M/G Attrition- Why Do they Drop Out?

October 22, 2004

I have seen lots of people take the course, complete their volunteers hours, get their certificate, come to a few meetings and then disappear forever. Why do you suppose this is so? Also do you feel the selection process can be revised to somehow predict who will stay? Your thoughts please.

Comments (65)

  • sleeplessinftwayne

    I have been lucky to be in groups that have good activities ongoing for almost any interest, age or time availability. Currently we have about 300 active members with ages ranging from 15 to 90. Our Junior Master gardeners are looking like some will go on to the adult group. We have an associate group called Friends of the Garden for those who don't have the time or some other reason to get the MG training. We have 17 or so gardens surrounding the Ext. office that are designed and maintained by the MGs. None of the gardens are huge but each one has its own theme. There is a group assigned to each garden and it is up to them to set up a schedule for maintaining each garden and keep it in good shape. You can request a garden assignment and change if you like but you don't always get your first choice. Every year the gardens get better and better. About once a month during the growing season there is a general workday where common areas and special projects get attention. Lunch is provided by a social committee and there is a brief meeting each time. Usually there are about 35-50 there not counting the Friends of the Garden and various relatives and guests at the workday. This year we have had guests from the Habitat for Humanity working off their Sweat Equity commitments. We have a speakers bureau, consumers hotline, a newsletter, a program committee, a Junior Master Gardeners program and a booth at the Home and Garden show. For money raising we have 3 plant sales and a bulb sale, sometimes a rummage sale, if someone has the time and interest and there is a need. Seed sales at the H&G Show is a good money raising project. Preparing the seed packets is a popular volunteer project to get your hours. We have MGs giving seminars througout the H&G Show. There is a propagation group that raises some of the more unusual plants for the sales and a group that locates and purchases the plants that go into the display gardens. Some of us give classes or seminars or special projects like hypertulfa, pond building, greenroof, trellis building etc. We have several garden walks each summer and someone from each group is there to answer questions, provide handouts and do an activity. There may be guest speakers, live music, artists sketching, snacks and drinks. Children can feed the fish in our little pond. Trips and tours are popular with the MGs, too. Some are day trips and others are more elaborate like the 5 day trip to the Smokies. The buses come back bulging with newly purchased plants and garden ornaments. I haven't mentioned everything but I expect you get the idea. I have to go now. I have to water the plants in my growing room for the Awards Banquet. Sandy

  • eddie_ga_7a

    sleeplessin ftwayne, Sandy - I want to join your group.

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  • sleeplessinftwayne

    Hey Eddie, From the looks of your Home Page you are torn between being a self starter or a spark plug. Does the Ransom of Red Chief sound like your autobiography? I'll bet your mother would have been an early supporter of Ritalin. Sorry, about that. Rodney is going to be sorely missed. While there are many talented and enthusiastic members in our group and our Hort. Educator is absolutely tops, there is always room for improvement and I'll bet there are people in your group who would love getting into some of the activities we do. A few years ago our Leader hit a rare slow day and had a meeting for some of the self starters and dreamers in our group. Everyone got a chance to add to a list of projects and programs they thought were worthwhile. My list was a page and a half long with just a line or two of description for each and there were others with twice that.Allowing for duplication, there must have been 50 new ideas that sounded doable. I bet your group could come up with a similar list. I've seen a lot of those ideas develop and involve a lot of MGs. Don't expect to start all of them at once, but encourage the MGs in your group to research what other groups are doing, who in your group would be interested, who would benefit, what the startup and continuing costs would be, etc. See if your Agent is interested in that type of program or if he is only interested in having someone man the phones for him. If there is enough interest and willing participation from the MGs he might be willing to expand the scope of the program. There is a percentage that will want to have the kind of control you see in an affiliated Garden Club or Junior League.(Ladies, I am not putting down the Junior League.They are great organizations but they are social groups rather than volunteers.) Sometimes those work out, sometimes they don't. If it ends up as a power issue between them and the Agent, the Agent must win or the program will die. Ask some of your group to talk to the Agent and request he consider an organizational committee to find out what the group is interested in doing. You might be pleasently surprised at the good ideas out there. Sandy

  • gardener_sandy

    One thing that may contribute to the drop out rate is the lack of information on new and innovative ideas in the field. How many classes on perennials or composting can one person stand anyway?!? The new info is out there, but often it's not readily available. We're putting together a symposium for next spring that addresses this issue. It will be on advances in biotech, new exotic pests, and what's new in horticulture and aboriculture. Everybody seems eager for this and we hope it will encourage more to stay with the program.

  • eyolf

    I have looked at joining the program, but in the end I backed away from the program (sorry!) for several reasons: the chief of which can be found by clicking the link below. Add to that, of course, is the amount of time it can take.
    I could have attended training in another county, but possibly would have had to complete my community service requirements in that county as well.

