In the late 1960s and early 1970s there was an ever increasing nationwide, public demand for horticultural advice. Many of the questions from the public were addressed to the Extension services of various land grant universities in the United States. In fact many of these offices were being overwhelmed with inquiries. Several solutions to adequately address the public’s demand for information were considered. Among the various potential solutions was the concept of recruiting and training volunteers to competently address these many gardening questions.
In 1972, responding to ever increasing requests for horticultural and gardening advice, David Gibby and William Sheer of the Washington State Cooperative Extension started the first Master Gardening program. With the help of many others, they developed a training program which included cultivation of ornamental plants, lawns, vegetables and fruits; control of plant diseases, insects and weeds, and safe use of pesticides. Sessions were to be held eight hours per day, one day a week, for five weeks. At the end of the training, volunteers were required to pass subject matter exams, as well as an exam for pesticide licensing by the Washington State Department of Agriculture. Master Gardeners were then committed to volunteering a specified number of hours working with the gardening public.
For a more complete history of the development of the Master Gardener’s program in the state of Washington click the following link: Washington State MG History
The program rapidly expanded and according to an Extension Master Gardening survey:
“… there are 94,865 Extension Master Gardener volunteers throughout the United States and Washington, D.C, annually contributing 5,197,573 hours educating the public, providing youth programming, and facilitating produce donated to local food banks. While this is only the beginning of the value EMGs provided in their communities this year, these efforts are estimated to have contributed 101. 4 million dollars in value to the general public. For more information, see the following report:” 2009 Extension Master Gardener Survey.