Looking at how the Master Gardeners program began

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I have been getting so many calls and emails regarding our Master Gardener program and upcoming class. I thought I would give you a history of the Master Gardener program.The Master Gardener program actually started in 1972 in the state of Washington because so many people were calling David Gibby and William Scheer there for information. They knew some type of teaching program had to be initiated.

Washington State University Extension initially assigned horticulture faculty to county offices as part of the Agriculture, Home Economics and 4-H outreach education programs, with emphasis of the horticulture part was crop production. It was not until rapid urban growth and the burgeoning interest in gardening that the extension began to develop programs emphasizing urban horticulture.

So, in 1971 Gibby and Scheer (both extension agents) started separate assignments in the major populated areas. They focused, respectively, on urban and commercial horticulture. Public demand for information about plant problems was so intense it made educational programming for either of them virtually impossible. In the beginning they used the mass media to solve the problem, resulting in television and radio shows that were put on by Gibby, making the public more aware that the extension office was the place to get help.

So here is where the volunteer idea came about. They explored all thoughts to address the needs of the backyard gardener most effectively. One of the approaches considered was the concept of recruiting and training volunteers to serve the urban population. They wanted a distinguished title, however. Coming to mind was “Gartenmeister,” which they anglicized as “Master Gardener (MG).” This title would be appropriate for volunteers who had received extensive training. Initially the Western Washington Research and Extension Center rejected the idea of training volunteers. But a trial was established at the Tacoma Mall, which was very successful. They were convinced, and training was in the making.

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