On Becoming an Extension Master Gardener…


By Connie Schultz, Extension Master Gardener/Composter, Cornell Extension Class of ’95, now gardening and volunteering in Johnston County, North Carolina

Master Gardeners are like pollinators in their local communities

Rudbeckia pollinator

Rudbeckia pollinator

As we celebrate Volunteer Week, I’ve enjoyed all the forgoing posts.

I loved what Terry Straub said in his Well Educated Volunteer article, “They want to learn.” Oh, so true! Just as he suggests “Why not offer a certificate?” I love that idea! I got an advanced certificate myself from the Connecticut Extension. I loved his idea of sending MGs to an overnight conference – perhaps based on their volunteer hours. I especially liked it when he suggested focusing on “what’s new and different in your organization’s world.” Things are always changing and, as an MG, I like being on the cutting edge.

I loved what Mary-Jeam Grimes said about 34 MGs volunteering with over “56 different organizations”! Wow! MG’s multiply the contacts and impact that Extension can have in the community – like pollinators. I myself volunteer with 6 other garden related organizations.

My Master Gardener Story Continues to Unfold with Extension

So let me validate their observations with my own MG story. I’m a native of California from San Diego but, following my husband’s career, we’ve moved often and, in every place we’ve lived, I’ve been able to learn and connect through Extension. When we moved to northern California and I wanted to raise a vegetable garden for the first time, it was through Extension. When my boys got old enough for 4-H, we raised rabbits through the Extension 4-H program. When I began going to the Farmer’s Markets for what I didn’t grow myself, Extension was there too. When we moved to upstate New York near Owego, I was finally able to take the Master Gardener courses through the nearby Cornell Extension. Since they also offered the Master Composter courses, I took those too.

A community of impassioned gardeners/volunteers

Shortly after becoming a newly minted MG, I had the opportunity to attend a regional MG conference where I met many other MGs from surrounding states. I can still remember the way they introduced themselves saying “I’m so-and-so, Class of ’86” with such an air of pride and accomplishment. That’s when I realized how special it was to be a part of this body of impassioned gardener/volunteers – ready to go out and share a lifelong love of gardening and plants at a moment’s notice!

I have to admit that I’m an inveterate volunteer. I always have my hand up to do something but, even so, I think my opportunities to be connected to my fellow gardeners, instructed, and engaged in my community have always been the greatest through Extension. Let me give you some examples. When I first became a Master Gardener and Composter in 1995, I had some of the same assignments that most new MGs get: answering phones and helping maintain Extension grounds or gardens. I also got some assignments off-site like helping a senior housing project set up a compost site. I helped an existing group of MGs maintain a bulb planting under a city welcome sign. I manned a table on vermicomposting at an Earth Day program put on by Soil & Water Conservation – all great fun experiences.

New learning opportunities unfold as I grow

Sago Palm frond

Sago Palm frond

As my Master Gardener avocation unfolded, the requests for assistance became more interesting and complex. I helped a town plan a butterfly garden for their town square. I became involved in a highway wildflower project with the Tioga County Tourism department. With some other avid gardeners, I started work on a town beautification contest for MailBox Gardens. Then we graduated to a county-wide garden contest and tour. The first year, we barely had 10 garden entries but the second year we had over 30! I’ve never had as much fun as I did viewing and judging those home gardens, so creatively designed and lovingly tended.

In Utah where Extension is housed at Utah State University, I had the opportunity to act as a resource or consultant to the USU Student Gardens, giving classes to the beginning gardeners along with some practical hands-on help. When we moved to Connecticut I got my Advanced MG in Sustainable Gardening and volunteered at the Auer Farm educational center. Here in North Carolina, I’ve done most of my volunteering at community gardens (my current passion), teaching people how to grow their own vegetables. My first blog was about how important the contribution of MGs can be with over 46 million people now on food stamps.

Sunflower disk

Sunflower disk

The thrill of discovery keeps me blooming

I loved what Gail Langellotto said in her Open Love Letter about EMGs seeing “the natural world as dynamic and diverse” and sharing that thrill of discovery and awe with children and adults alike.” That’s what I like best about gardening – you can never “know it all.” Every time I step out the door, there’s some new discovery waiting!

For me, there was an Extension every place we moved where I met new friends, learned new things, and had new opportunities to engage in the world around me. My newest opportunity has been joining the eXtension Master Gardener Social Media project, where I’ve begun to learn about “social media” and engaging with other gardeners in a whole new way.  Extension keeps me blooming with new opportunities to share, connect and learn!

What is your story?

Why are you an Extension Master Gardener?

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5 Responses to “On Becoming an Extension Master Gardener…”

  1. Julee Jones says:

    Thank you for posting this. I just submitted my application to the Wake County Master Gardener’s. I am looking forward to learning new things and sharing my passion for gardening with others!

  2. Tammy says:

    I’ve been trying for 2 years to get anyone in 3 different counties to reply to an email about signing up for an mg class. I have the number but that’s not the point.

  3. Connie Schultz says:

    Julee, I hope it’s a life long adventure. Gardening is so rewarding! You’ll have to join our NC Extention Master Gardener Assoc. We’ve having a conference in Asheville next month. The link is: http://ncmgva.camp8.org/ I’m looking forward to meeting you sometime since you live nearby!

  4. Connie Schultz says:

    Tammy, that sounds so frustrating! I hope you haven’t given up! Hopefully you’ll be able to connect and sign-up before this winter, when classes usually start. What state are you in? When does your gardening season begin?

  5. What a shame we do not have “MG”s and a national scheme for volunteers here in the UK. We have so many youngsters and young adults alike who have never even seen a garden, grown as much as cress or experienced the joys of gardening. I think this is a great shame and a true reflection of the society we live in here in the UK.