Volunteering

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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 in which a South Carolina Master Gardeners can participate. 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 research-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 Master Gardener Coordinator.

In general, volunteerism in the South Carolina Master Gardener Program falls into three distinct categories. The first and most important category is educational service. Educational service directly reflects the mission of the South Carolina Master Gardener Program. These are volunteer hours that are dedicated to teaching others research-based information about gardening and other horticultural topics. Forty (40) hours of education service are required for initial certification and twenty (20) hours are required yearly to maintain active Master Gardener status. 

The second category is community service. Community service involves the use of Master Gardening skills to improve the community.  This make take the form of a city or neighborhood beautification project or the planting of a community garden.  Community service involves labor but no transfer of knowledge.  Community service hours do not count toward the volunteer requirement for the South Carolina Master Gardener Program.

The third category is administration.  This type of service supports the Master Gardener program or Extension Service but, like community service, does not involve the transfer of knowledge.  Clerical type work would fall in this category. Community service hours do no count toward the annual volunteer requirement.

In order to maintain good standing, a Master Gardener volunteer must also complete at least 10 hours of continuing education each year. Continuing education is defined as attending programs that advance the knowledge of the Master Gardener volunteer.  This may take many forms including: classes, webinars, seminars, and other educational activities offered by Clemson Extension, plant societies, botanical gardens and aboreta, college, nature centers, etc.  Continuing education should be approved by the local Master Gardener Coordinator.

All volunteer and continuing education hours must be recorded in the SC Master Gardener Volunteer Reporting System

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 of the role of the Master Gardener volunteer. 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.