COLUMBIA, Mo. – Every garden needs tender, loving care, and the same goes for the program that helps Missourians learn vital skills to tend those gardens.

Recent changes to the Missouri Master Gardener Extension Program will let it better serve its members, said David Trinklein, MU Extension horticulturist.

These changes include online training and the creation of a new nonprofit association to complement the existing program.

Members moved forward to form a separate association at the program’s annual meeting, Sept. 23-25 in Hannibal, Mo.

“Numerous states have a state association of Master Gardeners that operates as its own organization,” Trinklein said. Such an organization could put on an annual convention, might sponsor some scholarships and would have an easier time going out to raise funds to support Master Gardener programs.

When Master Gardener state coordinator Mary Kroening retired last year, budget constraints prevented the hiring of a replacement, so the program transitioned to leadership by a self-directed work team.

This team makes decisions about training requirements and is working to better allocate resources and measure the impact of the program.

The leadership team identified online training as one major way to help the program grow. Trinklein and Jim Quinn, MU Extension horticulturist and Cole County Master Gardener, received a grant to develop this course, which will launch in August 2012.

“In rural areas there are people who travel two hours each way to attend Master Gardener training,” Trinklein said. “Even when classes are available nearby it’s not uncommon to have a long waiting list for a limited number of seats in a class. We feel this is a way to make training a little bit more user-friendly and is also a wise use of resources.”

The Master Gardener program uses MU Extension experts, who train paraprofessionals to properly grow and manage gardens. These individuals serve as additional hands and voices of MU Extension in their communities. For example, they often help manage community gardens and use their knowledge to teach others to garden more effectively.

The team will also survey the benefits that Master Gardeners give to communities. All Master Gardeners are required to volunteer 20 hours in their communities, but little has been done to measure the impact of those volunteer hours.

“Looking at impact is more than just economic. There’s the quality of life of individuals and communities that we’re interested in exploring,” Trinklein said. “We want to know how volunteer hours benefit a community. We want to know if your neighbor uses fewer pesticides because of your integrated pest management practices.”

To learn more about the Master Gardener program, contact your local MU Extension center or visit

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