When the course wraps up in mid-February, the University of Minnesota Extension Master Gardener class of 2012 will be the 35th in the volunteer program's history. This year's cohort includes 178 people from 42 counties plus the Fond du Lac tribal nation.
This class will join a force of more than 2,200 Minnesotans who volunteer 131,000-plus hours and give $2.8 million worth of their time per year to benefit schools, community gardens, youth programs, the environment and more through a broad array of horticulture education activities.
Most stay in the program for at least 10 years, but at least three "charter members" from the first class in 1977 remain active. Julie Weisenhorn, state director for Extension's Master Gardener program and a retired Master Gardener, knows first-hand why they do it.
"Master Gardeners want to give back to their community and they are interested in horticulture," she says. "They also value lifelong learning and want to have a meaningful connection to the University of Minnesota."
The core course is required for these aspiring Master Gardeners—and it's also intense. In addition to background on Extension and the program, they learn about the most up-to-date University research in 14 topics ranging from soils and botany to lawn care, and from plant diseases to insects.
The classes are taught by Extension educators, scientists and University professors. They are offered both face-to-face and online, and many people choose to take them as a hybrid of the two models.
After completing the core course, volunteers spend one year and at least 50 hours as Master Gardener interns. After the internship year, they must contribute a minimum of 25 hours of volunteer work each year. There is also an annual continuing education requirement for volunteers.
Some choose to help children plant school gardens, teach neighbors how to grow healthy foods or assist with U research. "Master Gardeners will always involve others in the community with the decision-making, and strive to educate others through the experience," says Weisenhorn. "That impact is so important."
What else should the graduating Master Gardener class of 2012 expect from its first years in the program? Volunteers should expect to work hard. "Even in a community garden, somebody is going to have to shovel the compost," says Weisenhorn.
But Master Gardeners aren't bothered by a little work. "They can teach people about the benefits and practices of composting at the same time they are shoveling it," she says. "The passion to dig in and make a difference--that's what keeps them going."
For more information on Extension's Master Gardener program, including how to become a Master Gardener volunteer, visit www.extension.umn.edu/master-gardener.
University of Minnesota Extension is a 100-year-old partnership between the university and federal, state and county governments to provide scientific knowledge and expertise to the public. Through Extension, the University of Minnesota "extends" its resources to address critical public issues in priority areas, including food and agriculture, communities, environment, youth and families. For more information, visit www.extension.umn.edu.
Media Contact: Catherine Dehdashti, U of M Extension, (612) 625-0237, firstname.lastname@example.org