Master Gardener Program teaches horticulture and changes lives

The Michigan State University Extension Master Gardener Program changed Daniel Miraval’s life.

Photo by Abbey Miller
Photo by Abbey Miller

Twenty-seven years ago, the Michigan State University (MSU) Extension Master Gardener Program changed Daniel Miraval’s life.

“I was an at-risk youth from the southwest side of Detroit and was given a scholarship to attend a Master Gardener Program, which I successfully completed,” Miraval said. “That program led me into an amazing 26-year-career in horticulture and arboriculture.”

“For me it was the first opportunity to actually engage in an advanced training related to my job which was in the green industry. I learned the basic building blocks and foundation of horticulture and arboriculture. Upon realizing that it was actually a learnable discipline, it was then I decided to stick with it as a career. It would be much later that I used that to make it a profession.”

The MSU Extension Master Gardener Program is an adult horticulture education and volunteer leader program committed to improving the quality of life in Michigan through horticulture-based volunteerism and beautifying communities throughout the state. The program provides instruction in basic, research-based horticulture science to motivated and active gardeners through an adult (18 years or older) educational program offered by MSU Extension. Once trained, Master Gardeners educate others in the community about environmentally and economically sound practices through horticulture-based volunteer activities.

In 1991 at 19 years old, Miraval did not have a clear picture of what he wanted to do. He struggled in school, eventually dropping out, and he had been in trouble with the law as a juvenile. Miraval needed a job and applied for a position at Marvin’s Gardens, a small landscape company, owned by Marvin Welch Jr.

“I've always said that the green industry saved my life,” Miraval said. “Had I not been given this opportunity, I may very well not have ended up as successful and accomplished as I have or be dead or in jail or prison.”

Shortly after starting at Marvin’s Gardens, Miraval realized that he had an affinity for and wanted to pursue a career in landscaping because as he says, “landscaping leaves a lasting mark.”

Welch showed an interest in Miraval’s progress and suggested Miraval take a Master Gardener class.

“He gave me a phone number for the Master Gardener Program,” Miraval said. “I called, they said the price and it was beyond my ability to pay.”

However, there was a hardship scholarship program. Welch advised Miraval to tell his story in a letter of application for the scholarship.

Miraval received the scholarship and attended the Master Gardener class. Looking back, Miraval recalls this class was one of the first major commitments he had ever made in his life.

“I was intimidated by Michigan State University in the title of the class,” Miraval said. “I didn’t graduate high school, but now was doing something with MSU.”

“The Master Gardener course provided me with the opportunity to explore the industry and guide me – it saved my life. I would not have put into practice follow-through and commitment. That was my first lesson. Taking the class opened doors for me. It also reaffirmed the fact that being broke is economic, but being poor is a debilitating state of mind. It taught me that when you do find success, you use it as a tool.

“I still refer to the Master Gardener curriculum from time to time,” he said. “The foundation of what I have learned as an arborist is in here [the Master Gardener curriculum] and whoever provided the funding that let me participate 27 years ago, when I had nothing, saved my life.”

Miraval credits the MSU Master Gardener program for helping people like him, who may not have succeeded in traditional education platforms, still attain levels of industry professionalism. He gives full recognition of his success today to where becoming a professional began for him in Welch’s class.

Following the class, Welch continued to serve as Miraval’s first mentor, but certainly was not his last mentor.

“Marvin said I should work for a nursery – a big one. Vidosh was one of those he suggested,” Miraval said.

During a job interview, Miraval recalled that Bruce White, Vidosh Landscape Center owner and operator and MSU horticulture graduate, asked what his 3- to 5-year plan was. Miraval told him he wanted to be like White. Miraval was offered the job where he continued to learn more about the green industry.

“Bruce was the one who recognized my passion for wanting to be a better person and to be part of a winning team,” Miraval said. “He was the one who taught me about hard work and following through with everything you set out to do. He really took me under his wing with the specific intention of recreating me. He became my mentor a month after I graduated from the Master Gardener class when I walked into his office, certificate and test score in hand, looking for more than a job but an opportunity. He served as a mentor for 19 years.”

Miraval then met White’s brother, Wayne White, owner of Emerald Tree Care LLC and MSU forestry graduate.

“Wayne has been a mentor of increasing involvement for the last 10 years, but his influence, commitment to my success and leaving a legacy has been an intense focus for the last 5 years. He is a true champion of mine and how my taking the steps and action to become a Master Gardener showed my passion for the green industry but more importantly it showed my determination to better myself by utilizing whatever means necessary and for me the first step was the Master Gardener Program.

“I think the bottom line is these mentors all taught me the basics of self-motivation, follow-through, work ethic and taking action,” Miraval said. “That seems to be what the Master Gardener Program scholarship contained. Being made available by some endowment I would imagine. I wish I could find out who those people were, and if they are still around, so I could personally thank each one of them. They believed in me without even knowing who I was. I want them to know that the program was a success for me and thank them. Every program needs metrics to prove its worth. I really don't know what else to say other than thank you and the Master Gardener Program was like a magic carpet.”

Miraval continues to be surrounded by mentors that encourage his success and teach him lessons to live by. As he pursues Advanced Credentials in the Green Industry, he came in contact with Steve Martinko of Contenders Tree and Lawn, LLC from White Lake, Michigan. Steve has been a friend and mentor that has helped Miraval plan for the next ten years in his business.

Today, Miraval is a certified arborist with the International Society of Arboriculture (ISA) and a co-owner of Green Extraction Technologies LLC, based near Chicago. They specialize in root collar excavation, corrective pruning and provide contract digging services for nurseries and specialized plant health care for residents, homeowner associations, municipalities and other organized properties. Among Miraval’s clients are Virginia farms Ingleside Plantation Nurseries, located on over 2,500 acres with 1,000 acres of nursery production, and White House Natives, LLC, dedicated to growing and harvesting 96 different species of native plant materials on their 25 acre site.

In addition to being a professional ISA member, Miraval serves on the Chicago Region Trees Initiative Tree Risk Management work group and is an Openlands TreeKeeper. He is also a member of the Tree Care Industry Association and the Illinois Arborist Association, of which he is a current board nominee. He is a certified tree safety person (CTSP), a certified Illinois pesticide applicator and an Illinois real estate agent.

“When I decided to become a an ISA–certified arborist, I reached back to the Master Gardener Program in respect to compartmentalizing how again this daunting advanced studying I wanted to do was similar to the Master Gardener Program. The information is there, it’s well presented and laid out, and all you have to do is apply yourself and inject your passion, and success is imminent.

“I hope my story inspires someone else or at least the people who make the policies that make these programs possible so they continue to fund them.

“The green industry is a very powerful industry in many ways. Trees are life. They saved mine and now I save theirs.”

Did you find this article useful?