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What Counts as MG Volunteer Requirement Hours? Many people ask what counts towards official Master Gardener Volunteer Hours. There are, of course, many activities that South Carolina Master Gardeners can and do participate in. Master Gardener Volunteer hours are those which advance the mission of the Clemson Extension System and the Master Gardener Volunteer Mission.

The first and foremost criteria for what counts is the approval of the local County Extension Agent. The mission of the MG program is for the agent to extend and expand the availability of researched based information and satisfy consumer demand. Since each county and program has different needs the responsibility for determining what is needed and how to satisfy that need fall to the local county agent and MG Coordinator.

In general volunteerism in the South Carolina Master Gardener Program falls into three distinct categories. The first category is continuing education. Continuing education in this case is defined as attending programs that advance the knowledge of the Master Gardener Volunteer. These hours are counted toward the continuing education requirement of the South Carolina Master Gardener Program. Ten (10) hours of continuing education are required yearly to maintain active Master Gardener status.

The second category is community service. This type of program involves the use of Master Gardening skills to improve the community. Projects such as beautification of city entry ways, or planting a garden for a local food bank, planting and maintaining a school garden would be good examples of community service projects conducted by Master Gardeners. These hours are not counted toward the volunteer requirement for the South Carolina Master Gardener Program.

The third category is the most important and directly reflects the mission of the South Carolina Master Gardener Program and that is educational service. These are volunteer hours that are dedicated to teaching others research based information about gardening. These hours count toward the volunteer service and continuing service requirements of the South Carolina Master Gardener Program. Twenty (20) hours of educational service are required yearly to maintain active Master Gardener status. 

Typical Master Gardener Duties Include:

Assist with implementation of future Master Gardener classes

Answer telephone requests for horticultural information start a Horticulture Helpline!

Work with 4-H programs like Junior Master Gardeners

Establish and maintain demonstration gardens, compost demonstration, recycling and other environmental projects

Plan and conduct educational tours or garden demonstrations

Give programs for local garden clubs and other community groups

Create future programs based on community requests slides or PowerPoint

Assist with plant clinics and home gardening information booths at malls, fairs, garden centers, botanical gardens, etc.

Organize a horticultural newsletter, or write articles for it

Assist in the planning and/or implementation of programs on home gardening and landscaping topics for the general public

This is not a free labor program. Master Gardener Volunteers are educators, advisors and helpers. Always make a primary inquiry with the requesting organization or facility to investigate their commitment to a project's future. One way to help with this is to ask yourself if you would expect to see your county agent involved in this type of project.

The distinction between community service hours and educational service hours is often times a fine and difficult line to discern. Here are a few examples to help.

Example 1: A local school calls and asks for the assistance of the South Carolina Master Gardeners in planting and maintaining an educational school garden. This would be considered educational service if: master gardeners are teaching others to plant and maintain the garden. It would be educational service if: Master Gardeners are teaching others how to use the garden as an educational tool. It would be educational service if: it is part of a 4-H program such as Junior Master Gardeners. It would be educational service if: Master Gardeners serve as docents to teach people about the garden and gardening.

If advanced Master Gardeners or the county agent is using the planting and maintenance of the garden to teach other Master Gardeners how to plan and maintain a garden it would count as educational service for the teachers and continuing education for those Master Gardeners learning these skills.

On the other hand such a request would be community service if: the Master Gardeners only plant the garden and maintain it and don't teach anyone involved about gardening

Example 2: A city park calls and expresses a need to have skilled people maintaining the grounds of the park It is community service if master gardeners volunteer to prune the plants and mow the lawns for the park. The training of the park staff is clearly a professional endeavor and thus falls outside the consumer horticulture mission of the master gardener volunteer mission. In such a case the request should be forwarded to the local county extension agent.

Example 3: Habitat for Humanity calls and wants to work with Master Gardeners on one of their projects. It is community service if: Master Gardeners get together, buy a bunch of plants and plant them. It is community service if: Master Gardeners provide a landscape plan for the project. It is educational service if Master Gardeners work with the future owner to educate them about the landscape plan, implementation, and maintenance of the landscape plan.

When considering a Master Gardener volunteer opportunity consider the following questions:

Is it associated with (or benefiting) a non-commercial group?

Is it related to gardening, the environment, or an Extension program?

Are you helping people learn?

If the answer is yes to all three questions then the activity likely meets the mission of the Master Gardener program. With approval of the local county agent/MG Coordinator you should count the activity in your service report.