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A Group Celebrated for Being Green Turns Silver

The Master Gardeners Mark 25th Anniversary
Photo: Master Gardeners answer questions at Plant Expo.

Being "green" is all the rage nowadays, but for one Rutgers New Jersey Agricultural Experiment Station (NJAES) program, turning silver is best. The Rutgers Master Gardeners program celebrates its 25th anniversary this year-that's a quarter century of helping individuals to improve and beautify their communities while also expanding their personal working knowledge of gardening, horticulture, and the environment.

The Master Gardener program began in the state of Washington in 1972 through the efforts of David Gibby, who created the program in response to the overwhelming number of requests he received for gardening information. The concept caught on and today, Master Gardener programs can be found in 45 U.S. states and four provinces in Canada. Regional and international conferences showcase Master Gardener programs, projects, and the volunteers themselves.

Here in New Jersey, the Master Gardener program was initiated in 1984 in Bergen County by then-county agent, Ralph Pearson. Since then, the Rutgers Master Gardener program has grown into a well-known, widely respected, and award-winning statewide initiative of Rutgers University. It is an educational volunteer training program offered in 18 of the 21 counties in New Jersey through the efforts and expertise of Rutgers NJAES Cooperative Extension faculty and staff. The program is designed to increase horticultural knowledge and environmental awareness by making widely available university- and research-based information to local communities and individuals through trained volunteers known as Rutgers Master Gardeners.

Photo: Planting in Sussex County.

Since 1984, more than 5,000 New Jersey residents have fulfilled the training and volunteering commitments of the program and have been certified as Rutgers Master Gardeners. Of these, over 2,000 are currently active, serving as environmental education volunteers for Rutgers Cooperative Extension programs. These volunteers have selflessly provided over 1.2 million hours on Rutgers' behalf since the program began. This is equal to a return on investment value of over $17.9 million to Rutgers University, the state of New Jersey, and individual counties.

Rutgers Master Gardeners are integral and valuable members of the local community-you probably know or have been helped by a Master Gardener in the past. These volunteers have developed and enhanced many community programs related to gardening, horticulture, and environmental well-being throughout the years. These proactive educational programs include community gardens, the Garden Helpline, horticultural therapy projects, garden clinics, and speaker bureaus. Youth programming has included schoolyard habitat projects, gardens that attract beneficial insects, urban gardenscaping, scout programs, county fairs, and water quality and conservation projects.

Photo: Getting ready to plant in Monmouth County.

Master Gardeners have also addressed public health and safety concerns through insect and tick identification services and efforts to minimize mosquito habitat in home landscapes. Other programming and volunteer efforts have included solid waste management and composting, natural resource education and appreciation, assistance at various NJAES research farms throughout New Jersey, and gleaning produce for regional and local food banks and pantries.

Many county programs are closely aligned with local parks departments, and Master Gardeners teach and volunteer in parks, gardens, and other local, county, or state facilities. As docents for display and teaching gardens, consumer twilight tours, and Earth Day and Arbor Day presentations, Rutgers Master Gardener volunteers are ideal educators and environmental ambassadors for Rutgers NJAES Cooperative Extension.

"Being a Rutgers Master Gardener is much more than horticulture and gardening," notes Nick Polanin, Somerset County agricultural agent. "It's always the people who make the difference, season after season."

You can find out more about the Rutgers Master Gardener program, including class availability, annual reports, applications for future classes, and even a link to a YouTube video created by a Burlington County Master Gardener by visiting the Master Gardeners website.

  1. Rutgers
  2. Executive Dean of Agriculture and Natural Resources
  3. School of Environmental and Biological Sciences