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Volunteers lauded by Georgia's governor

By Sharon Omahen
University of Georgia

Master Gardeners across the state donate their time to help fellow gardeners in their areas. That time is considered priceless by the University of Georgia county agents who rely on them, but you can put a dollar value on it, says the program’s coordinator.

Master Gardeners are a corps of volunteers, each trained by experts with UGA College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences to help other gardeners and answer their questions as needed year-round.

"The training component is essential as the volunteers use their new expertise to help with a variety of gardening-related projects," said Marco Fonseca, a UGA horticulturist and coordinator of the program. "Without the training, they wouldn't be prepared to answer questions from gardeners who either call or come into their county agent's office."

More than $3 million donated last year

Last year, 2,644 Georgia Master Gardeners donated 192,854 hours of their time to help UGA Extension agents help gardeners in their counties.

“The federal government estimates volunteer hours to be worth $17.60 per hour,” said Fonseca. “Using this figure, the Master Gardeners’ time is valued at $3.4 million. When you figure in the value of their time and travel, Georgia Master Gardeners donated nearly $4 million last year.”

To honor their service to the state, Gov. Sonny Perdue declared March 15 Master Gardener Day in Georgia.

"Our Master Gardeners do everything from presenting plant clinics to speaking to garden clubs and writing newspaper articles," said Fonseca. "Master Gardener volunteerism creates a far reaching ripple effect across our state, and once a year we stop to give them a special day of recognition."

Celebrating by continuing to give

Across the state, Master Gardeners will conduct special programs to celebrate the day, he said. In keeping with their mission, Master Gardeners in Gwinnett, DeKalb, Cobb, Forsyth, Cherokee, Hall and Clarke counties will be giving their expertise at plant clinics in area Home Depot and Lowe’s stores.

To see if your county offers the Master Gardener program, call the UGA Extension office at 1-800-ASK-UGA1. To learn more about the program, visit www.georgiamastergardener.com.

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

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