For almost 50 years, Extension Master Gardeners (EMG) have educated millions about sustainable and environmentally friendly garden practices. USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) provides crucial support to the Extension Master Gardener program through capacity funding to Extension programs in all 50 states and the District of Columbia.
“The Extension Master Gardener program serves as a critical linkage point between the agricultural knowledge of the nation’s Land-grant Institutions and everyday people and their concerns,” said Tom Bewick, NIFA’s National Program Leader for EMG programs.
Currently, more than 84,000 certified Extension Master Gardeners volunteer across the nation providing research-based information to the public.
How Master Gardeners Get the Job Done
- Teaching workshops
- Staffing garden information hotlines
- Managing demonstration and community gardens
- Speaking at events
- Partnering with organizations like 4-H to bring garden and food production skills to wider audiences.
Master Gardeners reached more than 8.4 million people directly in 2020, according to the 2020 Extension Master Gardener Impact Report. Their work totaled more than 3 million volunteer hours—with a value of more than $76 million.
Key to Master Gardener Program Longevity
How did a local Washington state garden education effort grow into a powerhouse program that marshals thousands of volunteers working for the public good?
“I believe it goes back to the way we are structured,” said Katie Dunker, state Master Gardener coordinator for Colorado State University Extension. “The unbiased science-based information backed by Land-grant Institutions—that is everything to the EMG program.”
Charlotte Glen, state coordinator for the NC State Extension Master Gardener program agreed the science-based information is a key to success but said it goes beyond the Land-grant connection.
“The program meets important needs—Extension’s need to reach people and people’s need to get information they can trust,” she said. “That meeting of mutual needs creates the perfect combination.”
Why Master Gardeners Love the Program
University of Maryland Extension state Master Gardener coordinator Stephanie Pully said EMGs enter the program looking to expand their personal knowledge and then a transformation happens.
“When we ask why they stay in the program, many say it’s the connections they make with their fellow Master Gardeners,” said Pully.
North Carolina EMG Angela Hertzberg echoed that sentiment.
“I think kinship with your fellow EMGs is part of it—friendship and the bonds we build,” she said. “Our group is inspired and motivated by each other.”
Fellow North Carolina EMG Kat Causey said the program’s impact is another reason EMGs stay involved and for the overall success of the program.
“We live in an environment that is always changing, and EMGs are spreading the word of how to succeed as a gardener within those dynamics,” said Causey. “EMGs are focused on supporting their communities.”
Recently certified Arizona Master Gardener Bonnie Secakuku said supporting her community is an important part of her passion for the program.
“I decided to take the Master Gardener class when I began to garden myself, but I want to teach young people about gardening,” said Secakuku, who works at a youth center. “Helping our young people learn to garden and grow their own food makes me happy. If they learn to take care of the earth, the earth will care for them by providing healthy food.”
Virtual World Expands Opportunities
Glen said the pandemic showed that virtual and hybrid Extension Master Gardener courses would work.
“We were able to reach beyond traditional audiences who could come to in-person training,” she said. “The pandemic fast tracked new delivery options for EMG programs.”
In Arizona, going virtual meant members of the Hopi nation were able to participate for the first time.
“Before this option, people would have had to drive 200 miles round-trip once a week to take the Master Gardener class,” said Susan Sekaquaptewa, a Federally Recognized Tribal Extension Program assistant agent for the Hopi Tribe. “That meant no one from my community took this class until it was offered virtually.”
Secakuku, a member of the Hopi Tribe, completed her Master Gardener course through Arizona’s virtual program.