As funding directed toward research has diminished, it has become vital seek other avenues of support to maintain long term field projects. To meet this need, the University of Arkansas Horticulture Department began the Friends of Fruit (FOF) program during 2004 engaging volunteers in conducting tree fruit field research. Volunteers were graduates of the Master Gardener program and executed tasks including data collection and plot maintenance. Objectives of this study were to evaluate the experiences and benefits to the volunteers and horticulture department, and to assess the success of the FOF program in providing assistance and support to research. All volunteers and facilitators were interviewed. Interview questions were designed to understand the motivation and level of volunteer activity, determine if training and supervision was adequate, and determine if ample recognition occurred. Volunteers sought experience and knowledge with fruit crops. Costs to volunteers included time and travel, conversely benefits included knowledge, experience and fellowship. Volunteers planned to repeat the program and were pleased with the recognition they received. Facilitators noted that volunteers had basic horticultural knowledge and the desire to learn. The program did call for improved task management and increased planning time by facilitators. The program succeeded in benefiting volunteers and horticultural research. The FOF volunteers contributed to fruit research by harvesting ≈4,000 kg of fruit samples and providing >200 hours of time.
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