    Maybe if I was retired or at least not the sole breadwinner of the family...

    Here is a link that might be useful: some counties refuse to support extension services.

  • ltcollins1949

    Without reading all of the above responses, I know why we are dropping out down here in Rockport, Texas. See Question for Master Gardener Organizations.

  • eyolf

    I need to apologize...anyone looking at my link above will get my local county extension page. That hasn't been the case for about 18 months. I'm sure it was confusing as to the message.

    I have done some asking around, and the old extension system of having an extension agent in every county is dying out. Most county governments considered it an unfunded mandate in that the county had to pay the xtension agent's salary, provide office space and support staff...all to provide a link to services that were supposed to be coming from the land-grant university.

    The advent of the internet has made the extension agent somewhat of an anachronism. In keeping with that thought, the consumer (it is hoped) will be able to access what he needs or who he needs via the WWW or email. Local master gardeners are (supposed to be) available for those who aren't able to efficiently be served in that wise.

    Unfortunately, the new system has a few bugs yet. As Extension agents and staff disappear, Many MG's drop away. Without local leadership, some MG programs are floundering.

    The Mn master gardener program is operated out of one central office, state-wide. I expect it will eventually dissappear completely from many out-state, rural counties.

  • eddie_ga_7a

    eyolf, The subject you bring up is one I have thought about for some time but didn't want to open yet another can of worms: With a strong and reliable contingency of Master Gardener volunteers is the Agents job in jeopardy? I too have heard rumors of counties where the Agent was let go and not replaced. The only thing constant is change.

  • eyolf

    Eddie G:
    With a strong and reliable contingency of Master Gardener volunteers is the Agents job in jeopardy?

    The MG program in my state, at least outstate appears to be in a real state of flux, maybe jeopardy. MG's depended upon the extension service, especially the extension agent to lead the program in most areas. Counties that have an extensive agricultural base will continue to embrace the extension service, and other counties may or may not depending upon local conditions.

    Without local leadership, it is my opinion that the MG program will flounder in many areas.

    Whether it will be missed by a significant segment of the public is another question. I believe in the program, and wish it were a bit easier to enter and contribute to, but I may be in the minority. I have two veggie gardens, each about 5k sq ft, plus plenty of ornamentals and fruits. I think I'm in the minority in my neighborhood!

  • blueheron

    I doubt if the agent's job would be in jeopardy from master gardeners. The agents are professionals, often with post graduate degrees, plus they have the expertise to reach out to local growers and farmers to help them develop better crop yields and fight diseases, etc. Where we live is an agricultural county with lots of farms and related agribusinesses.

    Master gardeners are not trained to do that kind of hands-on professional work nor do they have the time, for it's a full time job.

  • eyolf

    I think I agree, Blueheron. The agent's job probably won't be in danger from MG's, but depending on state and local funding, may be in danger because the county government is looking to find services or programs to cut.

    I agree, areas with a healthy farm economy will probably retain a healthy extension service program. My home state has a good farm economy as well, and the university supports a great deal of research, with a fairly large number of technical specialists supposedly available to lend aid. The local farmer, orchardist, etc., (including homeowner's) link to these people and their expertise, has been the local extension office...they are expected to know how to quickly find the info required, organize training and outreach, etc. The master gardeners are the link for homeowners and hobbyists to that knowledge base.

    Unfortunately, local experience suggests that without county support for the extension office, the MG program will probably go into free fall as well. The local user's link gets broken.

    10 years ago I had a difficult insect problem with some fruit trees. Through the direct action of the county extension agent, I was able to diagnose and partly alleviate the problem, at least as far as climate and winter damage allowed.

    I have been trying to get on top of a sporadic disease problem affecting the chickens I keep all summer, deciding finally to tear down the chicken coop and depopulate. There is no local extension agent, and I was unable to find the correct state agency to help me figure out what to do. I finally found an answer with the manager of an egg farm in another state...If we hadn't been visiting relatives, I may never have known (the problem is probably due to a tiny, almost invisible mite , likely introduced by the wild pigeons I'm always trying to keep out of the barn. Might also also possibly connected to the last 3 warm winters we've experienced...infected pigeons able to survive the weather and spread the problem further north).

    It has been said that the only constant is change. I'll grit my teeth and accept that. The hard part is that many of us have gotten spoiled, having a detailed knowledge base sometimes only a phone call away. It has been suggested to me that the internet serves as that link for almost everyone...but you've got to be knowledgeable enough about your problems to search intelligiently too, something I may be lacking!

  • jpgardener

    Here's how I feel about why MG's drop out.

    The problem with some veteran MG's is they seem to have forgotten their mission.

    Most of their time is spent managing the clicks they have formed, making new MG's feel uncomfortable. Control appears to be their main mission with education seriously lacking.

    And God forbid if the new MG is a professional gardener with more experience and knowledge than the vets. You're out of the loop.

