GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Wendy Wilber believes Florida’s immensely popular Florida Master Gardener Program can be the best in the country.
The veteran UF/IFAS Extension Alachua County environmental horticulture agent and master gardener coordinator has been named as the statewide master gardener coordinator for the University of Florida’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences.
Wilber, who has worked as a county master gardener coordinator for 15 years, said in her cover letter for the position that her experience working with volunteers made her an ideal candidate. She coordinates about 140 volunteers.
Michael Dukes, a professor in the UF/IFAS Department of Agricultural and Biological Engineering and director of the UF/IFAS Center for Landscape Conservation and Ecology, announced Wilber’s appointment. The center promotes the protection and preservation of Florida’s natural resources and quality of life through responsible landscape management.
Wilber starts her new position April 10.
“This position is important to the Center for Landscape Conservation and Ecology as well as to IFAS,” Dukes said. “With 4,000 volunteers, it’s a great way to disseminate scientific-based information. We are excited about bringing Wendy on board to lead this program.”
The Florida Master Gardener Program started in 1979, when state Extension agents chose to use a “learn and return” model, based on the original Master Gardener program developed at Washington State University in 1973.
In Florida, about 4,000 master gardeners volunteer in counties that participate in a master gardener program. Last year, master gardeners volunteered 423,000 hours. They work with the master gardener coordinators, typically the horticulture Extension agent in their county. Interested participants go through at least 50 hours of training sponsored by UF/IFAS and county Extension offices. After the training, new master gardeners must serve at least 75 volunteer hours within the first year of certification and 35 hours in subsequent years.
Wilber is brimming with enthusiasm over her new appointment.
“The state of Florida master gardener program is a great program,” she said. “Under my leadership, my utilization of technology and my commitment to strengthening the education of our coordinators and volunteers, the program can be the best in the country.”
For the past 14 years, Wilber has organized and cohosted an advanced master gardener training program between Columbia and Alachua counties. In the past four years, this training has become a formal regional training for the Northeast Extension district. In 2014, more than 210 master gardeners from the region attended the advance training conference in Alachua County, and 95 percent gave the training the top rating.
Maintaining communication, with volunteers and master gardener coordinators — via platforms such as newsletters, webinars and social media — is paramount for the program’s continued success, Wilber said. Retaining volunteers is also critical.
“Retention rates improve when you match volunteers with the right skills to the right projects and provide the needed support along the way,” Wilber said.
Dukes said UF/IFAS hopes to hire several more state specialized agents.
In addition to her county master gardener work, Wilber has created and executed programs including Florida Friendly Landscaping, sustainable home food production, school gardens and 4-H youth.
Wilber earned a bachelor’s degree in biology at Stetson University in 1987 and a master’s in horticultural sciences from UF in 2005.
By: Brad Buck, 352-294-3303, email@example.com
Sources: Wendy Wilber, 352-955-2402, firstname.lastname@example.org
Michael Dukes, 352-392-1864, ext. 205, email@example.com