Master Gardener program continues to grow

Johnny Morgan, Schmit, Rene G.  |  5/20/2013 7:50:50 PM

Rene Schmit

News Release Distributed 05/20/13

BATON ROUGE, La. – For almost 20 years a group of volunteers has made life easier for those with gardening questions and others in need of an extra set of hands to help with a big seminar.

Beginning in East Baton Rouge Parish in 1994 as a pilot program, Louisiana Master Gardeners are now represented in 53 parishes, according to LSU AgCenter Master Gardener coordinator Rene' Schmit.

“The Master Gardener program was the idea of a county agent in Washington State who in 1972 wanted to bring in volunteers and provide them training to help him expand his programs to reach a greater number of clientele,” Schmit said.

From Washington, the idea spread to every state within 10 years and is now in Canada and South Korea as well.

“By 1997, there were seven programs in Louisiana, and it was that year that the LSU AgCenter adopted a formal program statewide,” he said.

In order to become a Master Gardener, an individual must complete a 50-hour training program and in the first year volunteer 40 hours, Schmit said. “In succeeding years they must give 20 hours of service per year and complete six continuing education hours.”

These service hours can be completed by taking calls at an LSU AgCenter office or volunteering at garden shows and festivals plus a variety of other opportunities.

Schmit said the training could be complete in 14 weeks assuming the classes are held once a week.

With an increase in membership over the past 24 years, the demographics for the Master Gardener organization changed, according to Schmit.

“We began with the majority of the membership being retirees, and that was true until recently,” Schmit said. “Lately, we’ve begun to see more doctors, lawyers, students and working people. Today, only about half of our Master Gardeners are retirees. ”

The average age of participants has changed in the past few years from an average age of 64, down to 54 to 57. But the one thing that hasn’t changed is the gender of the members, Schmit said. “Men still make up only nine percent of the total Master Gardeners in Louisiana.”

The shift that brought a more diverse membership has been good for the organization because it provides a broad range of talent and skills.

“The talent level has increased to a point that the local associations pretty much run themselves with minimal input from the county agents,” Schmit said.

Louisiana currently has 32 county agents serving as program coordinators in 23 Master Gardener programs.

In 2012, Louisiana had 2,150 members, with an average increase of 250 graduates per year. Schmit said he hopes to have close to 2,500 members when the 20th anniversary is celebrated in 2014.

For additional information on the Louisiana Master Gardener program, contact Schmit at 985-785-4473.

Johnny Morgan

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