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Master Gardener Program


The  rapid urban growth in many areas of the United States coupled with increased  interest in the environment and home gardening have prompted every-increasing  numbers of homeowners questions to County extension Service agents.   Many of these questions are seasonal in nature and are relatively easily  answered assuming that one has horticultural training.

In 1972,  an innovate Extension Service Agent in the State of Washington reasoned that  well trained volunteers could respond to many of the 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 homeowner horticulture.   The Extension Agent selected, trained and certified volunteers as Master  Gardeners.  They soon succeeded in  meeting his desired objectives – in fact they exceeded his expectations.   And so it was the Master Gardener Program began.

Since  that time, the Master Gardener program has grown and is now active in 45 states.   Florida’s began in 1979.  The  program has been a tremendous success and is now active in over half of  Florida’s counties.  The Florida Master Gardener Program is sponsored by the  University of Florida’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (IFAS) of  which the Cooperative Extension Service is a part.

Just what  is the Cooperative 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 which 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 which persists  today.  These colleges would  emphasize teaching practical subjects such as agriculture and home economics.   The 1887 Hatch Act provided for experimental stations at Land Grant  Colleges to conduct research for those colleges’ agricultural problems.

Then in  1914 the Smith-Lever Act created the Extension Service as a part of these  colleges 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 responsibility for the Cooperative Extension Service.

The term  “cooperative” refers to the method by which extension services are funded.   In Florida, three cooperative tax sources provide funds: The U.S.  Department of Agriculture, the State through legislative appropriations and the  counties through appropriations by 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 Cooperative Extension Service is an informal educational organization  which provides information in three main areas; Agriculture, Home Economics, and  4-H Youth.  Community Development,  Marine Biology, and Energy are Associated programs.

The  motto and goal of the Cooperative 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.

Walton County Master Gardener Program

Walton  County’s Master Gardener Program began in 1998 with 19 Master Gardeners.

Selection  to become a candidate for the Florida Master Gardener Training Program is not  based on prior training, education, knowledge or experience.   Neither do age, race, sex or physical handicap dictate selection.

A  SINCERE DESIRE TO HELP OTHERS, A DESIRE TO LEAR, AND A PERSONAL COMMITMENT TO  VOLUNTEER SERVICE ARE THE MAJOR SELECTION CRITERIA INVOLVED.  Gardening experience and knowledge are always helpful but  they are by no means a requirement for selection for the Master Gardener  Training Program.

Master Gardener Training

The Master Gardener  Training Program is demanding and intensive.   Formal classroom work constitutes the major part of the 50 plus hours of  training.  Subjects include basic  botany, soils, fertilizers, vegetables, entomology, fruit, turf-grasses, use of  (and alternatives to) chemicals, house plants, ornamentals, diseases and related  topics.  All information is based on  the knowledge and research of the University of Florida.

Each  weekly session is a minimum of four hours, which may include a practical,  hands-on activity related to the theory just presented.   Most sessions conclude with the “most frequently asked questions”  relating to the subject matter.  These  are the questions most commonly asked by homeowners and serve to prepare the  Master Gardener for the day when that first homeowner question must be correctly  answered.

Each  trainee is also provided, at a minimal charge, Master Gardener manuals  containing extension reference materials from the University of Florida.   These materials are updated frequently so that Master Gardeners always  provide the most current recommendations approved by the University at  Gainesville.

Master  Gardeners deal only with homeowner-type questions.  The Extension Service Agents themselves respond to all  commercial/professional growers’ problems.

On  completion of the 50 hour training period, all Master Gardener trainees are  required to satisfactorily pass a comprehensive examination on the materials  covered.  Only then can the trainees  be certified and be awarded the title of Master Gardener.

Once certified, Master  Gardeners must abide by a set of policies set out by the University of Florida  and IFAS.  Those “Policies  Regarding Florida Master Gardeners” are attached and should be carefully  studied.

Master Gardener Activities

Most  Master Gardener activities center around the Extension Service office in  DeFuniak Springs.  After  successfully completing the training program, Master Gardeners return their 75  hours of volunteer service by answering home horticulture questions at the  Walton county Extension Office.  This  includes answering questions form the public over the phone and one-on-one.   Master Gardeners  may also help with clerical duties associated with the Master Gardener Program.   Other activities include, but are not limited to, working at plant  clinics, manning information booths, giving presentations at garden clubs, and  working with youth groups such as 4-H.

As Master  Gardeners assist the Extension Service Agent and staff, they are in effect  “extending the Extension Service.”  As  such, they provide advice and recommendations which have been well documented as  a result of experimentation and testing and are approved by the University of  Florida.

Training  never ceases for the certified and working Master Gardener.   Throughout the year, Master Gardeners participate in monthly meetings.   Specialized knowledge is gained to better enable the Master Gardener to  give expert advice.  These monthly  meetings are also used for planning and status reports on various projects and  information exchange and updates.

Once a  year IFAS conducts “post-graduate” Master Gardener training at the  University of Florida in Gainesville.  This  voluntary two-day session serves to offer Master Gardeners continued education  with regard to some topics which may not be covered in the local training as  well as to offer a time for Master Gardeners form throughout the state to share  information and to receive recognition for the jobs they perform.   The program is presented by State Extension Specialists and Agents who  strive to bring all Master Gardeners into “sync” with the latest  horticultural developments and provide a look into the future of horticultural  research.


This is  the Master Gardener Program in words – a very poor substitute for the real  thing.  Words cannot describe the  sense of accomplishment one feels in helping  someone be a better gardener.  If  you enjoy working with people and enjoy sharing information, have time to  volunteer and want to learn more about horticulture, you may be interested in  the Florida Master Gardener Program.

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