The first Master Gardener program was founded by Washington State University Cooperative Extension in the greater Seattle area to meet a high demand for urban horticulture and gardening advice. The first trial clinic was held in Tacoma in 1972 and was so successful that the program was officially established, a curriculum created, and the first training conducted in 1973. Since then the Master Gardener program has spread to all 50 states and several Canadian provinces. Georgia had its first class in 1979 and graduated 140 Master Gardeners that year. The first state conference was in 1988, and this year the Georgia Master Gardeners will celebrate 35 years as a statewide group, now with almost 3,000 active members performing over 150,000 hours of community service each year. Most recent figures for 2012 record 3,266 Georgia Master Gardeners who donated 203,888 hours of service in 62,613 events and activities.
The program is sponsored nationwide by land-grant universities (which offer degrees in agriculture), and here in Georgia by the University of Georgia College of Agricultural & Environmental Sciences. It is administered through the UGA Extension, a nationwide, non-credit educational network funded by the United States Department of Agriculture. Each county within the United States is represented by an Extension Agent, and Extension Offices are staffed with agents who work closely with university-based Extension specialists to deliver answers to questions the public may have about gardening, agriculture, and pest control. Extension Offices, including ours in Canton in Cherokee County, have both paid experts and volunteers and are assisted by Master Gardeners, all providing useful, practical, and research-based information to the public.
To become a Master Gardener one must submit an application to their local Extension Office, and then be accepted to participate in ten weeks of daytime classes in all aspects of horticulture. When students pass their mid-term and final exams they are then required to complete 50 hours of volunteer service in their first year and 25 hours each year thereafter to remain active Master Gardeners. Service in Cherokee County can consist of teaching classes at local libraries, assisting local teachers with school programs in composting and conservation and growing fresh food (even many adults don’t know that carrots and potatoes grow underground!), consulting to the community on gardening and agriculture, staffing information booths at local farmers’ markets, answering information requests called in to the Extension Office, working at plant sales, planting food for the hungry, writing newsletter and newspaper articles, and a variety of other outreach opportunities.
National online resources include the National Extension Master Gardener Website at www.extension.org/mastergardener, an interactive learning environment delivering the best, most researched knowledge from the smartest land-grant university minds across America. It offers webinars, articles and a wide range of support for individuals, businesses and communities. They also have a useful and informative blog at www.blogs.extension.org/mastergardener. Locally, in Cherokee County, Master Gardeners provide and rely on www.caes.uga.edu/extension/cherokee/MasterGardeners/. And for an up-to-date, in-depth history of the Georgia Master Gardener Program go to www.georgiamastergardeners.org/gmgadocs/Master_Gardener_History.pdf.
If someone you know wants to learn more about gardening and has the time to study and volunteer in this program, pass this information on to them and have them contact the Cherokee County Extension Office at (770) 721-7803 for more information and an application. The next round of classes begins in June; applications are due by March 31 and enrollment is limited. Classes are typically held only once each year, usually combine students from two or more counties, and are taught by horticulturists from the University of Georgia, local Extension Agents and other experts.
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. Follow Cherokee County Master Gardeners on facebook at www.facebook.com/cherokeemastergardeners for gardening tips as well as upcoming seminars.