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story.lead_photo.caption Friend: Union County Judge Mike Loftin receives the Friend of Master Gardeners award from Berni Kurz at the state Master Gardeners conference in Hope last week.

Union County Judge Mike Loftin received recognition last week for being a Friend of Master Gardeners at a state conference in Hope.

“I’m honored to have the recognition,” Loftin said. “I’m always happy to help those ladies.”

Loftin has been eager to assist the Union County Master Gardeners with several projects throughout the past years, said Master Gardener Barbie Luther, which is why they chose to nominate him for the award. Some of those projects have included re-landscaping at Barton Library, placing a pathway at the South Arkansas Arboretum and relocating the Master Gardeners’ greenhouse.

The Union County Master Gardeners are a volunteer organization, mainly focusing their efforts on horticulture education and community beautification. Master Gardeners work with students at Northwest Elementary to teach them the principles of growing crops and flowers.

“More than beautification, horticulture education is kind of our mandate,” Luther said. “We are trained volunteers and we’re tasked with sharing that training with the community so that the general public can have better gardens, not only flowers and shrubs, but vegetables and fruit too.”

Last Tuesday, Loftin and his wife, Phena Loftin, traveled with the Union County Master Gardeners to the statewide Arkansas Master Gardeners’ conference in Hope. He received the award there, in front of over 500 other Master Gardeners from around the state.

“Mike is always just ready and willing to do anything we ask him to,” Luther said. “He’s just very responsive and very helpful and supports us.”

Luther said Loftin is always very quick to respond to the needs of the Master Gardeners. On Saturday, the Master Gardeners held their annual plant sale concurrent with the Mayhaw Festival in El Dorado.

The plant sale wouldn’t have been possible without Loftin’s help last year in moving the Master Gardeners’ greenhouse, since that is where they grow the plants for the sale. The sale funds most of the Master Gardeners’ activities throughout the year.

“They volunteer a lot of time to be able to call themselves a Master Gardener, and then they do a whole lot for our community,” Loftin said. “They volunteer countless hours in the community and I certainly don’t mind helping them.”

Loftin is the second Union County resident to be named a Friend of Master Gardeners. John Tinsley received the award in 2016 after being nominated by the Union County Master Gardeners.

“We appreciate their support and their help and we think it’s important that they be recognized for it,” Luther said.

Luther encouraged anyone with an interest in gardening to get involved with the Master Gardeners. Training occurs annually, she said, typically in early February.

“If you like growing things, and you like gardening, Master Gardeners is a wonderful thing,” Luther said. “Anyone who’s interested in gardening and volunteering, check us out.”

To learn more about the Union County Master Gardeners, contact agent Robin Bridges at rbridges@uaex.edu or call 870-864-1916.

Caitlan Butler can be reached at 870-862-6611 or cbutler@eldoradonews.com.

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