Iowa’s Master Gardener program sees big boost in the number of people trained

AMES — The Master Gardener Program through Iowa State University Extension and Outreach is reporting significant growth in 2022.

Program coordinator Alicia Herzog says more than 440 people were trained statewide last year, which is an increase of 41% from the year before.   “The main thing I think that has fueled that was that we offered Master Gardener training twice last year and that was something that we have not done before,” Herzog says. “Traditionally, the Master Gardener program is offered once a year, either in the fall or the winter. Last year, we tried it out in summer and fall as our two different timelines.”

The program is also reporting more than 100,000 volunteer hours logged last year by nearly 1800 volunteers. Herzog says some people think master gardeners are all about growing flowers and vegetables, which they are, but there’s much more to it. “We have people who really are interested in having a beautiful lawn, so they kind of specialize in learning about turf grass,” Herzog says. “We have people who are really interested in planting and maintaining trees, so they kind of go down that rabbit hole and they specialize in that area.”

Herzog says Master Gardeners in Iowa provided more than two-point-two million dollars in services during 2022. The program had been training about 350 people in Iowa every year, but with the doubled-up schedule, it’s hoped well over 400 people will become Master Gardeners every year.  “It takes 10 weeks to go through our Master Gardener training program,” Herzog says. “That’s the initial input to become a Master Gardener. Then they go into a 40-hour internship and they have a full calendar year to finish that internship.”

Depending on their available time, some people can finish in less than a year, but many take a full year to complete the training. While gardening is a big part of what Master Gardeners do, Herzog says they also help to educate communities about a variety of horticulture and gardening topics. She calls Master Gardeners “educational stewards” for their communities, as they offer seminars, consult with community groups and help educate and inform the public about access to healthy food. Herzog says it’s much more than just tending a garden.  “There’s just no way that we could have the impact in the communities that we have in horticulture without Master Gardeners,” Herzog says. “There’s no county office that has enough staff members to be able to answer all the horticulture questions and requests for information that are coming in from the public without these trained volunteers to help them with that.”

Herzog says 82 Iowa counties participated in the Master Gardener program in 2022. The Master Gardener Annual Report shows Iowa’s Master Gardeners interacted with more than 200,000 people last year and assisted the Growing Together Iowa program in donating nearly 115-thousand pounds of produce.

This year’s first classes were held earlier this month, with the next training scheduled to begin September 5th. If you’re interested in the fall session, the application period is between July 17th and August 18th.