    I'm writing from personal experience. I was told by others what the vet situation was like, now I found out for myself and quite frankly I don't want to be party to their politics... too much to do; too little time to do it.

    On the positive side...I feel great about handling the helpline, usually alone, and assisting the community with their gardening questions. It was a very rewarding experience.


  • lerajo


    I am a Master Gardener in Michigan who is about to drop membership at the end of this year. I did initially take the classes for my own education. And I did the hours of service. However, when I call my extension office about any service opportunities--no info. There is no communicating with the current MGs about anything. Nothing in the mail. While I could find some opportunities for service hours, it would be very helpful to be advised about some programs for the current MGs. The only opportinities for further education we have in the county are to come and listen to the current classes being given--if I listen to lawn care one more time I'll go crazy. There is no sense of community with the MGs. You're out there on your own. That is why I am dropping out.

  • Nelz

    WOW - Excellent discussion. We are dealing with the same thing in my MG group in OH. Some classes have a high percentage of retention, and some classes ar at 1 or 2 out of 15-20 in the class, by the end of the first year.

    The group has done some shifting and re-organizing to attempt to slow down attrition.

    We do our training in conjunction with a neighboring county, and it was decided to run a class every other year. The 'off' year would be used to focus on advanced training opportunities.

    We also re-visited what it is we do, and what is is we should, or more importantly shouldn't, be doing.

    In my case, I am active sporadically based on availability. I am a stay at home dad and my wife is a teacher, so summers are pretty available, but during the school year, not so much. I almost fall off the map for 7-9 months except for the monthly meeting, and I don't make all of those.

  • trowelgal Zone 5A, SW Iowa

    After reading all of the above I feel most like Sandy. I became an EMG this past year. We have a WONDERFUL extension agent who is very involved with the EMG program. In addition we all had "mentors" who came to the meetings on occasion to support us. They even sent us cards of encouragement. There is a wonderful newsletter to let us know what training, and it is varied and plentiful, is coming up and leaders in every area of volunteering work you can imagine. Our organization is extremely active, energetic and filled with warm and wonderful people. I work outside the home, actually have a full time and part time job so I chose "Junior Master Gardeners" for my volunteering as I can do the classes in the evenings. On January 31st I will be joining the " EMG Speakers Bureau" when I do a training session on the Winter Sowing method ( which I learned how to do right here on Gardenweb). I am proud to be an Extension Master Gardener from Johnson County, Kansas.
    Tina Koch, class of 2004

  • dplantmann

    I think many Master Gardeners drop out because they don't especially like to have their volunteer intersts controlled by others. Most master Gardeners I know tend to have nitche interests where they would like to use their volunteer time. Initially those interests fall to the back of the volunteer hours they are required to perform. Frustration sets in and next thing you know, they move on to other interests with less structure (path of least resistance). New Master Gardeners are many times overwelmed with the experience level of many of their collegues. If they don't have the personality and social skills to keep up, they melt away. I think multi-mentoring programs might go a long way to solving the disapperance of many Master Gardeners.

    The North Suburban Cook Unit (Chicago) I belong to (even though I live 40 miles away) is an outstanding Extension Unit. They make an effort to pair experienced Master gardeners with those of less experience and have many outside functions where volunteers get to socialize with each other. That group is truely like a big family.

    I would say more but it is Jan. 1st 2005 and I have to continue with my personal goal of getting the gardening folks in the Midwest to not go dorment in Winter but to treat the season more like the Japanese do. Planing, research and observation of the Winter garden are just the beginning.

    Happy New Year!

  • SissyZeke

    I moved from Chicago to Memphis. I was clueless about gardening in Zone 8. I took the class to inform myself, but
    the constraints of being a working mom forced me to drop out. We have 40 hours to maintain your certification and it
    was out of the question for me, at this time.
    I learned alot and made wonderful friends that encourage
    me to get back in!!

  • tngardening_eeyore

    I dropped out after six very uninformed rich retiree meetings. Most of the mgs were retirees with nothing to do but gossip about their neighbors. I was the youngest person at the meetings, but it is no wonder. I was made to feel very unwelcome and only spoken to a couple of times. A couple of times I found out about supposed Mg projects, after the date, and these were not discussed in the meetings. I received no mail and no one every called to tell me of anything the group was working on.
    I have found plenty of projects in my community to volunteer help with, on my own. A fellow gardener recently completed the mg course and wants me to come to a meeting with her. I may go just to see if there is any new faces and to see if it is any better.
    "If at first you don't succeed, grow it again next year"

  • sween

    I think that a lot of people entering the program simply do not understand certain components of it. In particular, I tend to believe that the volunteer obligation involved burdens some folks, and they just do not have the time to fulfill the requirements.

