteers. Over 500 volunteers strong, we knew we had the volunteer commitment to take on the IMGC. Historically, the state office runs the biennial conference with support from volunteers. We flipped the model as EMG volunteers planned and managed the conference; more than 280 Johnson County EMGs staffed more than 975 volunteer roles to ensure success.
The success of the conference started like any well-run event with strategic planning. We needed to discover the optimal skill set to manage 25 teams. Talented individuals stepped up as chairs: Carol Fowler, a retired corporate attorney; and Michele Jansen, a certified public accountant. More than 125 EMGs participated in Strength Finders, a personality test trait indicator to measure and identify the unique skill sets of potential leads. This helped to identify 50 leaders to manage the various details and committees of the conference, and everyone learned how to maximize and utilize their most extraordinary talents and strengths as a team.
Once we created the program, we wondered if EMGs would come to Kansas. What could be in Kansas for a gardener to see? Past conferences have been held in renowned garden meccas like Portland, Oregon, and Philadelphia. (2021 was virtual).
Again, we dreamed big and had confidence that a good program would bring people. Meticulous planning and attention to detail led to a memorable conference that featured 12 bus tours, 11 workshops, eight keynote, and featured speakers, more than 50 concurrent sessions, and a unique trade show with 101 garden-themed vendors.
The conference achieved much higher attendance than we imagined; 1,130 people came from 44 states, including six from Canada and two from England. It was truly an international event.
We set goals and envisioned success at the start of the planning process. The goals included showcasing Kansas, KSRE, and the EMG program. Most importantly, we wanted participants to recognize that they attended the best conference ever. I am pleased we surpassed our goals. Our EMG program is much stronger because they refused to set limits and thought big.
Don’t be afraid to dream. Imagine possibilities. Invite others along for the ride. We did. KSRE and our EMG program received much-deserved praise, recognition, and satisfaction for a job well done.