The Virginia Master Gardener Association, an organization that provides horticultural and environmental stewardship information to Virginians, is seeking to establish an endowment at Virginia Tech.
"The project has already received an anonymous donation of $50,000 to the endowment fund," said William McCaleb, president of VMGA and the coordinator of the Halifax County Master Gardener program. "The organization has been challenged to match the gift."
"The anonymous donor willing to invest such a large gift to initiate an endowed Chair of Excellence for the Master Gardener program is evidence that Virginians value Extension's quality education tied to the commitment of trained volunteers and the impact this program has on Virginia communities." said Patricia Sobrero, director of Virginia Cooperative Extension.
Master Gardeners are volunteers who learn about many aspects of horticulture and the environment through a program offered by Virginia Tech and Virginia Cooperative Extension. The education program is a minimum of 50 classroom instruction and reading hours taught by local experts.
In return for the education, the Master Gardeners volunteer to help their community by answering horticulture questions and providing leadership for community programs such as landscaping public areas.
The information the Master Gardeners learn is based on research at the land-grant universities, Virginia Tech and Virginia State University. In exchange for their education, Master Gardeners contribute time teaching proper gardening practices through lectures, plant clinics, or answering questions telephoned into "hot lines." The Master Gardeners agree to volunteer a minimum of 50 hours to acquire their certification
One of the projects that Master Gardeners often do is design a demonstration or community garden. A few years ago, a Virginia Master Gardener program in Prince William County won a national award for its community garden in which the volunteers grew 112,426 pounds of fresh produce which was donated to two food pantries said Pat Reilly, coordinator of Prince William County Master Gardeners.
4-H, the youth development program of Virginia Cooperative Extension, offers a Junior Master Gardener program to help youngsters learn about horticulture.
"As volunteers, the Master Gardeners help people expand their gardening knowledge; bring the joy of gardening to senior citizens and youth; and make a difference in their communities. That is the only pay to the more than nearly 4,000 Master Gardeners in Virginia," said David Close, the state Master Gardener coordinator.
The endowment will support the state Master Gardener coordinator's position -- the person who provides administrative and subject-matter leadership to ensure the training offers the most up-to-date education.
The Master Gardener's website is www.vmga.net. For information on how to contribute, contact Max Bales, director of development for Virginia Tech's College of Agriculture and Life Sciences.