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What is a Master Gardener?

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Janice Peterson
October 7, 2013

Oliver Wendell Holmes from the TV show “Green Acres” would have been a better farmer if only he had contacted his local Master Gardener association for advice. Most people have heard of Master Gardeners but may not know exactly what they are.

The Master Gardener program started in 1972 at Washington State University. Washington State is a land grant institution as is the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Using public funds, land grant institutions were created in the late 1800's with the intent of teaching applied agriculture and sciences, as opposed to the more liberal arts education typical of the times. The land grant institutions developed an outreach mission called cooperative extension whereby they sent agents into rural areas to work with growers, sharing the results of agricultural research. Eventually it became evident that the extension agent couldn't do it all alone, and so the volunteer Master Gardener program was created.

Today the program is going strong in Wisconsin, with most counties having their own group. Rock County has the Rock Prairie Master Gardener Association (RPMGA). The goal of the program remains the same: to train volunteers to provide research-based horticultural information to their community. The volunteers are now called Master Gardener Volunteers (MGV) in an effort to emphasize their volunteer status. MGV's are trained by university extension educators. The programs vary depending on the county, but in general participants receive their certification in under a year. To remain certified MGV's must complete a certain number of volunteer hours each year.

I've always thought the title Master Gardener an unfortunate choice to describe these dedicated volunteers. It leads to confusion and misunderstandings. Master Gardeners do not have Master's degrees in horticulture. They are not state licensed in the sense of a Master Plumber or Master Electrician. They can't use this as a title on their business cards. Instead, Master Gardeners are well educated volunteers with a passion for both gardening and helping others.

Master Gardeners host lectures, organize garden festivals, set up educational booths, help at botanical gardens, answer gardening questions, and teach prisoners how to grow food. They work with the young, elderly and disabled to give them an understanding and love of gardening. They may not know all the answers, but they sure know where to find them. Am I a Master Gardener? You bet I am!



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