Did you know that Master Gardener Volunteers have yearly requirements to maintain a certification in good standing? We do! Each year, in Wisconsin, Master Gardeners who were previously certified need 10 hours of continuing education and 24 hours of volunteer service. It is not hard to accumulate the hours if you are an active gardener, interested in improving one’s skill and sharing what you learn or know with others. But, unlike larger service organizations like Rotary, the Lions Club, the general public might not be aware of these requirements for Master Gardeners.
My personal history of being a Master Gardener dates back to 2004. I took the Level 1 training over the winter/spring of that year. Being an introvert, I was somewhat concerned about how I was going to accumulate volunteer hours. But, in the fall of 2004, I started a garden club at one of the elementary schools in our resident district, where my oldest son was in fourth grade. Planning the lessons, teaching the students, and facilitating the logistics of the monthly club easily garnered me the required hours and more! Over the 13 years in which I led the club, I turned in well over one hundred volunteer hours on average each year for approved Master Gardener activities. Most, if not all of my hours were accrued by working with my garden club students.
This year my hours will look somewhat different, but will still be easily made. Last fall, I took a paid co-curricular position at a school in another district as their Garden Club Advisor. It was a brand new position and coincidentally, I had ended the club at the former school in June. So, from October of 2017 through June of 2018, I was paid to have garden club. Being paid means one is not a volunteer! I knew this going in and, due to experience, also knew I could accumulate enough hours. How did I do it?
Hours can be accumulated, not only by physical gardening activities, but also by teaching or presenting what one already knows about gardening. In March of last year, I was a guest speaker for two presentations at our Spring into Gardening Conference, lead by our own local Master Gardener Association. Each of these presentations were 45 minutes long and the preparation time also counts towards your volunteer time. In April, I spoke at the local Lioness meeting on Monarchs and what our community members can do to help this iconic species survive. Okay, so I got some hours by committing to speaking engagements. However, I was not close to the 24 hours I need by October 1st. My school contract expired with the end of the school year. So, over the summer, I continued to care for the gardens at the school where I am employed as the Garden Club Advisor. It’s easy to accumulate hours when the gardens are large, beautiful, and need care. I had not been employed by the school for long, but I was already proud of these gardens. And, my other motivation was that each student in the 460 member student body had planted in the garden in May. I wanted to be sure they ALL could come back and identify that their plant had grown! So, more hours were tallied by volunteering to take care of the gardens over the summer. I also taught a day of summer school. This entailed creating a new lesson on plant parts we eat and implementing it with the students. And, finally, to cap off the hours for this year, I am scheduled for three days of teaching first graders about monarchs, another Lions club meeting in a nearby community, and a presentation at a local adult-care facility.
Accumulating the continuing education hours can be a little trickier. Over the years, I’ve engaged in different methods to get these hours. Sometimes, it has been going to a conference. Other times, it was taking a course or attending a workshop that counted. Very often, however, I end up watching approved videos on the extension website for Master Gardeners. I try to watch a topic on what I consider to be lacking in my own knowledge base. But, sometimes, I watch something or join a webinar because it is an area of my expertise and I want to stay up to date. This is true about my interest in Monarch Conservation – which is the topic of all three of my mid-September speaking engagements.
The thing about these hours is that they are recorded using an honor system. They are tallied and self-reported by the Master Gardener. But, knowing the Master Gardeners that I do, I am sure everyone is actively working to improve their knowledge base, and provide service to their communities. It’s just who we are collectively. I’m proud to be associated with this group and what it contributes to communities all over the United States.