The First Master Gardener Volunteers
In the early ’70s, two overworked Horticulture Extension Agents from Washington state came up with a bright idea. They would train volunteers in the art and science of horticulture to help them answer the flood of questions coming from their local communities. The program was originally not given much validity but with the persistence of the agents and a trial run in 1972, the program was officially launched in 1973 and the new trainees became known as Master Gardeners. The two agents must have hit onto something because the program swiftly grew and now is found in every state and four Canadian provinces. Florida Master Gardeners are presently found in 58 of Florida’s 67 counties since beginning their Master Gardener program in 1979. Highlands County has been training and utilizing Master Gardener Volunteers in the community since 1984. “Volunteer” has been added to the end of their title to stress their important role as volunteers for the UF/IFAS Cooperative Extension Service.
A local tradition
Since 1984, horticulture agents in Highlands County have been training and coordinating a Master Gardener Volunteer force. The highlight of their year is the “Let it Grow” Garden Festival and Plant Sale they have on the third Saturday in November. The money they raise allows them to offer scholarships to local students and fund other community projects. Monthly classes are offered to the public on the 2nd Saturday of each month. Another service they offer is a help desk at the Bert J Harris Ag Center at 4509 George Blvd. in Sebring from 9:30 am to 3:30 pm Monday through Friday. They assist Highlands County residents with plant and landscaping questions. For a nominal fee, they offer soil pH testing; something critical to plant health and growth. They are often found at local festivals operating a mobile help desk where they promote the UF/IFAS Cooperative Extension Service and answer horticulture-related questions. Master Gardener Volunteers also help support community and school gardens throughout the county by supplying teachers with plants, seeds, fertilizers, and information. We encourage teachers to contact us so we can assist them with their school gardens. Also, Master Gardener Volunteers gather behind the Ag Center each week to grow plants in their nursery that they sell in the annual garden festival
Master Gardener Volunteer Class starts January 28th
Master Gardener Volunteer class starts on Saturday, January 28th, 2023, and then takes place once a week on Wednesdays until March 29th. The classes go from 9 am until 4 pm. Vegetable gardening, citrus growing, Florida-Friendly landscaping™, turf care, landscape design and maintenance, and plant Identification are some of the subjects taught in 3-hour segments by University of Florida Extension instructors and experts in each discipline. The class will visit Mounts Botanical Garden in Palm Beach County and participate in other local field trips. The cost of the training is $195. If you are interested in knowing more about the program or possibly becoming a Master Gardener Volunteer please call the UF/IFAS Extension office, Highlands County at 863 402-6540 or email me at email@example.com.
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