Extension provides outreach to the general public and works to disseminate the latest information and research generated by land grant university (LGU) scientists. The Extension Master Gardener (EMG) volunteer program is one of the most widely recognized programs of extension, created to educate people about research-based consumer horticulture (CH) and gardening practices through a network of trained volunteers. Ideally, EMG program initiatives should address local issues and needs and align with the priorities of extension’s federal stakeholder, U.S. Department of Agriculture National Institute for Food and Agriculture (USDA NIFA). Before 2015, there were no national standards for EMG volunteer programs, and at this time, there is no official work plan or prioritization of educational programming. A quantitative national study of EMG state and local coordinators and volunteers was conducted in Fall 2016 to assess the importance of six educational-response themes (ERTs) (i.e., the strategy for EMG volunteer outreach) for program management (state and local coordinators) and program participants (EMG volunteers). The study compared theme importance between program management and participants, and, in turn, allowed a comparison with previously published historical data. Response to individual inquiry is consistently the most important ERT for EMG programs, regardless of the responder position within the program (management or volunteer). Results revealed that state and local coordinators (program management) score ERTs similarly. EMG volunteers score the importance of ERTs similarly to each other, as well, although some differences are apparent between urban, suburban, and rural programs. Although there are slight differences in the importance of response themes between program management and EMG volunteers, it appears that the EMG volunteer program has an effective organizational structure with an upper and middle management generally aligned at every level. It is plausible that the variability in importance of response themes could be attributed to nuances in local issues and needs. Historical comparison indicates that the importance of ERTs has changed over time, suggesting that themes cycle and change. Although the EMG program does not have a national plan for programming, this assessment of EMG volunteer program ERTs provides a perspective on program direction and a useful starting point for discussion. It is a timely conversation, as EMG programs are increasingly expected to be more accountable and show community impact, and these assessments serve as an important baseline for a national program poised for growth and development.
Sheri Dorn, Milton G. Newberry III, Ellen M. Bauske, and Svoboda V. Pennisi
Ellen M. Bauske, Lelia Kelly, Kerry Smith, Lucy Bradley, Timothy Davis, and Pam Bennett
Extension Master Gardener (EMG) volunteers are key to effective dissemination of horticultural information to the public. The goal of this workshop was to identify techniques to increase the capacity and effectiveness of EMG volunteers. The workshop focused on projects and tools that reduce the administrative burden of managing volunteers, increase the scope of issues that volunteers are prepared to address, and pool volunteer efforts and resources across county lines. Two online systems for managing and reporting EMG volunteer activities were described. Both systems are intuitive, user-friendly, and updated without the assistance of web managers. Regional web-based, advanced training on specific topics was used to expand educational messages of EMG volunteers and eliminate the costs associated with face-to-face training. Presentations were made using distance learning technologies and resources were shared online. Hosting agents tailored hands-on supporting activities to meet local needs. Volunteers expanded extension outreach by answering noncommercial landscape and garden telephone questions. Many of the administrative, logistical, and resource burdens associated with the EMG helpline phone service were overcome by working across county lines, standardizing training, centralizing supporting resources, and clustering volunteers into regional telephone helpline offices. Other projects and tools presented in the workshop focused on the need to affirm and/or foster the volunteers' connection with the university and the outreach mission of Cooperative Extension.
Sheri T. Dorn, Milton G. Newberry III, Ellen M. Bauske, and Svoboda V. Pennisi
This present quantitative study documented the demographic base of 21st century Extension Master Gardener (EMG) volunteers in the United States. As the EMG program approaches its fifth decade and momentum builds for national leadership, collaborative programming, and innovative impact reporting, it is important to understand the characteristics of the current volunteers and their coordinators. A national study of EMG coordinators and volunteers was conducted in Fall 2016. Response was strong, representing 71.4% of state programs and 7498 volunteers. Responding state coordinators are primarily white females, have a mean age of 51.2 years, and have served in their position an average of 7.2 years. Most state coordinators (94.1%) have a graduate degree (master’s or higher). Responding local coordinators are primarily white females, have a mean age of 51.9 years, and have served in their position 7.5 years. Some local coordinators (57.4%) have a graduate degree (master’s or higher). EMG volunteers responding were primarily female, white, educated, retired, and of economic means; have a mean age of 64.8 years; and have served an average of 7.7 years. Four generations [Traditionalist (born 1925–42), Baby Boomer (born 1943–60), GenX (born 1961–81), and GenY (born 1982–2000)] were represented in survey responses. EMG volunteers were 14.5% Traditionalists, 73.2% Baby Boomers, 11.5% GenX, and 0.9% GenY. There were significant differences in the age, age at initial training, years of active service, and service hours reported in 2015 (the prior complete program cycle) among four generations of EMG volunteers. Responses from EMG volunteers and their coordinators represented all six extension programmatic regions established by the EMG National Committee. Significant differences in age, years of service, and number of volunteer service hours reported in 2015 exist among EMG volunteers across extension programmatic regions. The majority of EMG volunteers responding to the survey indicated they volunteered in an urban county (80.5%), whereas 17.2% of respondents served in a suburban county and 2.1% were connected with rural counties. There were no significant differences in the average age, years of service, and number of volunteer service hours reported in 2015 for EMG volunteers in urban, suburban, and rural programs. Historical data and the present study share similar trends within demographics, including age, income, gender, education, and race/ethnicity, yet offer important considerations for future program growth and development.
