The University of Florida Master Gardener Volunteer program will celebrate 40 years of service to the state of Florida at their biennial conference next week from October 20 to 23 in Lake Buena Vista.
The UF/IFAS Extension Master Gardener Volunteers’ mission is to deliver unbiased, research-based information from UF to the public; a mission they have delivered on for 40 years.
“For four decades, Master Gardener Volunteers have been the most trusted resource for horticulture information to Florida residents,” Wendy Wilber, UF/IFAS Extension Master Gardener Volunteer state coordinator said. “Master Gardener Volunteer programs have amazing successes and touch citizens from Pensacola to Key West.”
In 2018, Florida Master Gardener Volunteers delivered over 400,000 hours of service to Florida residents amounting to an $8.1 million economic impact. The program, active in 60 of Florida’s counties, reaches over 500,000 Florida citizens each year.
“The Master Gardener Volunteer program is a critical aspect of UF/IFAS Extension,” Nick Place, UF/IFAS Extension dean and director said. “Through our program, hundreds of volunteers have deepened their knowledge and skills and thousands more have received help and advice over the 40 years of this program. Ultimately this results in tremendous impacts for the state. I’m so proud to be part of this great program.”
Master Gardener Volunteers provide educational outreach to citizens across the state, including special projects within local communities. These projects range from developing community gardens in rural, food insecure areas to citizen education on Florida-Friendly Landscaping™ topics.
“There are so many success stories, it is difficult to share just one,” Wilber said.
In Orange County, the Master Gardener Volunteers and Nemours Children Hospital partnered with Head Start to teach children about gardening and nutrition through a hands-on school garden program. Head Start, a federally funded program was designed to promote school readiness to low-income families. The program is in its fourth year and has reached over 1,000 children in 2019. Nineteen out of 22 Head Start locations in Orange County have educational gardens and the volunteers hope to reach all 22 sites this year.
“Forming partnerships with other organizations to do amazing things within Florida communities is what the Master Gardener Volunteer program is all about,” Wilber said.
The state conference provides continuing education for Florida Master
Volunteers and gives participants an opportunity to learn new trends and concepts within the horticulture industry while connecting with other volunteers across the state.
“The volunteers have similar experiences across the state, but rarely get a chance to network with one another,” Wilber said. “This conference is great for them to share ideas and experiences while learning something fun and new that they can take back to their local communities and teach others.”
Pre-conference tours include a visit to Island Grove winery, Disney’s horticulture department and other Orlando stops. Participants will participate in experiential workshops with topics ranging from cooking with Florida-grown herbs to sustainable chocolate production.
More information on the conference can be found here: conference.ifas.ufl.edu/gardener/.