State group works to share its knowledge, experience

Carrie Kreisler

The Iowa Master Gardener Program has become a means for citizens in the state to become involved in their community.

Master Gardeners are those who have an understanding of horticulture-related topics and “are willing to share that knowledge with others,” said James Romer, program coordinator.

The program is designed to provide current, research-based, home horticulture information and education to the citizens of Iowa through ISU Extension programs and projects.

“Master gardeners share their time and knowledge and appreciation of horticulture through different projects in their communities to enhance the quality of life in their communities,” he said.

As program coordinator, Romer is responsible for organizing the training sessions including on-campus classes, Iowa Communications Network broadcasts and on-site sessions throughout the state.

“Right now we’ve got 12 different sites across the state that are involved in training,” he said.

The Master Gardener Program began in Scott County in 1977. It has since expanded to almost every county, said Donald Lewis, professor of entomology in charge of the Iowa Master Gardener Program.

Becoming a master gardener involves taking horticulture classes through local county extension offices. Lewis said all participating counties have at least 11 classes to fulfill the required training, but some students in the program take more.

Although students are required to complete 40 hours of community service within a year after they have completed training, many go above and beyond the expectations, Lewis said. Some complete hundreds of hours of service in a year, he said.

“To remain as an active master gardener, they are required to have six hours of continuing instruction and six hours of volunteer service [per year] beyond the initial requirements,” he said.

Some people write articles about garden topics, work in their county extension offices or assist 4-H members and other youth on educational projects, demonstrations and displays, he said.

The program is organized at Iowa State through the ISU Extension Service.

Approximately 15 university professors and instructors, including graduate students and research assistants, teach the classes offered to the gardeners.

“While there is coordination and oversight from campus, it is run as a local program,” he said.

The Iowa Master Gardener Program has grown tremendously since its inception 25 years ago.

“We train approximately 500 new master gardeners per year around the state and over 6,000 master gardeners have been trained in Iowa,” Lewis said.

Jamie Beyer, master gardener for six years, said most people become involved in the program because they want to become better gardeners.

Beyer, former president of the Story County Master Gardener Association, said he volunteers between 200 to 300 hours a year.

He said the association is one of 20 to 30 across the state available for master gardeners who want to continue their education and get together to talk about their current projects.

Of the approximately 150 master gardeners in Story County, 85 belong to the Story County Master Gardener Association, said Beyer, graduate student in civil & construction engineering.

Some of the projects the group is involved with are the Master Gardener symposium, the Central Iowa Tour of Water Gardens and a plant sale in May.

“100 percent of the proceeds go back to the community,” Beyer said. “We give away about $10,000 a year.”