Have you ever considered becoming a Master Gardener, or have you heard the term but never know what it really meant? Well – let’s try to answer that question today!
Point of Note: Master Gardener programs from state to state have some varying instruction, and I think that only stands to reason, because each of us has our own climate, our own ecology, our own economy even, that dictates what is grown, why it’s grown, how it’s grown throughout our different regions, and because of that I think it stands to reason that different states are going to have different programs. So with that said, your experience locally may vary.
Here in the State of Mississippi we are provided with a total of 40 hours of classroom instructions which is mostly done virtually. It is a live class, the instructors who are professors (PhD doctors) throughout the university system, are on a video conference with us at local extension offices.
We go into a classroom at our local extension office, sit in front of a big screen TV that’s attached to video conferencing software, and we have a microphone and we watch a presentation, they open the microphones for questions and it’s all very interactive. There might be something to be said for that if you’re not the kind of person that can learn in that environment, but I think that for what it’s worth, it’s probably the best that can be done.
Here in my county there’s only five people taking the course. It doesn’t seem very prudent to have an instructor there for 40 hours for just five people, where, from what I can see, there’s dozens of people tuning in from around the state so they can get the same amount of instruction out to more people.
Prove You Learned
Once we have the 40 hours of instruction we have to take a test. Our test was open book. We got to use our course manual to take that test, but it is graded. The course manual is a three inch three ring binder full of information.
Now I will say, for fairness, that the majority of this document are printed PowerPoint slides with spaces to take notes while we’re in the classroom. It also has a good amount of printed publications put out by the university that are made public to people throughout the state, but are here for our quick reference. So, it’s a lot of information packed into a really big binder.
Presuming that you pass the test, you become what I’m going to term an Interim Master Gardener. I don’t think that’s the official term they use but I think it relays the concept pretty well. They give you a little temporary name badge that identifies the fact that you’ve been through the Master Gardener training, but that you still haven’t completed all of the requirements.
In order to fully complete the program, within one year of passing the test we have to complete 40 hours worth of volunteer service, and there’s a lot of different ways that we can provide that volunteer service, from one on one contact with somebody who is specifically asking a Master Gardener for information on how to deal with a problem or a question about how to design a certain area or issue on their property, to writing articles to attending events and several different things count toward the volunteer service.
Once you have completed that 40 hours, you become certified. You get an official name badge, and from that point on, within every year from that point, you have to complete 32 hours worth of service. Now of that 32 hours, 12 of those hours have to be continuing education units. We have to go through more training. And 20 of those hours have to be volunteer service.
What are Master Gardeners?
So what’s the whole point of this? Why do we go through the program? What does a Master Gardener volunteer actually accomplish?
Well, to put it in layman’s terms, and certainly not the wording that was given to us when we started the program, Master Gardeners are there to fill a gap and make it so that the university doesn’t have to come up with the funding to pay more employees at the local level.
We’re there to assist the local extension office with answering questions, completing projects and assisting home horticulturists with whatever they need. We’re not there to help the commercial growers. There’s other programs for that, but if you’re a home gardener, a home landscaper just trying to do something for your personal property, then we’re the people who make sure that your questions get answered, your concerns get addressed and, if it needs to be escalated up, we send it to tier 2 support and they’ll actually get the university doctors and professors to come over and help us assess or deal with the situation.
So, that’s what the program really is there for. It’s there to provide volunteers to the university so that the job can get done without having to invest monetarily in having more staff.
The Friendly Face of Gardening
What does it really accomplish? What I think really it accomplishes, I think what the Master Gardeners are really know for, is their community support. I think they’re known for being seen in the community gardens.
They’re known for being seen at the local events, so that the everyday gardener doesn’t have to pick up a phone and talk to somebody that may be a couple hundred miles away at a university to deal with the problem, but can talk to somebody who’s right there in the county that might even be able to come by and see an issue face to face and assist and give a helping hand. I think that’s what they’re known for and that’s the part that I really want to be a part of.
Lessons Within the Course
So what have I been learning? What sort of information am I walking away with? Well, I’m gonna save that for a different series of videos, but I want to say this right up front:
There were some concerns in my announcement video on exactly what’s going to be pushed on me. What’s gonna be required of me as a Master Gardener to put out to other people and generally the thought was, all you’re gonna be taught about is using petro-chemical fertilizers and sprays and you’re going to have to tell people to use these things and that’s just what comes with the title.
I have to say that I’ve been very impressed with the neutrality that’s being presented. Now, understand that word neutrality. It does not mean that it’s the other side of the fence. It means that we are straddling the fence. I’ve been very impressed that we’re learning about the organic and natural sides of things and being told how we can use those first and then all those other things are actually the fall back plan. They’re not the go-to plan. So, I’ll get down into the details about that. Yes, we’re learning about both of them, but I’m still pretty impressed that we’re learning about both. I think that’s a big step forward and a lot more than what some people were expecting that I would get out of this course.
In the meantime, please go down below in the comments section, if you’ve got a specific question for me to address, please leave it there and when we get to that particular topic in the course I’ll do my best to answer your question. I certainly have learned a lot so far and I know I’m gonna continue to learn a lot more as I go through this.
Playlist of Master Gardener Videos