With spring on its way, Extension Master Gardeners across the state are working in full gear, helping fellow gardeners – beginners and experts, young and old – enhance their landscapes, grow their own fruits and vegetables and learn about the science behind gardening.
Master Gardeners are specially trained by Cooperative Extension and, in return for the training, they volunteer to help the organization’s horticulture and agriculture agents meet a tremendous demand for sound gardening advice and information.
In North Carolina, more than 4,000 Extension Master Gardener volunteers are at work in 80 of the state’s 100 counties. The services they provide vary from county to county, depending on local needs and on the volunteers’ interests and skills.
In 2007 – the last time Extension surveyed Master Gardeners across the state about their activities – they made more than 1.3 million educational contacts by answering phone calls, examining plant samples, helping with educational displays, delivering workshops and lectures to community groups and schools and developing demonstration and school gardens.
Among the Master Gardeners’ recent accomplishments:
- In Durham County, Master Gardener volunteers began working with Cooperative Extension educators to train elementary school teachers to deliver hands-on science lessons that connect the students to the world of soils and plants.
- In Clay County, Master Gardeners helped turn a vacant county lot into an inviting park with benches, plantings, pergolas and a mural designed and painted by local high school students.
- In Buncombe County, Master Gardeners logged enough volunteer hours to equal that of 4.5 full-time educators.
- In Alexander County, they built raised beds to help lower-income residents in Taylorsville grow their own food.
- And in Pitt County, Master Gardeners donated to a local food bank hundreds of pounds of produce they grew in a demonstration garden they use to educate the public on how to grow food in small places.
While Master Gardeners perform wide-ranging tasks, the volunteers tend to have at least three things in common: They are enthusiastic and knowledgeable gardeners are committed to giving back to their communities and are advocates of safe, environmentally friendly gardening practices.
Dr. Lucy Bradley, an assistant professor and Extension specialist with N.C. State University’s Department of Horticultural Science, coordinates the statewide Master Gardener program. She says that these volunteers’ are a powerful asset for Cooperative Extension, multiplying its ability to reach people and to get information out quickly.
But even more significantly, she says, Master Gardeners are assets for their communities.
“They are incredibly generous with their time, with their knowledge and with their experience, and they are teaching people to take care of their land in environmentally responsible ways,” Bradley says. “So in addition to all the people they reach directly by teaching them how to take care of their plants, they are also helping all of us through improving water quality by teaching people how to minimize their use of pesticides and fertilizers, to lessen stormwater runoff and to reduce green waste by composting on site converting it into an asset rather than something the city has to haul away.
“So in myriad ways,” she adds, “they are making the world a better place.”
Here are just a few of those ways:
- Guilford County Master Gardeners grow a community gardening network
- Cabarrus Master Gardeners welcome spring with a festival of earthly delights
- Swain County Farmers Market takes off, thanks in part to Master Gardener’s leadership
WHERE TO GO FOR MORE INFO:
To learn more about the Master Gardener program, visit http://www.ces.ncsu.edu/depts/hort/consumer/masgar/ or call the North Carolina Cooperative Extension center in your county (for contact information, see http://www.ces.ncsu.edu/depts/hort/consumer/masgar/county.html).
MEDIA CONTACT: Dr. Lucy Bradley, assistant professor and Extension specialist, 919-513-2001 or firstname.lastname@example.org