Master Gardener Conference

By Julie Parker-Dickerson

Often unacknowledged, Extension Master Gardener (EMG) groups contribute time, energy, and often financially to better their communities. From growing food to growing flowers, EMGs have been instrumental in changing lives and beautifying communities one plant at a time since 1973.

EMG is a growing network of gardeners from all 50 states and certain international locations. This international organization devotes time and effort to sustainable garden practices through volunteer education and demonstrations. Each extension branch has a system for certifying interested individuals to become Master Gardeners in their counties. Certified Master Gardeners complete a number of hours both in the classroom and through hands-on experiences in the garden. After completing an internship, Master Gardeners take on projects in their communities related to soil science, native plants, integrated pest management, composting, tree care, garden design, and a host of other topics.

A 2009 Master Gardener (PDF) survey revealed that Master Gardeners provide over 5,000,000 volunteer hours annually with an estimated value of just over 101 million dollars. In 2009, volunteer efforts have contributed approximately 680,000 pounds of fresh produce to food banks across the United States. These astounding figures are just the beginning. Master Gardeners play an essential role in youth education opportunities by contributing nearly 300,000 hours to youth programming each year. Master Gardeners work with horticulture therapy programs, prison gardens, food pantries, historical gardens, and often serve as first responders to pest control problems and invasive species.

Every other year EMG holds a conference in select locations around the country. The International EMG conference is an opportunity for members to gather and engage in educational workshops, speaking engagements, networking opportunities, garden tours, and give back to the community where the conference is held.

In 2011, the EMG Conference convened in Charleston, West Virginia, the state's capitol. Featured speakers included Brian F. Jorg, Manager of Horticulture at the Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden, William Cullina, executive director of The Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens, and Barbara Pleasant, contributing editor to Mother Earth News and author of multiple gardening books.

The conference is a perfect opportunity to present awards to distinguished projects across the country through the ″Search for Excellence Awards″. National Gardening Association is proud to give back to these devoted gardening groups through a financial donation each year. Master Gardeners are highly visible at National Gardening Association's headquarters in Vermont Garden Park, located in South Burlington, Vermont, where EMG's contribute to our children's garden, heirloom garden, and a host of community oriented projects.

Featured below are the 2011 first place winners in the categories of Youth Projects, Community Service, Innovative Projects, Workshop or Presentation, Special Needs Audience, and Demonstration Gardens.

For more information on how to join your local EMG chapter, to register for the certification course, or to hear about volunteer opportunities visit Master Gardener to link to your nearest EMG site.

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