For Food WIse Staff

Food WIse Educators play very important roles

What you can bring to the program:

  • Networking Connections
  • Planning Educational Sessions
  • Nutrition Education
  • Safe Produce Handling
  • Nutritious Recipes
  • List of area Food Banks and Pantries

Master Gardener Volunteers as collaborative partners

What you can bring to the program:

  • Networking Connections
  • Planning Education
  • Cultivating Education
  • Maintenance Education
  • Troubleshooting
  • Specialized Education

Introduction to the Master Gardener Program


Master Gardener Program Introduction

If you work in a county Extension office, you have more than likely met a Master Gardener Volunteer (MGV) or two, whether they are there to help answer questions, coming or going to a project planning meeting, or participating in continuing education of some form.  I hope to use this time to better explain who these individuals are and their role within our extension family

Brief History

The Master Gardener Program began nationally in the mid-1970s as a way to help agriculture educators respond to the increasing number of home horticulture questions coming into the office.  During this period there was an increasing number of individuals moving into the suburbs who wanted to garden, and at the same time there was a farm crisis, where farmers were losing their livelihoods.  When you talk to some of our ag agents who were around then, they’ll tell you stories on how tough it was to be on the phone one minute with a farm family losing it all and then trying to answer a question about a tomato the next minute from a new homeowner trying to start a garden.  It was quite the dichotomy of questions coming in.

How it fits into Extension

The Master Gardener Program has always been about training individuals interested in gardening to assist extension staff in sharing unbiased, research based information pertaining to horticulture and the environment.  It started off primarily by having master gardener volunteers answering questions.  Over the years their roles have expanded to gardening projects in the communities we live and work.  

The Master Gardener Program is primarily facilitated by your county horticulture or agriculture agent or educator, but that’s not the case in every county.  There’s examples of staff from all our program areas playing a role in the program– so don’t think of this as just an Ag program!  With a little thought and planning, MGVs can probably help us address many of our community issues.


I can’t think of two Extension programs that are more different than the FoodWIse program and the Master Gardener Program in structure and oversight.  The Master Gardener Program is extremely grassroots oriented in its origin and that is a legacy we still see today.  Many of the county educators decide how to train their volunteers and how to direct the volunteers towards local projects.  There’s very few restrictions on the program, which can give these volunteers great flexibility in what they can do, but it also means it can feel ambiguous and unclear at times.


Many Master Gardener Volunteers have commented to me over the years on how we focus our study on plants, but it’s really about working with the people.  When you look at the breadth of projects MGVs participate in, you find them working with youth, elders, people with disabilities, the incarcerated and many more!  We’re currently incorporating workshops to help Master Gardeners Volunteers better engage audiences in gardening.  When recruiting MGVs to participate, I strongly recommend being clear on who your target audience is, and find ways to support the volunteers in interacting with them.  Unless the volunteer has their own professional or personal experiences to pull from, it’s likely they may need to learn how to instruct or interact with special audiences.  


Master Gardener Volunteers are trained to answer most gardening questions, and have access to a wealth of gardening content to help you figure out how to grow things and problem solve in the garden.  They have access to some gardening curriculum, such as Buds and Sprouts, but more importantly they are bringing their personal knowledge of gardening to help you deliver community gardening programming.


Good volunteer development practices includes creating different opportunities for volunteers to be involved at different levels.  I recommend putting together a position description of the gardening project to help recruit volunteers.  Be sure to include the amount of time required, knowledge needed, and other pertinent information about the project.  I would also find ways to have options involving low, medium and high levels of engagement.

For example:

    • Low: Some volunteers need flexibility due to family and work commitments.  And at the end of the day they may only want to pull weeds or do watering, which are important parts in any gardening program!  Creating flexible volunteers opportunities for these independent gardens finds them their niche, and helps take care of the gardening maintenance so others can devote time to educational purposes.
    • Medium: Master Gardener Volunteers can be awesome mentors for new gardeners.  Having informal interactions which take advantage of educational moments can be an excellent and low-pressure way to help our audience engage in gardening.  Find ways for MGVs to simply garden alongside your audience and to help successfully engage everyone is authentic gardening endeavors.
    • High: Have curriculum to deliver during a set program schedule?  Recruit enthusiastic volunteers to help you deliver it.  Some volunteers want to be in the thick of it, so consider having garden opportunities where they can be at your side helping you teach.

Getting Started

    • For the GardenWIse program, our strategy is for you, the FoodWIse Program, to determine what your needs are and community garden programs you can support– and then approach your local MGVs to participate.  It’s our hope that with the templates and examples provided, you can successfully recruit and support MGVs to assist with your FoodWIse instruction.