The following information contains facts that will help you understand the Master Gardener Program as well as the role and responsibilities of a volunteer Master Gardener. It will also give you insight into the University of Florida Extension, how it functions and how Master Gardeners should operate as a part of the Extension Service.
The rapid urban growth in many areas of the United States coupled with increased interest in the environment and home gardening has prompted ever-increasing numbers of homeowner questions to County Extension Service agents. Palm Beach County is unique in that it marks the beginning of the subtropics and the end of the temperate zone, which makes landscaping and gardening a challenge to newcomers from northern areas of the county. As a result, new homeowners in the area have many questions about how to get started in their new landscapes. Many of these questions are seasonal in nature and are easily answered assuming one has horticultural training.
In 1972, an innovative Extension Service agent in the state of Washington reasoned that well-trained volunteers could respond everyday homeowner questions, freeing him and his colleagues for more technical and difficult problems. Volunteers, such as Extension Homemakers and 4-H leaders, had always been a part of the Extension Service but never in the area of residential horticulture. The Extension Agent selected, trained and certified volunteers as Master Gardeners. The Master Gardener Volunteers soon succeeded in meeting his desired objectives; in fact they exceeded his expectations.
Since that time, the Master Gardener Volunteer Program has grown and is now active in more than 45 states. Florida's program began in 1979 where it has been a tremendous success and is now active in more than 45 Florida counties. The University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (IFAS) and cooperating county governments sponsors the Florida Master Gardener Volunteer Program. The Palm Beach County Master Gardener Volunteer Program began in 1982 and currently has over 100 active Master Gardeners.
What is the Extension Service? For a more complete understanding of this unique organization, we must go back to 1862 when the U.S. Congress passed the Morrill Act. This act established colleges in each state to be financed through grants of land from the Federal government. They became known as "Land Grant Colleges," a name that persists today. These colleges were established to emphasize teaching practical subjects such as agriculture and home economics. The 1887 Hatch Act provided for experimental stations to conduct agricultural research for Land Grant colleges.
In 1914, the Smith-Lever Act created the Extension Service as a means of disseminating the practical knowledge gained through agricultural research. The University of Florida at Gainesville is Florida's Land Grant College. The Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (IFAS) is that part of the University which has the responsibility for the Extension Service.
The term "cooperative" refers to the method by which extension services are funded. In Florida, three cooperating tax sources provide funds: The United States Department of Agriculture; the State of Florida through legislative appropriations; and the counties through appropriations from the county governments.
The word "cooperative" also implies a sharing of information generated through sound research programs at the Federal and State levels. The term "extension" defines this organization's purpose to extend the information generated at the State and Federal level to people at the county level in the form of a "service". The Extension Service is an informal educational organization that provides information in three main areas: Agriculture, Family and Consumer Sciences, and 4-H Youth Program. Community Development, Marine Biology, and Energy are associated programs.
The motto and goal of the Extension Service is "Helping People Help Themselves." Thus, you can see how well the volunteer Master Gardener concept fits into the ultimate objectives and goals of the Extension Service.
Another component of the Palm Beach County Extension Service is the Mounts Botanical Garden. The garden was established to foster appreciation of plants and their many benefits. Marvin "Red" Mounts, then the county extension agent began initial plantings in 1954. Since that time, various groups and individuals have shared in providing for the well being of this precious resource. Through the years, plant societies have supported the construction and maintenance of specialty displays and collections. Garden clubs have donated their energy and finances to help enhance the Garden. The Friends of the Mounts Botanical Garden, a nonprofit 501 (c) (3) organization, was established for the sole purpose of supporting the garden's many activities.
The Garden's 14 acres features tropical and subtropical plants from six continents with well over 2,000 species of plants to observe and study. Eighteen major plant collections reflect the tremendous horticultural opportunities provided by Palm Beach County's unique growing environment.
In Palm Beach County, the Master Gardener Volunteer Program began in 1982 and continues to provide training sessions to qualify candidates as Master Gardeners.
Selection to become a candidate for the Master Gardener Volunteer Training Program is not predicated on prior training, education, knowledge or experience. Neither do age, race, sex, nor physical disability dictate selection.
A sincere desire to help others, a desire to learn, and a personal commitment to volunteer service are the major selection criteria involved. Gardening experience and knowledge are always helpful but are by no means a requirement for the Master Gardener Volunteer Training Program.
Due to the practical, hands-on nature of the program, class size is limited to a maximum of 35. However, if there are not 35 qualified applicants, classes may be smaller. A pool of less than 35 applicants does not guarantee admission to all applicants. Applicants will be interviewed by the Extension Agent and/or experienced Master Gardeners.