    I had to really stretch and bend my schedule to pick up the initial 50 hours for certification. Now, getting in the 40 hours for maintenance is nearly impossible for me. I work a schedule that makes it extremelty difficult to get those hours in. Furthermore, I was really surprised to learn the becoming a CMG is more about volunteerism than actually mastering the art of gardening. My best guess is that this also perplexes others.

    And I can't argue with the idea that certain elements within the program can make you feel downright unwelcome. Over all, I felt welcome more than not, but the fact that there were times when I did not says a lot. Cheers...

  • katycopsey

    There are many reasons that people drop out of the course, the volunteer hours and the continuation - many have been mentioned.
    However, from my own experience:
    The AGENT makes a difference: an indifferent agent is not clarifying the volunteer hours and does not come up with any ideas to stop people from landscaping companies using the course as education for their employees, without committment to volunteer afterwards. Of a class of 30 people we would get on average Problems we encountered were lack of visability of our projects to the class - they graduated and didn't know where/when to volunteer;
    Lack of in-county opportunities - some went to the next county and volunteered there. They were allowed 2yrs to complete their hours.
    In the last 8yrs we started to have one association person do a 5 mins intro of themselves/projects etc, at the start of each training session. Interns are encouraged to attend association meetings. We got projects going in county so that people didn't have to travel 45 mins to get to a volunteer site.
    However, I moved. My old agent sent a glowing message to the new agent in my new county - they were delighted. There is not a MG association, no one from the current members took the initiative to introduce themsleves and let me know where they were volunteering. There is a newsletter from the agent that comes out each month with work days (which I should attend, but haven't yet). In the past yr I have gone from an average of 100hrs/yr to 4. Whilst I realise that I need to get of my butt to do something, there is no info flowing my way, no local contact to indicate where to volunteer locally. So I am at the stage where I can either : integrate, and maybe aim to change the way they do things; or drop out due to lack of enthusiasm.

  • jazzmom516 (Zone7 LI, NY)

    jpgardener could be discussing our county office. We have several veterans that think its their duty to intimidate new MG's. This plus the fact that we now lost a popular agent to the next county due to personal reasons (needed to be closer to her home and her family) and that the remaining agent needs a crash course on peopleskills and he plays favorites with the vets that are always doing his bidding (lectures all over the county, and various projects) have contributed to the 2001 class having maybe 10 out of 50 active MG still involved. The new 2003 class is very green and many of that class have gone out the door never to return after their 150 hours payback because they are not made to feel welcome when handling the phones by the vets and staff here. Here is an example: I've been a member of extension service since I moved to my home almost 20 years. I became a MG in 2001.I'm considered a young veteran in the MG program. Last week I had a problem that needed diagnosing by an expert. My problem dealt with the mushroom that had killed my lilac bush. The agent when asked by me 'do you know what this is? said to me, 'look it up!' Believe me I had no clue as to where to go to ID the mushroom let alone how to remedy the situation. A kind person on an internet message board sent me a link to U of Ill re: armillaria root rot. Now if the agent had said to me it is armillaria, now look it up, that would have made it stick in my mind a lot longer than his rude response. He said to me you are a MG, but I told him I'm coming to you as a HOMEOWNER not as a MG! He ended up walking away from me. This is why there is attrition in our office.

  • jimlang

    People will stay in a volunteer organization as long as the sum total of what they get out of it is equal to or greater than the sum total of what they have to put in to it. When they do not they will find another way to spend their time and energy. Contrary to popular belief volunteers do not work for free they just have different expectations about how and with what they will be paid.

  • calistoga_al ca 15 usda 9

    Jassmom the agent was probably a little abrupt in his answer to you. He might have suggested you look up root diseases for the one that produces mushrooms as the fruiting bodies. I think he was interested in increasing your knowledge through your own efforts. Al

  • ljrmiller

    I dropped out/vanished because I moved to another state. I'd have to do the courses all over again, and I don't really have the time any more to volunteer OR to take the courses. I still think it's a good program, and I was active for the several years I was a Master Gardener.

    I'm also not very good at giving basic gardening advice, because I'm a very free-wheeling gardener, and I tend to treat my whole garden like one big experiment. That, and people get intimidated because I know the science behind most of gardening, and forget that most people don't know Latin nomenclature, chemical terminology or the other technical stuff. I don't get condescending--I just chatter on enthusiastically in what might as well be Greek to my poor listener! The confident ones stop me and ask me to explain. The others just tune out and give up. Not good for conveying information!

    I think that's probably the hardest part about being a Master Gardener--trying to communicate something which is both incredibly easy (plants WANT to grow) and incredibly complicated (plants are living things surrounded by other living things). I never could find the right balance.

  • buyorsell888

    I completed my classes and volunteer pay back in 1994, I really enjoyed it although I was younger (31) than everyone else and the only one who had any work experience or previous horticulture training (I have four years horticulture classes, didn't get degree though, and have always worked in horticulture or floral design) I really enjoyed manning the phone line at the local MG office and also enjoyed manning the booths at various events. However, in 1995 I got a job that ended up taking over my life. It was a long commute and long hours and I just did not have time anymore to continue my volunteering. I did put on some MG clinics at my job (floral/garden mgr for upscale supermarket) and did try to keep up but by 1996 I had to give up. Now that I am working from home they closed the local MG office!

