We were recently alerted to a new blog about all things Master Gardener, which got us thinking about the program. For those of you who don’t know, the Master Gardner Volunteer (MGV) program is an extension effort based on volunteers who promote public education in horticulture. The volunteers provide educational assistance about trees, lawns, vegetables, ornamentals and a host of other topics. Volunteers go through extensive training, pass an exam, and make a minimum time commitment to the program.
My Cornell colleague Lori Bushway has done a great job of educating me about the MGV program. And I think it’s hard to find a better example of how to harness the power of volunteering. There are over 90,000 Master Gardener Volunteers nationwide, and it’s estimated that they create an annual service value of over $100 million. The benefit to communities is huge and well-documented.
But after our visit from volunteering researcher Mark Snyder, we wondered: What about the benefits to participants? We’d expect MGV participation to be good for the volunteers, but true to our name, on this blog we obsessively look for research evidence.
Well, from the preliminary research available, it’s not just local gardeners who benefit from MGV, but also the volunteers. First, they get new knowledge. Emilie Swackhammer and Nancy Ellen Kiernan found that MGVs made clear knowledge gains over time in areas like botany, soils, plant disease, integrated pest management, and other areas. In addition, their confidence increased in their ability to answer questions from community members in these areas (here’s the article).
What about areas beyond horticultural knowledge? T.M. Waliczek and Roxanne Boyer’s article looked at more personal outcomes. They found that MGV training and participation led to increased physical activity, social activity, self-esteem, and other positive effects among Master Gardener volunteers.
Talk about a win-win situation: Volunteers work to improve their communities through promoting citizen involvement in horticulture, and along the way increase the knowledge and quality of life of the volunteers themselves. Go Master Gardener Volunteers!