40 years of Master Gardeners

John Lawrence’s message from July 8, 2019

Any gardener can seek education for self-improvement, and many do. However, Extension Master Gardener volunteers seek and use research-based horticulture and gardening knowledge and practices to benefit others. They also take on projects that promote healthy communities. Iowa Master Gardener volunteers have been building a strong Iowa for 40 years. Did you know?

  • ISU Extension and Outreach piloted the Master Gardener program in Scott County in 1979, using a program that had originated in Washington State. Today, there are Master Gardeners in more than 80 Iowa counties.
  • Master Gardeners receive specialized training in garden best practices from ISU Extension and Outreach. In return they contribute their time (20 hours per gardener per year) doing garden-related volunteer outreach in their communities.
  • Once again, our Master Gardeners are partnering with our Human Sciences staff to fight hunger in Iowa. Thanks to USDA SNAP-Education funding, 22 mini grants were awarded to Master Gardeners in 2019 for food pantry donation gardens. Last year, over 90,000 pounds of fresh produce were donated.
  • At the International Master Gardener Conference last month, the Linn County Master Gardeners were recognized for their ongoing pollinator project. They built partnerships to increase pollinator habitat by 2,000 acres.
  • State coordinator Susan DeBlieck says nearly 2,000 Master Gardeners were active across Iowa in 2018, compiling 113,392 volunteer hours. That averages out to nearly 60 hours worked per volunteer. Those volunteer hours are valued at $2.7 million spent improving Iowa.

Over the past 40 years, more than 14,300 Iowans have participated in the Master Gardener training to volunteer in their communities. Iowans who would like to join this impactful group can apply online to attend Master Gardener training, starting around the state in August.

One more note: Take a moment to review the July program update from the leadership team for current examples of what is happening across our programs.

A special thank you: Today is Linda Brinkmeyer’s last day as my administrative assistant. She is retiring to start the next adventure in her life. I want to personally thank her for helping me get grounded in this job and for being an important part of the leadership team. She kept the plates spinning as we worked on several priorities to move our organization forward. She will be missed. Thank you, Linda!

— John D. Lawrence
Iowa State University Vice President for Extension and Outreach

Growing together – and grateful

John Lawrence’s message from Nov. 27, 2017

Thanksgiving tends to make people think about what they’re thankful for. One thing we all should be thankful for is safe food. I recently learned about two of our programs that address food safety. In early November, I completed the ServSafe program required of food service managers. It is a daylong training provided by our human sciences specialists. (FYI, I passed the test and now have a backup plan if this university thing doesn’t work out.) I also spent time with our AnswerLine team on the Tuesday before Thanksgiving. While they handle more than food questions, they typically have more than 400 phone calls in the four business days leading up to Thanksgiving. Many calls deal with proper thawing, cooking and left-over planning, all of which have food safety implications. These colleagues are a great resource for consumers and staff alike, and represent ISU Extension and Outreach at our best. They also have some interesting stories to tell.

Besides the time with family and friends, and a tasty and safe turkey dinner, I’m thankful for the opportunity to serve as your Interim VP. I continue to learn about, and be grateful for, our programs and our people. You make me proud every day as we work together to serve Iowans.

For example, “Growing Together Iowa” combines the efforts of Human Sciences with Agriculture and Natural Resources for a common goal – feeding people. For the second year in a row, our SNAP-Ed nutrition education and our Master Gardeners partnered with local food pantries to reduce food insecurity in Iowa. Did you know?

  • 74,924 pounds of fruits and vegetables were harvested and donated as of Nov. 8. This amount includes produce from Master Gardener mini-grant recipients in 15 counties as well as the home demonstration gardens on six Iowa State research farms.
  • More than 75 sites (food pantries, meal sites, shelters, etc.) received these fruits and vegetables.
  • Using a formula of three servings per pound, this year’s harvest yielded 224,772 servings of fruits and vegetables for Iowans with low income.
  • 231 Master Gardeners volunteered their time to the project. Assuming a 20-hour per person commitment (the annual Master Gardener volunteer requirement), the value of their time is estimated at up to $111,526 or 2.28 FTE.
  • An additional 457 volunteers participated in the project throughout the state.
  • New publications created as part of this project include recommended vegetables to grow for food pantry donation and food safety in donation gardens.

Other land-grant universities have been watching. Three (University of Wisconsin, Purdue University and University of Nebraska) recently completed their first year replicating our first-in-the-nation model of mobilizing Master Gardeners and SNAP-Ed to address access to healthy food.

One more thing: Iowa State recently won an Innovation & Economic Prosperity University Award from the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities. Universities compete in four categories that recognize different components of economic engagement; Iowa State won the “talent” category. ISU Extension and Outreach has a key role in our university’s economic development efforts, and we played a part in winning this award as well. Our 4-H Culturally-based Youth Leadership Accelerator program was featured in a case study submitted with the award application. For more information, see the APLU news release.

— John D. Lawrence
Iowa State University Interim Vice President for Extension and Outreach

Subscribe to Blog via Email

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.