    I did also find the group very cliquey, maybe it was my age.

  • dtgardengirl

    I completed my classes in 2001. Because I work full time, I can't attend monthly meetings held during the day. Last year, because I was unemployed for a time, I was able to attend a couple of meetings and some horticultural tours. I'd love to be more active in the program. The nice thing about our MG program is that the Extension agent is willing to be creative in continuing education and volunteer opportunities and considers our area of expertise/interest.

    Approved online training courses allow me to fulfill my educational requirements as time permits, and there are approved projects that I can do from home to educate. This would include things like writing articles, creating PowerPoint presentations, and container garden tip sheets with a photo of each composition.

    Someone else pointed out that most members are the retired set. I too was one of the youngest, plus one of the few that works full time. I addressed this issue recently with our Extension Educator and he acknowledged that we need to broaden ways for people to earn their education hours and their volunteer hours. I see that this is being implemented and feel our members will be able to be more involved. Our program seems to be a strong one.

  • Marcy72

    I'm not an MG yet; I'm applying to take the next class here. But I would have to agree, even from my outside viewpoint, that time must be a huge factor in why some people drop out. I'm lucky in that classes in my county are held half a mile from my house, and also that I work at a garden-design company which promotes the further education of their employees. If they weren't willing to have me miss half-days two days a week from January through March I wouldn't even be able to apply. And motivation, I expect, would also be a key element; I want to be an MG to help me do a better job at work as well as in my own private gardening. I imagine that for the people who work full-time and are MGs for non-work-related purposes, other demands on their time might eventually seem more important.

    On a different note, thanks to all for this useful and intelligent discussion- I'm learning more about what a MG actually does from this thread than from the materials I've gotten from the county :)

  • Eddie_GA

    "I'm learning more about what a MG actually does from this thread than from the materials I've gotten from the county" That is a gratifying comment for all who posted here.

  • gardenmaker79

    The excuse I hear is I have a personal life. I dont have time to volenteer. well the ones who are saying this are in the social community and I feel as though they just dont seem to want to do the project that they had set up for our class. I myself work 10 or more hours a day 4 to 5 days a week. Tell me about time limited. You have to learn to do time management. That a huge key into this program and I know out of 30+ people who took our class only 2 have compeated the volenteer work to get the certifacation. Thats hard for me to believe since I did get mine in less then 6 months and all the others only have less then 6 months to finish it. I was told that alot of the people in the class hasnt done any volenteer work. I guess they took the class for there own use. Hope they do enjoy it.

  • skoobedoo

    You would think in a big city that there would be lots of volunteer opportunities. If one works a 40 hour week, that leaves only weekends and evenings. Lots of places don't seem to want help on a weekend day. I got tired of begging for projects that would fit my schedule. I also haven't heard a word via phone or e-mail from my agent in many moons. Nothing, not even for a social gathering. Oh well, maybe I'll try again when I retire.

  • littlecars

    I finally completed the MG course in April after trying to alter my work schedule for the past six years. A working person has difficulty taking off 14 consecutive Wednesdays. The major MG projects are on weekdays. Fine for retirees and others not employed but a working person has to find the projects and hours to fulfil the obligation. The local MG group seems very supportive as well as does the local Agent (whose position my be in jeopardy as stated in previous postings). Most of the people in my class were taking the class for gardening knowledge and accepted the 40 hour volunteer hours as payback, but some will never get it done. Such is life!

    In the end, MG is just another public service club. It has to work with the members to hold them; have projects that mean something; ensure that each member has the opportunity to participate throughout the year. Happy Gardening!

  • calistoga_al ca 15 usda 9

    I have been a Master Gardener for more than 10 years. I am able to keep busy now days giving gardening classes on Saturdays through the library system. On Sundays I help with plant clinics at local farmers markets. If you only have weekends you will have to look for or create your own opportunity. My 1000 hour mark was passed in the first five years, and I no longer need the hours, I do it because I like gardeners and enjoy talking gardening with them. Al

  • jeffahayes

    Our local program graduates 60 people every year, yet there seems to be a constant group of only about 90 MGs, lol.

    Go figure!

  • poiu

    I can attest that teh MG coordinator is an absolute NEGATIVE person. How anyone can be so insecure and nasty in overall commitment to horticulture education is beyond me and many professionals that hear of it and the shock that MGs voice...

    Overall, the Cooperative Extension is only as good as the people(STAFF) it surrounds itself with. IF the Director can't give leadership or keep problems in check, the ship goes down.

