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Master Gardeners focus on learning, serving

By Sharon Omahen
University of Georgia

It seems fitting that the special event to celebrate Master Gardener Day this year involved classes and work.

In a day-long event planned just for them at the UGA campus in Griffin, Ga., Master Gardeners learned UGA horticulturist Terry Kelly's latest tips for growing the best vegetables.

They heard about the Atlanta Community Food Bank's efforts to fight hunger through community gardening. They got an update on the UGA Research and Education Garden on the Griffin, Ga., campus. And, yes, they got their hands dirty volunteering in the afternoon chores in the garden.

Governor declares Master Gardener Day

Georgia Gov. Sonny Perdue declared March 15 to be Master Gardener Day in Georgia. The day honors more than 5,000 Georgians who have earned the title.

The Georgia Master Gardener Volunteer Program is run by the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences. It's presented across the state through UGA Extension Service county offices.

People interested in gardening or community service can sign up for the program. They get 40 hours of training from the UGA Extension Service faculty.

Once they complete the training, they use their new expertise to help with community education projects. After at least 50 hours of service through their local Georgia Extension office, they're certified as Master Gardeners.

Essential to county offices

"Our Master Gardeners do everything from make presentations to garden clubs and other civic groups to visit home gardens to help consumers with specific problems," said Marco Fonseca, the state Master Gardener program coordinator.

In some cases, Fonseca said, Master Gardeners have helped keep county extension offices open. "They answer the phones and help agents prepare for workshops," he said, "often in offices that are understaffed."

The program began in 1979. Since then, UGA has trained more than 5,000 Master Gardeners, including 500 last year.

In 2002, the value of the 1,800 active Master Gardeners gave 125,000 hours of service, at a value of more than $2 million. If you add in their travel costs, it was $2.3 million.

Plant a Row this year's project

In their special program in Griffin, the volunteers broke ground on a site where area Master Gardeners will take part in the "Plant a Row for the Hungry" campaign.

Plant a Row for the Hungry is a public service campaign of the Garden Writers Association. It urges home gardeners to plant extra vegetables and donate them to their local food bank.

Master Gardeners have taken on PAR as their 2003 statewide community project.

(Sharon Omahen is a news editor with the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.)

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