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  • Author or Editor: Milton G. Newberry III x
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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.

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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.

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