  • ccoombs1

    Our MG meetings are held on Thursday afternoon. Wonderful for all the retired folks, but SOME MG's have jobs! Many of the volunteer opportuities are also during the week.

  • Blond_Bimbo

    There are lots of reasons why mg'rs drop out. #1 thing to remember is that extension expects a 10% drop out rate from the get go. After that, we have family illness, pregnancy, death, change in situation at home, moving, and going back to work. Some just want the free education and run with it to get a job at a local nursery. Some get upset with the agent or with other mg'rs over how the program is run. Some get bored and cannot find advanced education that they were promised in the beginning of the program. Some find that their program is more like a junior league garden club complete with power mongers and favorites. Some find themselves too much on their own without any direction from the top all lost and confused. Some do not get to participate in awards, projects, hour pins, year pins, or other nominations because the agent doesn't like those things in the program and is not required to participate. Some just decide it is way too much work after all. Some were bad choices to let into the program to begin with because they were a friend of another mg'r. Some find the public contact and talks too overwhelming. Some didn't realize that the future education would also cost money. There are lots of reasons of why they leave the program all in all, but you can count on us die hards to stay no matter what and laugh at the politics and the rest of the confusion in our lives to continue on and be an mg'r come rain or shine. If it was easy - everybody would do it!

  • turquoise

    I know this thread is old, but I found it interesting because I'm currently in the MG training program.

    One thing I didn't see mentioned that I find off-putting is the cost. I paid $185 for the training. I know it's a volunteer program and I'm excited about that, but I feel a little resentful being frequently reminded that I have responsibilities in exchange for my training (no mention of the $185 in that exchange).

    The instructor mentioned a path building project this weekend and I was considering signing up, but then she added it was $10 to participate ("and expect to get grubby")! So I pay THEM to help build their path? Of course I would gain instruction and experience, but shouldn't it at least be free if I'm giving my labor?

    I'm concerned that I'm viewed more as a consumer than a team member or volunteer, that my fee is more valuable than my interest or time. Is that because so many people drop out, they have trainees subsidize that lost time?

  • gardener_sandy

    Your post has me amazed, turquoise. We are never asked to pay to participate in projects. I can just hear the reaction now!

    I can understand your resentment at giving free labor and paying, also. You might want to ask your agent if this is a common practice or some special project that the MGs are subsidizing.


  • ksfarmer

    I am also surprised at turquoise' post. I can't see paying to volunteer my help on a project. Here, we paid for the training, but that included reference material notebook, and a MG shirt, besides a lot of very good training. I would ask the agent or instructor why you have to pay to work on a project. I enjoy the volunteer part, having worked to man a "ask the MG" booth at our county fair, and working on several community beautification projects. I never was asked to pay to participate!

  • joe.jr317

    I'm learning more about MG programs here, too. But don't take it in such a positive light as Eddie took Marcy's comment. This thread is seriously giving me a little bit of concern for the class I will be starting on the 23rd. The initial 40 hours was mentioned to me. I was told that it was at my discretion, but when I talked to the person running the class I was told it is, but within parameters. I had in mind that I might volunteer at the Indy zoo gardens, give a class or two to the Earth Scouts kids (which I already do on pollution and naturalism in Indianapolis area), put in some work at our town's local memorial park for fallen heroes (which I planned to do anyway), etc. Now I'm getting the idea from this thread coupled with the extension's lack of specifics that they wait and tell you your options and it's a lot less at my discretion than originally presented to me before I paid my $100 fee. Could someone please clarify that?

    Also, there was NEVER any mention of continued volunteer requirements. Under the impression I was under, that I would get to choose what volunteer work I do based on what volunteer work I know needs done, that wouldn't bother me. But, I do have a big problem with waiting until the class to inform anyone of it. I specifically called the extension to inquire about the volunteerism requirement. Until I read this thread, I knew nothing of any continued requirement beyond the 40 hours.

    Some of you seem to think that it is bad for someone to become an MG for personal gain and that it should be about the volunteerism. That's BS. I signed up for personal gain and it was NEVER implied to me that personal gain is a bad reason. The only stipulation told to me is that your volunteer work can't promote a business venture or lead to you making money. In other words, it has to be real volunteer work. It doesn't make sense to become a MG to do volunteer work when you can do that without being a MG. It's not even advertised that way. It is advertised that the volunteer work is really a way of giving back for the education (sounds a lot like Obama's belief that you should have to give back for your government paid education, eh?). If it is required to get an education or to renew certification, it's not really volunteerism. You are being paid/rewarded with something other than just personal satisfaction. I was volunteering long before I ever heard of any MG program, so obviously I'm doing this for my own education.

