Sharing Your Garden Bounty with Neighbors in Need

What has 180,000 hands and is changing the world? The Extension Master Gardeners of the USA! That’s how we at think of you—thousands of hands working in the soil, sharing valuable knowledge with growers in every corner of America, and changing the world one garden at a time! is a national program, connecting gardeners with local food pantries so that excess garden bounty can be shared with those in need. Gardeners everywhere can use our site to find a pantry for those times when they just have too many greens or cucumbers (or any other extra veggies, fruits, herbs, or nuts).

Food Pantry volunteers, happy to receive donations of fresh food to share with their clients
Food Pantry volunteers, happy to receive donations of fresh food to share with their clients

We have nearly 7,000 food pantries registered on our site from every state. These are pantries that may not have the time or budget required to maintain a website or advertise their services online. For many pantries, their free profile on our site is the only web presence they have, and the only way that gardeners can find them when they have food to share.

We’ve got some exciting news! We’re celebrating our 5th birthday with a complete overhaul of our website. We will be adding new and exciting features to make it easier for gardeners and pantries to work together to eliminate hunger and malnutrition in America. We hope you’ll bookmark our page ( so you can see the new site when it’s up and let us know what you think.

If you’re growing food at home, helping in a community garden, or working with Plant-A-Row, we want our site to be another one of your gardening tools. Whenever someone asks us for gardening help, we send them your way and we hope that when you encounter someone whose gardening experiments yield too many tomatoes, you will send them our way so they can help feed a hungry family.


Harvest day at a community garden and this is just what was left over after the gardeners took their share! It all went straight to a pantry found on  Send photos of what you’re growing and sharing to
Harvest day at a community garden and this is just what was left over after the gardeners took their share! It all went straight to a pantry found on Send photos of what you’re growing and sharing to

Like us on Facebook and share our page with your gardening friends to help us spread the word. If you are already growing and sharing with a food pantry, share this blog with the pantry coordinator to encourage them to register on our site so that other gardeners can find them and donate their excess produce as well.

Thank you for teaching and leading by example. Thank you for keeping the knowledge of our national agricultural traditions alive in your communities. Thank you for changing the world.
Emily Fulmer is the Grower Outreach Coordinator at She is a back (and front!) yard vegetable gardener and she has recently added a small flock of Buff Orpington hens to her tiny urban farm. You can reach her at

Iowa Master Gardeners participate in CenUSA Biochar project

In Iowa, to help determine biochar’s viability as a soil amendment product for the home garden, Master Gardeners are testing its ability to increase productivity in vegetable and flower gardens. Iowa Master Gardeners assisted with recording crop production and health data from the three test garden sites located across the state.

Iowa State Master Gardeners teaching about biochar research
Iowa State Master Gardeners learned about biochar

These sites, which include the Armstrong Research Farm in Lewis; the Horticulture Station in Ames; and Fruitland Research Farm in Muscatine; are each made up of different soil types and composition.

Ames horticulture research farm
Ames horticulture research farm – good black loam


Armstrong plot (for sure)
Armstrong farm in Lewis – marginal soils


Fruitland in Muscatine – sandy soils

These soil differences will help to provide a broader spectrum of results from our test plot gardens. As sister plots to the biochar test garden plots in Minnesota, Iowa’s test plots included the same crops, as well as the same levels of biochar incorporation at each of the test plot sites in both states. The same crops will be planted for testing again in the 2014 season.

Harvest data was taken in a similar fashion in both Iowa and MN for most crops – however 2013 weather extremes may have skewed the data from “normal” years, due to the late planting dates (due to wet weather); above average rainfall, followed by hot and dry periods.

Harvest weighed
Harvest weighed
Plant growth measured
Leaf color checked
Leaf color checked

Iowa Master Gardeners are gearing up for 2014 – and hope to experience a “normal” growing season – we are due!

If you would like further information becoming a volunteer with the biochar project, contact Yvonne McCormick at

Iowa State Master Gardener Participating in CenUSA Bioenergy project
Stay tuned – Iowa State Master Gardeners are ready to step back in these test gardens in 2014!

“The CenUSA Bioenergy project is supported by Agriculture and Food Research Initiative Competitive Grant No. 2011-68005-30411 from the National Institute of Food and Agriculture.”

How the Master Gardener Program Started 40 Years Ago at WSU Extension

{Editor’s note: As described in this blog post, WSU Extension established the first Master Gardener program in 1972, with the first public training in 1973. Today Extension Master Gardener programs exist in nearly all 50 states. For more information, see the EMG White Paper or find an Extension Master Gardener Program near you. To learn how the Master Gardener program ties into the history of the nation’s land-grant universities and Cooperative Extension Service, see Exploring Our Roots: A Short History of Extension and the Master Gardener Program. }

Some Early Days in Extension

Donald Tapio "Some Early Days in Extension"
Donald Tapio recalls some early days at WSU Extension and how the Master Gardener program began.