Ellen M. Bauske, Geoffrey M. Zehnder, Edward J. Sikora, and Joseph Kemble
Multidisciplinary integrated pest management (IPM) teams from seven states in the southeastern United States (Alabama, North Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Tennessee) met to develop standards for adopting IPM in fresh-market tomato (Lycopersicon esculentum L.) production. Teams were composed of growers, private consultants, extension personnel, and faculty. IPM practices available for use on tomatoes in the southeastern United States were identified and a survey to assess the current level of adoption of IPM practices was developed. The survey also allowed growers to identify insect, disease, and production problems; beneficial technology and research developments; and other information relevant to IPM adoption. In northern Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, North Carolina, and South Carolina, IPM adoption by tomato growers was classified as medium or high on >75% of the fresh-market tomato acreage surveyed. It appears these states may have met the federal mandate for IPM adoption. Tomato producers listed early blight, late blight, bacterial spot, bacterial speck, and bacterial wilt as the main disease problems; tomato fruit worm, thrips, and aphids as the primary insect problems; and poor weather conditions, government regulation, and labor as their primary production problems. Twenty-six percent of the producers throughout the region felt that the development of insect- and disease-resistant varieties would be most helpful to increase production.
Sheri Dorn, Lucy Bradley, Debbie Hamrick, Julie Weisenhorn, Pam Bennett, Jill Callabro, Bridget Behe, Ellen Bauske, and Natalie Bumgarner
The National Initiative for Consumer Horticulture (NICH) is a diverse consortium of leaders who provide a unified voice for promoting the benefits and value of consumer horticulture (CH). NICH endeavors to unite national research efforts with the goals of the diverse stakeholders in the industry, the public sector, and the gardening public in an effort to advance knowledge and increase benefits and application of horticulture for cultivating a healthy world through landscapes, gardens, and plants, and an improved quality of life. Benefits of CH are broadly applicable, whether economic, environmental, or community- and health-related. A benefits approach to marketing sets the stage for unprecedented collaboration, such as that demonstrated by NICH. NICH members have developed three broad goals: recognizing CH as a driver of the agricultural economy; highlighting that CH restores, protects, and conserves natural resources through research and education; and cultivating healthy, connected, and engaged communities through CH. Three NICH committees (Economic, Environmental, and Community and Health Benefits) have focused their efforts on NICH goals for the past 10 months. The three committee chairs, representing ≈30 committee members, presented the results of their efforts and future directions for their committees. The Economic and Environmental committees have proceeded with campaigns to better market CH by promoting the benefits of plants and to increase environmental benefits by changing consumer behavior. After reviewing current research, the Community and Health Benefits Committee suggested that a gap exists in research related to specific benefits of CH and personal gardening (as opposed to benefits accrued by enjoying forests, horticulture therapy, indoor atriums, community gardens, parks, and other public places). The committee suggested that overcoming this gap requires strategic collaboration of skill and expertise from a more diverse group of industry representatives, specialists, and scientists. This approach has tremendous potential to affect the CH marketplace, especially when drawing multiple sources of value from the products and experiences.
Ellen M. Bauske, Gary R. Bachman, Tom Bewick, Lucy Bradley, David Close, Rick Durham, and Mary Hockenberry Meyer
Consumer horticulture encompasses interior and exterior ornamental, food, and community gardening. These activities influence the environment in many ways, affecting water quality and quantity, waste management, wildlife, and environmental sustainability. Consumer horticulture also impacts human health and well-being. In spite of keen consumer interest and the robust commercial impact, there is a paucity of support for consumer horticulture at both the state and federal levels. To explore strategies for increasing support for consumer horticulture, a workshop with four presentations was held at the annual conference of the American Society for Horticultural Science on 31 July 2014 in Orlando, FL. Presentations described the formation of a new Southern Experiment Extension/Research Activity, Landscapes and Gardens for Better Living (SERA44); the local funding sources and local issues that focus research, education, and extension efforts in consumer horticulture; and the need to develop shared goals to drive regional projects. The need for a national strategic plan for consumer horticulture, and a process for creating one, was outlined. A strategic plan could galvanize the support of diverse stakeholders; focus research, education, and extension efforts; and build a strong case for resources dedicated to consumer horticulture.