    The way I came across the program was through calling the colleges in Indiana to find classes on horticulture. I don't want a free ride and was willing to pay. The fact is that nobody provides them but Purdue. And they ONLY provide them on campus. I'm a father, a husband, and work for a living (non-gardening related). I don't have time to make a 4 hour commute to take college classes that are outrageously priced that won't lead to a degree because I don't want to take English and Algebra classes that are completely unrelated to my goal. The only alternative suggested by Purdue was to contact so and so for the MG program and they proceeded to describe this program in a lot different light than what I'm getting from this thread. I hope it's because the thread doesn't apply to my county's extension MG program.

  • saucer

    Interesting thread. I just began my Master Gardener training a few weeks ago and am thoroughly enjoying it. I have been looking forward to enrolling in the program since last year (when I missed it due to work). This year I am actually using some vacation time to attend the classes, but it's very much worth it!

    I suppose every MG group is different. Ours is only into it's third year, but it is being run by some very enthusiastic and friendly people. I guess this is really what makes or breaks the program for you.

    We're supposed to complete 75 hours of volunteer time (25 on the help line, 50 on other projects) during our internship. And it seems like there are quite a variety of projects you can participate in. You can even start your own projects.

    Of the 60 people who applied this year, 36 were accepted. I'm not sure if anyone has dropped out yet, but it seems like the class is getting a little smaller. I feel "personal gain" has a lot to do with a person's decision to become an MG. Volunteer work is great, but you can pick and choose just about any field to volunteer in. So why choose the MG program? Because you enjoy gardening and want more opportunities to participate! You're doing to please yourself as much as you are to benefit your community, aren't you? Both are noble causes!

  • madtripper

    I am looking into MG in Ontario, Canada. The required education program will cost $1500 to take. It is one reason I never applied before. Cost is too high, and I really don't want to take the courses, since I am fairly experieinced already. A new program lets you take an exam for $100.

    Volunteer time is expected to be 30 hrs a year. But it is mostly educational in nature - not weeding gardens.

  • minirose1

    I've been a Master Gardener since 1994 and have been aware of the huge differences in state requirements, but am disturbed by what I see here. The fees in some states is awfully high. Our little Ozark county here is pretty reasonable and while we don't seem to be able to retain a lot of people either, the ones who do stay are terrific for the most part. I'm having to cut back on my activities due to age but since we have several in the same boat, we are trying to come up with more projects that don't require physical endurance. Our hour requirments are 40 hours the first year of community service and to stay certified in following years we need to have 20 hours community service and 20 hours education. The education hours are fairly easy as reading, tours, lectures etc. all are accepted as learning hours. I feel bad that so many have unpleasant experiences in the MG program, but we have some adjoining counties that have had some real problems with people wanting to take over the program and how it's run. Good luck to all who are planning to join, it is a good cause for the most part.

  • little_dani

    I am surprised to see this post still rocking along.

    I have been a MG for 10 years, and for the most part, it has been wonderful for me. I started in a neighboring county, as we didn't have a group in our county at the time, but did transfer when a group was organized and seemed to be thriving.

    We have a new class beginning January 20, 2009. We have a membership of 42 members at this time, so we are hoping that this new class will give us a dozen new and enthusiastic members.

    Our classes are $100.00, with 50 volunteer hours required in the year to be certified. Re-certification requirements are for 12 hours volunteer work, and 6 hours CEU training.

    I was co-ordinator for our last class, and a lot of problems can be laid at the feet of a co-ordinator who doesn't teach responsibilities of the MG. It becomes a social organization, and after they learn they don't have to do anything for Extension, it is difficult to persuade them that it is necessary that MG help out in the office, and that we follow the rules of our state organization.

    I have served as Secretary, Vice President, and this past year, President. I have represented us at the state level, have chaired just about everything there is to chair. It was a lot of time, and a lot of work, but worth every minute to me. And I hope that our MG would think I did a good job.

    The charter class of this organization is 5 years old this year. They have worked hard and they are just tired. Not short of enthusiasm, but they are ready for someone else to take the reins of leadership now.

    This new year gives us new leadership, and everyone is very excited for it. Our new president is beginning her second year as a certified MG, as is our new secretary. Our new vice president and treasurer are both brand new- just certified on December 15, 2008! We are sure they will do a wonderful job, and it is nice to see the 'young ones' being excited about being involved in running things. Not just these 4, but all the newer MGs are excited. And us 'old ones' are excited for our group too.

    We have problems to work out, but we have come a long way. We have for the past 3 years held a free for the public seminar once a month, January through October, on a variety of subjects. We have wonderful plant sales, and we are soon to begin a demonstration garden of our very own. We have several project we have taken on and completed over the past 3 years that we are very proud of.

    We could never take the place of our agents. These people work so hard, and we are there to help them. I don't know how 5 of us could do what one of our agents gets done in a week.

    We also have a website, and I am the Webmaster. This is one job I am really looking forward to this year.

    To anyone contemplating the MG course, I would encourage you to try it. Oh, yes, our classes are in the evening for the past 3 years. It makes a little difficult to organize projects, workdays, and outings sometimes, but it is o.k.


