Master gardeners

Published 4:18 pm Wednesday, October 31, 2018

The South Central Master Gardener Association celebrated eight new members this month. For those who are not familiar with the title, I will give a brief history and philosophy of the program, the education required and what the role of a master gardener is in the community.

In 1862 the Morrill Act was passed by congress, which provided for a university in every state that would educate citizens in agriculture and mechanical fields. Today we call them “land –grant universities.” Virginia State University and Virginia Tech are both land-grant universities. The Hatch Act was passed in 1887 and provided for research facilities that would supplement the effectiveness of the Land-grant universities. In 1914 Congress passed the Smith Lever Act which provided for the establishment of Cooperative Extension, which spread the benefits of the land-grant universities throughout the state. There are now Cooperative Extension (VCE) offices in every county of Virginia.

The Extension Master Gardener program was created by Cooperative Extension to meet a substantially large increase in requests from the community for unbiased, research based horticultural information. The first program began in the state of Washington in 1972. It has since spread to 50 states and Extension Master Gardeners are considered a vital part of the Cooperative Extension’s ability to provide citizens with up-to-date reliable knowledge on all things horticultural.

Extension Master Gardeners (EMG) are specially trained highly skilled volunteer educators. Virginia EMG work jointly (volunteering their time) with Virginia State University, Virginia Tech and the Virginia Cooperative Extension offices as education partners, they may also participate in research when applicable.

There are five levels of Extension Master Gardener status.

Trainee; acceptance into the program followed by extensive educational training, including but not limited to horticulture, botany, plant pathology, entomology, trees, soil and landscape design.

Intern; has completed initial training and has passed the final exam with a score of 70 percent or higher working on completion of the required 50 hours of volunteer service.

Extension Master Gardener; has completed all required educational training and volunteer internship and must meet the yearly required 28 hours of volunteer education and work, to remain an active Extension Master Gardener.

Advanced Extension Master Gardener; has received specialized advanced level training in addition to the completion of program requirements.

Emeritus Extension Master Gardener; has “retired” after one thousand hours of service due to reasons approved by the Extension Agent.

So, my preconceived notion of the “Master Gardener” as a mysterious plant genius, somewhat reclusive and most likely to be found in a garden of some sort at any time of the day or night has sure been proven wrong. I have learned they are quite the opposite. They are highly educated benevolent individuals continually volunteering their time to educate and improve the community through horticulture.

How fortunate South Central Virginia is to have gained eight additional Master Gardener Interns recently, every single one of them has my utmost admiration and respect.

Dawn Conrad can be reached at conrad.gardenmuse.