Joseph. M. Kemble, Goeff W. Zehnder, W. Robert Goodman, Mahefatiana Andrianifahanana, Ellen M. Bauske, Edward J. Sikora, and John F. Murphy
The Alabama Tomato Integrated Pest Management (IPM) Program was demonstrated during two growing seasons in southeastern Alabama. The program consisted of a twice-a-week insect/disease scouting service combined with a weather-timed spray program (TOM-CAST). On average, growers made four fewer insecticide applications and three to four fewer fungicide applications when following the IPM program compared to their conventional, calendar-based program. There was no apparent reduction in yield when following the IPM program. An economic analysis indicated that growers following the IPM program saved an average of $54.36/acre ($134.32/ha).
Ellen M. Bauske, Gary R. Bachman, Lucy Bradley, Karen Jeannette, Alison Stoven O’Connor, and Pamela J. Bennett
Communication is a critical issue for consumer horticulture specialists and extension agents. They must communicate effectively with the public interested in gardening, with Extension Master Gardener (EMG) volunteers and with other scientists. A workshop was held at the Annual Conference of the American Society for Horticultural Science on 22 July 2013 in Palm Desert, CA, with the intent of sharing tips and techniques that facilitated consumer horticulture and EMG programming. Presentations focused on communication. One program leader reported on the North Carolina Master Gardener web site, which integrates an online volunteer management system (VMS) with widely available web tools to create one-stop shopping for people who want to volunteer, get help from volunteers, or support volunteers at both the county and state level. Another program used the state VMS to house videos providing continuing education (CE) training required for EMG volunteers. This training is available 24 hours per day and 7 days per week. Agents created the videos by recording live presentations with widely available, screen capture software and a microphone. Features that make the social media site Pinterest a strong tool for gathering together focused programming resources and professional collaboration were outlined. Finally, the use of a compact, subirrigated gardening system that uses peat-based potting mix was suggested as a means to simplify communication with new urban gardeners and address their unique gardening issues.
Pamela J. Bennett, Ellen M. Bauske, Alison Stoven O’Connor, Jean Reeder, Carol Busch, Heidi A. Kratsch, Elizabeth Leger, Angela O’Callaghan, Peter J. Nitzsche, and Jim Downer
Extension Master Gardener (EMG) volunteers are central to expanding the outreach and engagement of extension staff. A workshop format was used at the Annual Conference of the American Society for Horticultural Science on 31 July 2012 in Miami, FL to identify successful management techniques and projects that expand EMG volunteer outreach, leading to increased extension effectiveness. One program leader described how EMGs manage a farmer’s market that has been thriving for more than 30 years, generating income for the EMG program as well as the county extension office. Another program leader described a beneficial partnership between EMGs and the university in which EMGs grow plants for demonstration gardens and classroom use, facilitating learning for university students, EMGs, and the public. EMGs in another program have assumed much of the management role of the university orchard, using it for teaching and demonstrations. The final discussion focused on extension programs that used volunteers to assist in conducting research to expand extension’s capabilities, and also increasing EMGs’ understanding of the research process. All projects emphasized the need for extension agents to empower volunteers to take on leadership and decision-making roles as well as the value of EMGs to extension.
Lucy K. Bradley, Ellen M. Bauske, Thomas A. Bewick, John R. Clark, Richard. E. Durham, Gail Langellotto, Mary H. Meyer, Margaret Pooler, and Sheri Dorn
Consumer horticulture encompasses a wide array of activities that are practiced by and of interest to the gardening public, garden-focused nongovernmental organizations, and gardening-related industries. In a previous publication, we described the current lack of funding for research, extension, and education in consumer horticulture and outlined the need for a strategic plan. Here, we describe our process and progress in crafting a plan to guide university efforts in consumer horticulture, and to unite these efforts with stakeholders’ goals. In 2015, a steering committee developed a first draft of a plan, including a mission statement, aspirational vision, core values, goals, and objectives. This draft was subsequently presented to and vetted by stakeholders at the 2015 American Society for Horticultural Science Consumer Horticulture and Master Gardeners (CHMG) working group workshop, a 2015 Extension Master Gardener Coordinators’ webinar, and a 2015 meeting in Washington, DC. Feedback received from these events is being used to refine and focus plan goals and objectives. The most recent working draft of the plan can be found on the website, where stakeholders and other interested parties can register to receive updates and to provide input into the process.