EMG White Paper – Program Activities

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Master Gardeners volunteering in the local community (photo credit:Mary Meyer).

EMGs work on many different community projects; most are educational events that focus on growing plants and local community needs. The respective state EMG programs can be contacted via the Websites of the land grant universities in each state. Many state EMG programs have well-developed Websites with gardening information, advice and contact information. The American Horticulture Society maintains a national website of the EMG programs: http://www.ahs.org/master_gardeners/index.htm.

In the developing days of the EMG program, volunteers were utilized to answer phone calls and to respond to hotlines. Although the hotlines are still as busy as ever, the EMGs’ role has expanded to proactive and community based projects such as setting up exhibits, writing news articles, educating in community gardens, Yards and Neighborhood environmental programs, control of invasive plants, public demonstration gardens, sensory gardens and other gardens and gardening techniques for the handicapped, community plantings, and teaching youth, elder and at risk audiences. Examples include the EMG program, ‘Garden Angels’, addresses community welfare through its work with the elderly and those with limited financial means. Food security, a community-national concern, is being addressed through ‘Plant a Row for the Hungry’ and through increasing yield of home gardens.

EMG projects can effectively meet community needs. In Nevada, with the ninth highest rate of incarceration in the nation, the need for corrections horticulture was identified by prison wardens and educational coordinators. Originally called the “Prison MG Program”, the training now includes Pesticide Applicator Certification to promote job readiness; the program has resulted in decreased levels of recidivism for class participants. With a similar program in Maine, the prison horticulture project has resulted in 25% reduction in pesticide use, 5 participants have been employed in horticulture after release. For each success there is a $35,000/year/person reduced cost for recidivism – these are strong impacts.

Inmates in Maryland not only learned horticultural skills from the EMG program to use in county maintenance, but participated in a “Gardening to be Drug Free” class to change their lifestyle. The EMG program has been introduced in prisons in South Carolina as a way of teaching marketable green-industry skills. Raising food by inmates in the EMG program in Hackensack, NJ saved $10,000 in addition to providing training to inmates for future employment.

EMGs know that gardening is therapeutic. Many want to teach gardening skills and share the joy of growing plants with those in hospitals and nursing homes. A 1990 nationwide survey determined that 374 Master Gardeners in 21 states were working in horticultural therapy activities including nursing homes, hospitals, rehabilitation centers, prisons, and other special service facilities. Many EMG projects can and do make a difference in the community and can have a long term, lasting effect on residents.

Since the program’s inception, EMGs have worked with youth and children. ‘Kids Can Grow’ is a comprehensive, integrated gardening and nutrition project that addresses the national priority for long term eating behavior modification to reduce youth-adult obesity. This project also enhances intergenerational understanding as Master Gardener volunteers mentor the young gardeners.

Horticulture is especially important to children and adolescents living in urban environments that have little contact with nature, and rarely see plants growing or a have the chance to grow their own food. Colorado EMGs teach “The Bug Show,” an urban IPM educational program for K-3 grades. EMGs are valued by traditional classroom teachers and often consulted for school garden projects. Children like gardening and respond very positively to gardening projects. Horticulture has also been the vehicle for EMGs to teach students additional subjects, including math, literature and social skills.

Gardening programs for juvenile offenders are more challenging and scarce than elementary school programs. The Green Brigade, one of three youth programs initiated by Bexar County, (San Antonio, Texas) EMG, created a “learn-and-earn” program for 15-18 years old juvenile offenders selected by the Bexar County Juvenile Probation Dept. Identified as an outstanding project in criminal justice by the Texas Attorney General, Master Gardeners report that the project has had a major effect on the youth and on the neighborhoods in which they live. EMG led a garden and marketing project in Phoenix, Arizona where inner city youth sold vegetables to the surrounding community.

In the past decade, EMGs have been leaders in their communities in teaching environmental practices such as composting, yard waste recycling, water management and low input gardening. In Nevada, new EMGs showed a change in five gardening practices with a more positive environmental impact as a result of the EMG core course training. Special EMG training on pesticide use in Illinois showed a reduction in the use of insecticides and an increase in the use of biological controls.