Master Gardeners help extend Extension’s reach

Master Gardener Mary Ann Kincaid, of Virginia Beach, helps to maintain the gardens at the Hampton Roads Agricultural Research and Extension Center.

Master Gardener Mary Ann Kincaid, of Virginia Beach, helps to maintain the gardens at the Hampton Roads Agricultural Research and Extension Center.

At more than 5,500 strong, Virginia’s Master Gardeners are making an impact in communities across the commonwealth.

Master Gardeners can usually be found in the middle of any community garden project. They share their knowledge with the public through plant clinics and educational programs. They develop and maintain demonstration gardens and provide garden tours. They also set up plant clinics at farmers markets and staff horticulture help desks at local Extension offices.

While not all of Virginia’s citizens actively seek help from Master Gardeners, everyone in the commonwealth can benefit from their efforts. Even a small group of people that learns and implements best management horticulture practices that help sustain the environment will improve the viability of all of Virginia.

“If a particular neighborhood pays attention to its lawn care practices, it’s going to have an impact on that particular watershed and eventually have a positive impact on the Chesapeake Bay. The entire commonwealth receives public value from those actions, even though it’s a small segment of people that is directly involved in the work,” said David Close, state Master Gardener coordinator.

Part of what makes the program so successful is the leadership and initiative displayed by the volunteers. Most Master Gardener projects have come from the vision of volunteers who saw a need in their community and found a way to fill it.

Lynn Brammer, a Master Gardener and co-president of the New River Valley Master Gardener Association, exemplifies this mindset. In 2010, Brammer initiated the Share the Spare program at the Blacksburg Farmers Market, a booth where patrons and vendors can donate their extra produce for the hungry and ask questions about horticulture. Another of Brammer’s favorite projects has been donating raised garden beds on wheels to a retirement home, which allows senior citizens to garden in their rooms.

“Senior citizens who are no longer in their own home with their own yard are excited to plant a geranium. It brings a light to their eyes as they remember what they used to do before being restricted by their circumstances,” said Brammer.

Every project we have done positively affects someone in the community. 

— Lynn Brammer

Master Gardeners have also established gardens at juvenile detention centers, giving those youth something positive and productive to focus on, and at libraries and museums.

To become a Master Gardener, individuals must complete a minimum of 50 hours of training and conduct at least 50 hours of community service in the first year after training. After that, they must complete a minimum of eight recertification hours and 20 community service hours annually. According to Close, the volunteers are strongly motivated by their love for gardening, the environment, and their communities.

“There is intrinsic value in what they do, and I think that’s the motivating factor behind what keeps most of these volunteers engaged. Most of these folks are also very passionate about the communities in which they live, so this is one way for them to give back to their community and to Virginia Cooperative Extension as an overarching system,” said Close.

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