Florida celebrates 45 years of Master Gardener Volunteer program

University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (UF/IFAS) Extension offices will show appreciation next week for the more than 3,300 residents serving as Master Gardener Volunteers throughout the state.

Master Gardener Volunteers
Master Gardener Volunteers teaching and learning at the Alachua County Extension Office teaching demonstration gardens in October. Photo by Tyler Jones, UF/IFAS

During Master Gardener Volunteer Week — March 17-23 — UF/IFAS Extension agents plan to recognize the hard work of their volunteers through a social media campaign and via a newsletter, said Wendy Wilber, statewide coordinator for the Florida Master Gardener Volunteer program.

Extension agents, program managers and volunteers will officially celebrate the 45th anniversary of the Florida program during a conference in October. Last year marked the 50th anniversary of the national Master Gardener Volunteer programs, the first of which began in Washington state.

Last year, 3,359 Master Gardener Volunteers in 58 Florida counties donated 339,600 hours of their time, equivalent to a monetary value of approximately $10 million. During those hours, they shared their knowledge with their communities by running plant clinics, demonstrating best landscaping practices, providing educational opportunities and helping to diagnose and solve problems through the program’s help desks.

“They are like detectives,” Wilber said. “They ask a lot of leading questions to get so much information, and then they provide an answer and hopefully a solution to the problem.”

Laynie Yip
Master Gardener Volunteer Laynie Yip of Orlando directs traffic at the UF/IFAS Orange County Extension Office annual plant sale. Courtesy of Laynie Yip

Training to become a certified Master Gardener Volunteer involves about 70 hours of collegiate-level horticulture education on topics including botany, plant science, entomology, plant pathology, soils, fertilization, composting, vegetable gardening, fruit growing, trees, shrubs and perennials. Certification is earned by donating 75 hours of time after you take those courses. Participants volunteer at least 35 hours and undertake at least 10 hours of continuing education each year.

“So, learning never ends,” Wilber said. “We have to make sure they stay up on all the latest, such as the newest insects and newest diseases of different plants. Our vision is for them to be the most trusted source of horticulture information in Florida.”

Though volunteer demographics skew toward retired females aged 55 and older, an increase in remote and flexible work schedules has helped attract a younger cohort pursuing certification. Among them is Laynie Yip of Orlando.

Yip, 43, works full time and is the mother of two teenagers. But she works remotely, and her work schedule is flexible. She joined the Master Gardener Volunteer program in 2022 and graduated in 2023.

“The most rewarding part is making new garden friends who share the same passions related to the joy of gardening and plants,” Yip said.

To join the Master Gardener Volunteer program, contact your local UF/IFAS extension office.

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Megan Winslow
Posted: March 14, 2024

Category: Agriculture, Community Volunteers, Farm Management, Fruits & Vegetables, Horticulture, Professional Development, UF/IFAS, UF/IFAS, UF/IFAS Extension
Tags: Extension, Gardening, IFAS, Institute Of Food And Agricultural Sciences, Laynie Yip, Master Gardener Volunteer, Megan Winslow, MGV, UF, University Of Florida, Volunteer, Volunteering, Wendy Wilber

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