Volunteers form the heart of the extension office
by Louise Estabrook
October 24, 2013 11:35 PM | 1572 views | 0 0 comments | 39 39 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Approximately 80 avid gardening volunteers assist the Cherokee County Cooperative Extension office. They form the volunteer force of the Agriculture and Natural Resource Department. From filing to researching, from article writing to seminar teaching, the Master Gardeners tirelessly serve the residents of Cherokee County. But what does that mean to you? And how can you get involved?

You already know some of what the Master Gardeners do. You may have attended one of the many free public presentations offered yearly by our wonderful Master Gardeners. On topics ranging from Landscape Design to Insect Pest Identification, from Vegetable Gardening to Hydrangeas, the Master Gardeners are Master Educators, too.

Maybe you attended one of their plant sales at the Demonstration Garden at the Canton Senior Center. If you bought one of their well-rooted plants, you probably came away with lots of planting advice and a personal tour of the beautiful demonstration gardens in addition to your plant bargains.

Perhaps you have gardened with us at one of the area community gardens – sharing vegetable and herb tips. You might have asked horticultural questions at the county’s local farmers markets where we held Informational Displays every week.

One of the most useful and sought-after services the Master Gardeners offer is assisting county homeowners with all kinds of gardening questions. Residents can call our office and speak with a Master Gardener or come in for a personal consultation. You can bring in plant samples for identification or a research-based recommendation on disease or insect infestations. You can get free landscape advice from our highly trained volunteers. Master Gardeners love to talk gardening.

The Master Gardener program developed in Washington State. Overwhelmed Extension Agents started training volunteers to help out. This freed the agents to spend more time on things like needs assessment, program development and evaluations. The idea spread like wildfire throughout the United States and Canada. There are now groups of Master Gardeners circling the globe. They all have one thing in common – they assist the Extension Agents to further the mission of the land-grant university they are affiliated with.

In our case, we are part of the University of Georgia. The Extension office exists to bridge the gap between the University and the state residents, and we do it on a county level. There are Extension offices in almost every county in the state and many of the agents train Master Gardeners to help them out. Master Gardeners are a vital part of our Extension Office!

In the training class, which normally covers 22 topics, the new interns learn both theory and practical skills from Extension agents and University specialists. The cost of the program ($150) covers the Master Gardener Manual, a badge and a certificate, and helps defray the cost of some of the specialists’ travel fees. It is a great educational experience packed into a tight period, with lots of reading and even a few tests. Attendance policies are strict, but in 18 years working with Master Gardeners, I’ve never met one who didn’t agree that they had received the better end of the deal.

The training prepares you to begin volunteering but it’s only the beginning. There are advanced Master Gardeners training classes available throughout the state. There are fun meetings, field trips and social events. Most Master Gardeners think the best part is making friends with other Master Gardeners in their class and in their Associations. Where else can you find so many community-minded friends who all love the same thing you do?

If you would like to join forces with us, Cherokee County Cooperative Extension is offering a new Master Gardener training program starting next June. Classes will take place on Monday, Wednesday and Friday from 9 a.m. until 3 p.m. from June 2 through June 27. This training will be tailored to educators and volunteers who enjoy working with youth, but participants are not required to be educators. We’re currently recruiting! Seats are limited due to space availability. Please call, email or stop by the office to pick up an application for the new class! You can even go online to our web site and print an application from home. But please don’t wait – completed applications are already coming in to our office and there are only ten places to fill this year. If you would like to play in the dirt with Cooperative Extension, fill out an application — they are ready now.

Information about Extension Solutions for Homes and Gardens can be found on the University of Georgia Cooperative Extension website, www.caes.uga.edu/extension/cherokee ; or contact the Cherokee County Extension Office, 1130 Bluffs Parkway, Suite G49, Canton, GA, 30114, 770-721-7803. The Georgia Master Gardener Extension Volunteer Program is a volunteer training program offered through county offices of the University of Georgia Cooperative Extension.

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