By Gail DeVilbiss –
AG and Natural Resource Coordinator
The concept of ‘Master Gardener’ began in 1972 at Washington State University. The Extension office was overwhelmed with calls from homeowners looking for gardening information. Remember, in 1972 we did not have the research methods available that we have today specifically the internet, and most inquires for information came through local Extension offices. In fact back then, University Extension agents were issued station wagons to haul all the publications to various programs. The cars’ shocks were worn out quickly due to the weight of all the printed materials.
Extension agents organized a plan to train volunteers to teach others about home gardening. In Germany, the top level of proficiency in horticulture is called “Gartenmeister” which they Americanized as “Master Gardener”.
The first graduates of the program were required to take a closed-book test administered by the Washington State Department of Agriculture which also allowed them to provide pesticide recommendations.
As the program grew, the Master Gardeners were able to expand their educational outreach through programs, writing news articles and developing display gardens.
Illinois adopted the Master Gardener program in 1975 back when gas was .44 cents per gallon, Jaws was a number one hit movie, “Saturday Night Live” was first debuted and Dutch elm disease destroyed 3 million trees in the UK.
The Master Gardener Program is now in all 50 states, four Canadian provinces and South Korea.
Today in Illinois there are over 3000 active volunteers that have volunteered over 2,309,348 volunteer hours at a value of over $57 million dollars to the State of Illinois since 2001.
Locally, we have Master Gardeners in all five Unit 23 counties (Bond, Clinton, Jefferson, Marion and Washington).
Local Master Gardeners work on many projects throughout the community. This scoop article began close to twenty years ago, publishing a new article each week. Other projects include display gardens, informational booths, kids’ activities, pollinator gardens, and community gardens to name a few.
Training for 2016 Unit 23 Master Gardeners begins January, 26th. Come grow with us and become part of the history. Call Gail DeVilbiss at 618-526-4551 after January 4 for more information.
Master Gardeners Celebrating 40 Years of Growing Together