I welcome the opportunity to share some history of Extension prior to the Development of the Master Gardener program. I cannot think of anyone more appreciative of Master Gardener volunteers than I, since I was involved with Washington State University (WSU) Extension prior to the development of the Master Gardener program.

My career with WSU Extension actually began in the summer of 1969 when I was hired as a summer work-study student in the Pierce County Extension office in Tacoma, WA. I was assigned to work with a horticulture agent who was very pleased to have me in the office to take the hundreds of calls that came each week from home gardeners. WSU was well aware of the demand for home gardening information and soon installed a “Dial a Garden Tip” service with daily messages on seasonal pest problems and options for their control.

Answering Hundreds of Gardening Questions Per Day

After graduating from WSU, I was hired by WSU Extension as a Horticulture Program Assistant in Seattle. Home gardening calls coming into the King County office averaged over 100 per day. Most days I never got off the phone for more than a short lunch break. In addition to the incoming calls, there were dozens of letters and plant samples delivered to the office on a daily basis. A year later Mr. Johanson retired and I was asked to work in the Pierce County office in the mornings and the King County office in the afternoons.

WSU made it clear that I would never receive agent status without an advanced degree. Just as I was leaving for graduate school, a young woman came into the office and after a long discussion made the remark that she thought my job and extension work would be so much fun. That individual was Sharon Collman and she was hired by WSU to fill my position. (You will read more about her in another blog post. She was one of the first teachers in the new Master Gardener progam.)  After completing my graduate degree I was hired as the horticulture agent in Snohomish County.

While I was gone, WSU hired Dr. David Gibby as the horticulture agent for King and Pierce counties. He was a true visionary in recognizing that in many respects Extension was simply “bailing out the ocean.” The demand for home gardening questions and information was so great it was nearly impossible to do any programming beyond answering the telephone. WSU Extension in King County at the time had 8 incoming telephone lines and we had one individual who was a switchboard operator to direct calls.

Master Gardener Program Trains Volunteers to Teach Others

Soon after his arrival, Dr. Gibby made his historic trip to Puyallup where there were discussions with a number of specialists and agents on the idea of training volunteers who would then conduct diagnostic plant clinics in the Seattle-Tacoma metropolitan area. I am convinced that no one at that time was aware that the Master Gardener program would become what it is today with thousands of volunteers throughout the state or nation-wide. The concept of training volunteers to teach others seemed to be the answer to addressing the need for home gardening education and the program was quickly adopted throughout the nation.

Master Gardener training in these early days was much different then. There was no charge and no textbook for the classes. However, I vividly recall as an instructor, lugging around boxes filled with publications for the class. (Many agents were assigned station wagons during those years since we hauled so many publications to various meetings. Both the springs and shock absorbers on these vehicles were usually shot from the weight of the publications!) At the end of training, an individual from the Washington State Department of Agriculture would come in and give a closed book exam. Those passing the exam became licensed pesticide applicators, which qualified them to provide recommendations for pesticide use. We quickly learned that many, many volunteers had great anxiety over taking a closed book exam and did not do well.

The evolution of the Master Gardener program continued as more and more counties throughout the state adopted the program. Those of us involved as instructors would schedule our training so that we were presenting in a different county each day beginning with Whatcom, by the Canadian border, and ending in Clark, on the border with Oregon. Once trained, most counties utilized their newly trained volunteers to staff plant clinics. As more and more volunteers became trained, volunteers were able to expand their educational outreach through presenting programs, writing news articles, and developing demonstration gardens.

Appreciation for the Work of Master Gardener Volunteers

I know that I speak for many agents in saying we simply cannot imagine Extension work today without Master Gardener volunteers. The amount of time invested in training and managing volunteers is paid back more than a thousand fold. I continue to be in awe of how innovative, enthusiastic, and dedicated Master Gardener volunteers are in carrying out the mission of WSU Extension. I am convinced that Washington State University will continue to be recognized nationally for the impact and success of the Master Gardener program in making our communities better and more beautiful places.

Donald D. Tapio
WSU Extension Regional Specialist
Grays Harbor/Pacific Counties Extension

“Reprinted with permission from the July 2009 issue of Seeds for Thought, the newsletter of the Master Gardener Foundation of Washington State.”  Parts of this have been abridged with permission from the author. To see the entire article go to: