The Master Gardener program was launched in Washington State in 1972 and has been established in all 50 states, Washington, DC, and several international locations. The program is based on three core concepts: helping local cooperative extension educators disseminate information, tailoring horticultural information to the local level, and providing quality information by working through land-grant universities (McAleer, 2005). Annually, over 82 million households in the United States participate in some type of home gardening activity (Matheny et al., 2009) creating continued high demand for dependable horticultural information.
The mission of the Iowa Master Gardener program is to provide current, research-based, home horticulture information and education to the citizens of Iowa through Iowa State University Extension and Outreach programs and projects. Since its inception in 1979, more than 13,000 volunteers have been trained. The initial training involves a combination of face-to-face and web-based sessions in a variety of topics related to horticulture. Annually, more than 300 individuals enroll in the training at more than 20 county extension offices throughout Iowa. In addition to training at county offices, participants spend a full day at the Iowa State University campus where groups rotate through a series of eight, hands-on workshops. Although no specific topics are required nationally for the core course training, similarities exist among programs (Moore and Bradley, 2015). In Iowa, the core topics include animal ecology, botany, composting, entomology, fruit culture, herbaceous ornamentals, houseplants, integrated pest management (IPM), sustainable home landscape design, pesticides and pesticide safety, plant pathology, plant propagation, soils and soil fertility, trees and shrubs, turfgrass management, vegetables and herbs, and weed science (Iowa State University Extension and Outreach, 2014).
In addition to at least 40 h of classroom instruction, interns must provide 40 h of community-based volunteer service to hone their skills. Upon completion of this requirement, interns are considered active Master Gardeners. To remain active, volunteers must acquire at least 10 h of continuing education and complete 20 h of volunteer service annually.
Recruitment and training of new volunteers is necessary to grow the organization, but retention of current individuals has advantages. Experienced Master Gardeners act as recruiters of new members and mentors to incoming interns (Stouse and Marr, 1992). Master Gardeners associate with the program for two main reasons: to increase horticultural knowledge and to help their community (Schrock et al., 2000b). Disappointment with the program and insufficient horticulture education have been cited as reasons for not continuing with the program (Meyer, 2004). Coordinating horticultural education with the interests of volunteers is important in increasing retention.
Social media is becoming another avenue for communication with volunteers. Current research shows that 81% of American adults use the Internet. Over half of those are using two or more social media sites (Duggan et al., 2015). Interaction through social media sites is a way for organizations to build relationships and engage volunteers (Waters et al., 2009).
The primary objective of this study was to determine the motivations for volunteering in the Iowa Master Gardener program. No baseline data exist on why volunteers choose to join the program. Secondary objectives were to identify popular continuing education topics, preferred delivery methods, and social media usage among Iowa Master Gardeners. Armed with this information, coordinators can tailor training to the interests of their program participants.
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