As the Grower Outreach Coordinator for AmpleHarvest.org I have the privilege of communicating with farmers and gardeners from all over the United States. Through our social media sites–especially Instagram–I get to see what folks are growing, celebrate their bountiful harvests, and commiserate with them when something destroys their precious pumpkins (the squash vine borer was particularly brutal this year, apparently). Gardeners like to talk, and brag, and ask for help, and advise. It’s a beautiful thing. But, I’m always surprised by how few people are aware of one of the greatest FREE gardening resources available: the Extension Master Gardeners.
Picture a league of 95,000 garden experts who have been trained on things like taxonomy, plant pathology, soil health, entomology, sustainable gardening, and integrated pest management for their own specific growing region and zone. Not only are they highly trained garden experts, but as a condition of the training they have received from the county agricultural extension office, they are required to donate dozens of hours of community service through which they share their gardening know-how. That right, there are people who live right in your neighborhood that probably have answers to all of your gardening questions, and they are ready to help!
Many of the county extension offices will have an Extension Master Gardener on-call. You just call up the hotline and ask your question. (Our founder and Executive Director, Gary Oppenheimer, is an EMG in New Jersey and he spent some of his volunteer hours on the garden hotline there!).
You can find your county extension office and Extension Master Gardener Program by searching here. They exist to serve. This is a volunteer program and we should all be taking advantage of this wealth of knowledge! (Check out the EMG blog at: http://blogs.extension.org/mastergardener)
The other thing we LOVE about the EMGs is that thousands upon thousands of them are using their knowledge to help feed the hungry in their community. According to a 2009 EMG Survey, nearly 700,000 pounds of produce has been donated to local food banks due to the work of EMGs across the country.
Here’s what we’d love to see: We’d love to see ALL 95,000 EMGs growing and donating food to a food pantry found at AmpleHarvest.org/findpantry. We’d love to see YOU have the best garden you’ve ever had by utilizing the help of these amazing volunteers. And we’d love your help to spread the word about this amazing program by sharing this blog post with your gardening friends.
With your help and the help of the Extension Master Gardeners nation-wide, we can reduce hunger and malnutrition in every community in the United States! Happy Gardening, everyone!