The Alabama Master Gardener Program is an instructional program. It is designed to train volunteers in the subjects of horticulture, entomology, plant pathology and soils. The Master Gardener program was created to increase the availability of home horticultural information through qualified volunteers, and to improve community life with community projects.
To understand the depth of the program, Kerry Smith, an Alabama Extension Outreach Administrator, offers her insight and expertise on the Master Gardener Helpline. “The program is used to expand the outreach mission of Extension. It is an example of partnership between the land-grant universities, Auburn University, Alabama A&M and motivated volunteers interested in educating their communities,” said Smith.
Alabama Cooperative Extension System offices consistently receive calls concerning home grounds. Master Gardeners work in partnership with county and regional Extension agents to answer all requests. Master Gardener volunteer programs have been implemented all over the United States and in four Canadian provinces.
“The helpline has been in existence since 2006, as a statewide effort,” added Smith. “We’ve had more than 50,000 calls to the helpline statewide, and if we were to estimate separate county efforts prior to 2006, this number would probably double.”
To become a certified Master Gardener, Interns participate in a minimum of 50 hours of Extension training and 50 hours of initial volunteer service. Every volunteer contributes to the success of the program, by providing Extension outreach to the public. These Master Gardener volunteers are ACES partners, community educators, advisors and helpers. They offer the community reliable gardening information and educational opportunities. Volunteers help in the county office or they may provide an educational program for a civic group.
“Roughly 1,7oo volunteers reported hours last year,” said Smith. All volunteer service must be approved by the local Master Gardener Program Coordinator.
The Alabama Master Gardener Program is based on the idea of shared ownership. Extension staff and volunteers both share ideas, visions, dreams and responsibilities for the program. Volunteers have the opportunity to work with other Extension programs, federal agencies, state agencies, county agencies, local schools and organizations. All Master Gardeners represent Extension as educational resources for their communities. Their overall mission is to approve the quality of life where they volunteer.