The Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service is celebrating more than 8,000 volunteers in its Texas Master Gardener program during April, National Volunteer Month, by showing appreciation for their hard work and service. The Texas Master Gardener program is one of the agency’s four statewide volunteer programs.  

A woman observing crops planted in the Dallas Urban Garden.
A Texas Master Gardener working on the Dallas county urban farm. (Laura McKenzie/Texas A&M AgriLife)

The program started in 1978 as a result of learning about the Master Gardener Program from the Washington State Extension Service. This led AgriLife Extension to host the first official Master Gardener class in Montgomery County in 1979, with 25 Texans in attendance. The course was held in the evenings, and AgriLife Extension county agents and specialists along with Texas A&M University specialists gave instruction from a manual of collected publications.

The importance of volunteers

 “Our volunteers mean everything; without them, too often the public would go without the solid information to help them be successful in their gardening endeavors,” said Jayla Fry, AgriLife Extension program specialist for the Texas Master Gardener program.

“I have firsthand experience in knowing that our volunteers are smart, kind, compassionate and a joy to work with,” Fry said. “I am so glad to have them as the hands and feet of AgriLife Extension and the Master Gardener program.”  

Fry recently sat down with us to highlight the program and the volunteers as well as the services they can provide.

What is the Master Gardener program?

The Master Gardener program trains volunteers to increase the availability of homeowner information to the public utilizing social media, speaking events, demonstrations, phone calls and emails. There is always someone on our volunteer team to answer your questions.

What makes Texas Master Gardeners so special?

Their selfless service. Our volunteers bring so much more to the Master Gardener program than just their horticulture knowledge. They allow us to expand our capabilities and service by sharing their professional and personal experiences.

What are the goals of the Master Gardener program?

Our mission is to educate the public and help people be successful in their gardening endeavors, whether that be vegetable gardening, demonstration gardens or presentations. We also strive to work with and educate our youth through the Junior Master Gardener® program, which teaches them about gardening and service.

Junior Master Gardener filling small planting pots with soil.
Junior Master Gardener volunteering at the National Leader Training Conference in 2022. (Sam Craft/Texas A&M AgriLife)

We also do diagnostic work where people can come in with a plant that has a disease or pest, and we can help them identify it, treat it and work around any other problems. We hope that if there is a group of youth or adults who are interested in learning about gardening, our volunteers can help provide those learning experiences.

What are the skills the program looks for in a volunteer?

We train our volunteers, but to become certified Master Gardeners, we are looking for people who are willing to share their knowledge with others and who have a servant’s heart. Some of our volunteers come in with a great deal of knowledge of horticulture, but others come into this program with no knowledge of horticulture but a desire to learn.

What do you hope the volunteers get out of volunteering with Master Gardener?

People often want to become a Master Gardener because they want to learn the skills for themselves. We hope our volunteers learn what they are coming for and, as they learn, they become more involved with serving the community around them.

We have had many people come through our program wanting to learn more about vegetable gardening, but through the process they may learn that soils are the foundation and want to learn more about composting. In a few years, they want to give back and teach others about the role soils play in gardening.

How does someone sign up to volunteer with Master Gardener?

The first step to volunteering as a Master Gardener is to contact your local AgriLife Extension county agent. Not every county has a Master Gardener program. Still, those interested are encouraged to contact their county agent and express their interest, and they may be able to work together to start the program.  

What advice would you give someone who wants to volunteer with Master Gardener?

I would tell them not to hold back from being involved with the program because you will gain more knowledge about the program, gardening, people and the community around you if you fully invest in the program.

Visit the Texas Master Gardener Program to learn more about how you can become a Texas Master Gardener volunteer and make a difference in your community. 

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