    Here is a link that might be useful: Jackson County Master Gardener Association

  • mogardengal

    When discussing attrition, the specifications of the educational program should also be discussed. For example, there are some (myself included) who are young, have lots of energy, and would happily fulfill volunteer requirements. However, the MG classes have never been at a time convenient for me.

    I have wanted to take the St Louis MG course at the Missouri Botanical Gardens for the past 4 years. However, ALL of the classes are during weekday working hours, spread out over the course of an academic year. I am young (32) and I work full time in healthcare (i.e., scheduled hours off during the day are not possible), so it has never been possible for me to take the course. This is much to my dismay, as I would love to learn from the experts at one of the most beautiful gardens I've seen.

    I will be moving to Alaska shortly and, to my happiness, I discovered that there is an ONLINE master gardening course! It is offered online through the University of Arizona, with the course taught by instructors from the University of Alaska in Fairbanks. I think this is largely due to the huge size of Alaska and its relatively sparse population, and an online venue allows as many more people to participate and learn how to grow in the demanding climate than would be otherwise feasible. Nevertheless, it is affordable, and, even better, I can do it when I have time in the evenings/weekends.

    Yes, I would likely learn more in a group setting, but I am happy that there is at least one option open to me. I plan on taking the online course starting this summer or fall and completing my volunteer work when I arrive in Alaska. It will give me a headstart on my new Alaskan garden and, hopefully, some new community connections to make the transition easier for me. This might be a viable option for many struggling groups who would like to attract more volunteers!

    Here is the link to the AK MG course:


  • paperart

    I took my master Gardener classes 7 years ago. WhenI signed up, I had no idea it was a volunteer group. I thought it was educational only. I had gardened for years and actually owner a small propagation business at the time I took the classes. I learned some things, met some real nice people but never had any plans to join a volunteer group. I didn't and still don't have time but I do spend quite a bit of time helping other gardeners and new gardners in my community with plants, advice and I write a garden blog.

    Here is a link that might be useful: Garden tips

  • JArnold

    75% of our MG beginners drop out after the first year. The program is not what is promised. The courses are at a 10th grade level (I taught high school) and the test to certify is open book. If you don't pass it the first time, it may be taken until you pass or give up. CE units are not educational but repetitive. I can learn more by going to the library.

  • calistoga_al ca 15 usda 9

    Fifteen years ago when I became a Master Gardener I knew it was volunteer organization. I have a long history of volunteer work and when I retired the extra available time could be used for a worthwhile purpose. When I had completed my first thousand hours I was awarded a "life" membership and was told I would no longer be required to report my hours. That suited me as I always felt that the hours reporting was a political tool used by the county/state to justify their budget. Ten years later they reconsidered and said I would need to report hours like everyone else. I have continued to be active and now in my eighties I spend most my time with the Master Gardeners teaching the gardening public those things the university wants the public to know through classes in the public libraries. I have been a credentialed teacher for forty years and enjoy the association with adult gardening students. The university is dropping me from their rolls, I am not resigning. The work I do for do for them at my own expense, does not make up for my refusal to report hours spent. I am continually being asked to speak to garden clubs and they are willing to pay me! If I start feeling lonely I may take some of those invitations. Al

  • gardener_sandy

    Al, what a shame that you can't continue with the extension because you don't report your hours. Our communities need people like you who so freely give of their time and expert knowledge. Won't you reconsider and start reporting just a minimum number of hours so you can stay with the extension? I know it's a pain in the patooie but if that's what it takes to continue to help the community in this capacity, it would surely be a great benefit to our clients.

    We have to report hours for just the reasons you mentioned. But without a budget, where would the extension be? Volunteers in our county contribute many thousands of hours each year in various programs. These would either go lacking or would be very expensive for the taxpayers if not for these volunteers. Yep, I really don't like the government interference, but figure the other options are not so good either.


  • botanybabe

    When I got my certificate in 1995, the test was certainly not an open book test. I had to know my stuff. It wasn't until nearly the end of the course that we were told we had to volunteer 40 hours to get our certificate. I was a single mom, working two jobs, but still found time to do the 40 hours. It wasn't until the day of the final test that we were told we were expected to volunteer on the hotline whenever we could.

    Communications were not what they are now and that meant driving 35 miles one-way to be on the hot line. No way did I have the money for that. Also, whenever I volunteered at one of the public parks on clean-up and gardening day, the older members acted as if they had no use for my assistance at all. Shortly after that I moved to another town. The extension office was just one guy and he didn't teach MG classes or really give a hoot about it. He was busy withthe gypsy moths moving into the area, and tobacco mold and half a dozen other potential disasters.

    This is why I dropped out: No opportunities.

    I'm older now, have more time to devote, but essentially there are just no venues that want my volunteer hours. So I beautify my own neighborhood and teach the neighborhood kids how to identify weeds and appreciate garden spiders.

    That's about it.


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