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Community Impacts through Gardening: The MSU Extension Master Gardener ® Program

Started in 1972 in Washington, the Extension Master Gardener (EMG) program is an international movement that trains passionate volunteers to engage with horticultural projects in their communities. EMGs communicate science-based gardening information to the general public through their volunteer activities. The program originated and is managed primarily at land-grant institutions across the nation.  

In Michigan, that land-grant institution is Michigan State University. Michigan State University’s Extension Service trains their Master Gardener volunteers through a 14-week class series that covers all major horticulture topics from soil health to vegetable gardening to integrated pest management and more. MSU Extension is currently supporting 2,785 MSU Extension Master Gardener® volunteers statewide.

Upon completing the training program, MSU EMGs volunteer in their communities to share their horticultural knowledge and promote environmental stewardship, food security, community vitality, and youth education. During non-pandemic years, MSU Extension Master Gardener® Volunteers provide an annual average of nearly 160,000 hours of service across the state. They teach communities about sustainable gardening, native plants, and the importance of pollinators, among many other topics. They also provide leadership support for beautifying public spaces and developing community food gardens, especially those growing food for donation.

While the community impacts of the Extension Master Gardener program are vast, the program benefits can also be personal for participants.

“According to a recent volunteer survey, one of the best things about being a MSU Extension Master Gardener® is the camaraderie that is created when one can volunteer with others who have the same passion,” says Dr. Sarah Rautio, State Leader of the MSU Extension Master Gardener Program®. She adds, “Volunteers also appreciate the regular connections with MSU Extension research-based educational resources. Because MSU Extension Master Gardeners® are certified and stay up-to-date with that information, they keep communities well-informed.” 

The MSU Extension Master Gardener® program has two major training sessions each year – one in the spring and one in the fall. The current public health emergency has shifted training  from in-person sites in only a select few locations to a virtual online format open to all. To find upcoming training sessions and learn more about becoming a MSU Extension Master Gardener® Volunteer, go here.If you’d like to support the MSU Extension Master Gardener® program’s mission and important work, please consider a donation.

If you’d like to support the MSU Extension Master Gardener® program’s mission and important work, please consider a donation.

Photo Credits: Sarah Rautio

Kelly Wilson, RDN, is the Director of Community Partners for Taste the Local Difference. Contact her at kelly@localdifference.org

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