The Master Gardener Volunteer Training Program is demanding and intensive. Formal classroom work constitutes more than fifty percent of the 100-hour training period. Subjects include (but are not limited to) basic botany, vegetables, entomology, palms, turf grasses, use of (and alternatives to) pesticides, tropical fruit, ornamentals, diseases, and other related topics. All information is based on the knowledge and research provided by the University of Florida.
Each of the fifteen weekly sessions lasts a minimum of seven hours. A portion of most sessions is practical, hands-on activity related to the theory presented. Each trainee is provided Master Gardener notebooks containing extensive information from the University of Florida. These materials are updated frequently so that Master Gardeners always have access to the most current recommendations approved by the University of Florida.
Master Gardeners deal only with homeowner-type questions. The Extension Service Agents themselves respond to all commercial/professional growers' problems.
Each trainee is assigned one mentor who will provide support and advise throughout the training period. Trainees are required to complete twelve volunteer internship hours prior to completing the Master Gardener Course. Mentors will assist trainees in identifying internship opportunities. Internships may include working in the Mounts Botanical Garden, assisting in administrative tasks, participating in plant clinics, and others. All trainees are required to spend four of the ten volunteer internship hours working the Master Gardener Hotline.
Upon completion of the 100-hour training period, all Master Gardener trainees are required to satisfactorily pass a comprehensive examination on the materials covered. Only then can trainees become certified and are awarded the title of Master Gardener.
Most Master Gardener volunteer opportunities center around the Extension Service offices in West Palm Beach and Delray Beach. Master Gardener Volunteer Trainees must spend a minimum of four internship hours in the Master Gardener Hotline room. This period is a continuation of the training as the new Master Gardener Volunteers become familiar with the office, its personnel and facilities. Also, this provides an opportunity for Extension Service Agents to become familiar with their new volunteers. The remaining 8 internship hours may be spent in a wide variety of activities that are related to some aspect of gardening and contribute to community education and service. Many Master Gardeners continue their close association with the office by answering telephones on a regular basis, becoming a Client Service Coordinator, or developing presentations for garden clubs and other civic associations. Others choose to work in the bedding plant trials or other aspects of the Mounts Botanical Garden. Visit the Position Descriptions page for more information.
As the Master Gardeners assist the Extension Service Agents and staff, they are in effect "extending the Extension Service". As such, they provide advice and recommendations that have been well documented as a result of experimentation and testing and are approved by the University of Florida.
Other activities include, but are not limited to, developing and maintaining databases and websites, managing Master Gardener resources, plant clinics conducted throughout the county, manning information booths at fairs and flower shows, giving presentations at garden clubs and working with youth groups (4-H and school children), just to name a few. There is something for every gardening skill level. Many Master Gardeners far surpass the mandatory 60 Volunteer work hours, with some exceeding several hundred hours in a year.
Training never ceases for the certified and working Master Gardener. Master Gardeners attend monthly educational meetings, visit local gardens, nurseries, parks and similar facilities, or participate in the Advanced Master Gardener classes to further their horticultural knowledge. Specialized knowledge is gained to better enable the Master Gardener to give expert advice. Monthly meetings are also used for planning, information exchange, updates and status reports on the program.
Once a year, IFAS conducts "postgraduate" Master Gardener training at the University of Florida in Gainesville. This voluntary, two-day session acquaints Master Gardeners with the university's laboratories and diagnostic facilities, and Extension Specialists present the latest horticultural research and technical information, which Master Gardener Volunteers can use when educating the public.
Individuals who are not acting on behalf of the Florida Extension Service are strongly urged to make every effort to minimize the appearance of being on duty before making any recommendations in the area of horticulture. Speaking "off the record" is your right; however, make sure everyone knows you are speaking for yourself and not the Extension Service.
A Master Gardener is certified by:
An inactive Master Gardener is one who fails to complete 35 volunteer work hours and 10 hours of horticultural training in a calendar year. The following policies apply:
Volunteer work hours are hours that count directly towards Master Gardener certification. The jobs/positions listed in this manual count as core volunteer hours. Other core hour opportunities may exist, but must have prior approval by the Master Gardener Coordinator.
Education hours (CEUs) are earned by attending Master Gardener Meetings, workshops, Friends workshops, field trips, plant society lectures, and others.
Master Gardeners are responsible for completing the monthly volunteer hours worksheet . Worksheets are turned into the Master Gardener office.