When Ann Luther’s friend asked in 2008 if she wanted to take Master Gardener classes through the UF/IFAS Extension Escambia County office, she had no idea it would become one of her passions.
“I don’t know why, but I’d never heard of it,” Luther said. She had, to be fair, spent years moving from place to place as a military spouse, eventually retiring in Pensacola from a career as an elementary educator and becoming a part-time CPR instructor. Naturally, the teaching aspects of the Florida Master Gardener Volunteer program appealed to her. “I had always liked to garden, but I was never in one place long enough to put much in the ground,” she added.
After completing the course and becoming a UF/IFAS Extension Escambia County Master Gardener Volunteer in 2009, Luther vowed to make people aware of the program. Her involvement grew into many areas of the county’s organization throughout the years, including as a board member.
Growing knowledge throughout Florida
The Florida Master Gardener Volunteer program provides local communities statewide with University of Florida-trained volunteers, like Luther, who are passionate about sharing their gardening knowledge. But each program, coordinated through the local UF/IFAS Extension office, also relies upon fundraising to be able to offer those educational opportunities and outreach.
To reduce the fundraising burden for its future members, the Escambia County group set on a mission three years ago to establish an endowment fund. As 2021 closed, ahead of its five-year goal and despite almost two full years of COVID pandemic-related challenges, the fund reached its $30,000 target. This investment will generate over $1,000 each year for the group’s operations.
“We had a very active Master Gardener board at the time this effort started, and they wanted to find a way for future volunteers to spend less time fundraising and more time teaching,” said Beth Bolles, UF/IFAS Extension Escambia County horticulture agent and coordinator of the county’s program.
Escambia County’s volunteers help community members learn more about growing landscape and food plants successfully, sharing information at churches and public libraries, and through homeowners’ associations and garden clubs.
In a recent effort, Bolles shared, a group of Master Gardener Volunteers helped a local Native American tribe begin growing native plants with a significance to Native American culture. Luther said other projects focus on the military community and veterans’ groups; the volunteers include former military members, too.
‘It’s just my happy place’
“When we got this opportunity to ensure that the Master Gardener program continues after those of us in it now are no longer involved, we all thought that this was such an important opportunity to do something for this wonderful program,” said M.J. Ziemba, who’s been a Master Gardener Volunteer since 2018. “It’s not only wonderful for the people who are in the group; it’s wonderful for the whole community because we then take the information that we learn and help share it.”
Unlike Luther, Ziemba had learned of the Master Gardener program long before she became a volunteer. She thought of joining right then, sometime in the 1980s, but with four kids and a career in education, “I just didn’t have the time.”
“As soon as I retired in 2017, I signed up,” Ziemba said. “Working in the garden and being with my garden friends… it’s just my happy place.”
Securing continued services
Like other Florida Master Gardener Volunteer groups around the state, the Escambia County volunteers’ plant sales contribute some of their largest fundraising efforts each year.
In addition to the plant sales, though, Bolles said the group also got creative in trying to reach the endowment goal. They hosted a rummage sale, used planned speaking engagements to promote the fund and encourage donations, and created a set of educational postcards, with 100% of the proceeds going toward the endowment.
And although they’ve reached their initial goal, she added, “we know we’re still planning for the future, so we will continue to add to it.”
Read more about the Escambia County Master Gardeners Endowment at go.ufl.edu/mgvendowment. The fund will continue to accept donations as its volunteers maintain and grow their services to the community. Gator Nation Giving Day, on Feb. 17, marks a perfect occasion to support your favorite UF/IFAS Extension program.
More Gator Nation Giving Day
- UF/IFAS Extension Escambia County: givingday.ufl.edu/campaigns/escambia-county-extension
- Florida Master Gardener Legacy Endowment (statewide program): givingday.ufl.edu/campaigns/florida-master-gardener-legacy-endowment
- All UF/IFAS: givingday.ufl.edu/pages/uf-ifas