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USDA Master Gardeners available to help Americans grow safe, healthy food throughout the country

Looking for some free gardening advice? Has your well-intentioned 'green thumb' resulted in your garden looking a little brown? USDA has a cadre of volunteers who provide free gardening tips and have a wealth of science-based research to answer your questions. Trained by USDA's Cooperative Extension Service, Master Gardeners provide information in all 50 states, plus the District of Columbia. To find a local Master Gardeners, visit www.extension.org/pages/Extension_Master_Gardener .

"Master Gardeners are a valuable resource for people who want to get some tips on gardening and growing their own food from a real expert," said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack. "Growing fruits and vegetables in your own garden not only promotes a healthier lifestyle, but helps communities develop a safe, nutritious and sustainable source of food."

Master Gardeners can help Americans of all abilities to plant, grow and harvest a garden, similar to USDA's 'People's Garden.' Earlier this year, Vilsack launched the 'People's Garden' on USDA property in order to help illustrate the many ways USDA works to provide a sustainable, safe and nutritious food supply as well as protect and preserve the landscape where that food is produced.

The Master Gardener program, which began in 1972 in Washington, is another important example of how people can contribute to promoting healthier food and communities. Since its inception, the program has grown to 94,865 volunteers across the country who give horticulture information to the public through a variety of locally-based programs. Volunteers receive 40 to 80 hours of instruction and, in return, give an equal number of volunteer hours during the next year. As the federal partner in the Cooperative Extension Service, USDA's Cooperative State Research, Education, and Extension Service (CSREES) provides funding and national leadership to the program.

"Extension Master Gardener volunteers are more than just members of local garden clubs," said Bill Hoffman, national program leader and Master Gardener contact at CSREES. "They bring to bear the science base of the land-grant university system in service to their communities, through the training and certification they receive as well as the research-based answers they provide."

During 2008, this network of Master Gardeners provided more than 5 million hours of volunteer work in their communities - valued at $101.4 million. Nearly 80 percent of these 5 million hours take place in metropolitan areas. Additionally, in 2008, more than 16,000 new Master Gardeners joined the program for the first time, infusing the program with new life.

Although each community has its own unique projects, all Master Gardeners present workshops, answer gardening hotlines, work with youth, plant demonstration gardens and teach gardening throughout the country:

In Washington, DC: As director of the Washington Youth Garden at USDA's National Arboretum in Washington, D.C., Kaifa Anderson-Hall, who is a Master Gardener herself, spent hours as a child learning about the relationship between food, health and nutrition at the Washington Youth Garden. Never in her wildest imagination did she see herself on staff with the arboretum years later, passing along the same knowledge and skills to today's youth. Today, Anderson-Hall relies on volunteers, many of them Master Gardeners, to help. Anderson-Hall said there are 15 Master Gardener volunteers who each provide two to three hours of service per week.

"The garden wouldn't be where it is today with out our Master Gardeners," Anderson-Hall said. "There is no way our staff of three could accomplish all we do and be productive. It's incredible - the number of hours the volunteers provide."

Anderson-Hall said the volunteers are extremely committed to the garden - the oldest volunteer, who is 72, has continued to volunteer even as she recovers from back surgery. Master Gardener volunteers maintain the garden, including weeding, planting and redesigns. They also provide hands-on interaction with the students. In Washington, D.C., the Master Gardener program is run through the University of the District of Columbia Cooperative Extension Service.

Master Gardener volunteers help support a wide range of programs in the District of Columbia. Family programs teach organic gardening and cooking, including presentations from nutritionists and chefs, so that families can benefit from the food they grow. A Sprout program works to connect youth to their environment. Seed to Supper is a summer camp where students grow their own food and take it home to their families. The Master Gardeners who volunteer with the camp donate any excess food to the DC Central Kitchen, where the chefs provide a cooking demonstration to camp participants. In 2008, the camp donated 250 pounds of produce to the local food kitchen.

In California: Master Gardeners in California are using their knowledge and training to help combat wildfires. Through the University of California system, Master Gardeners provide resources for homeowners who want to 'fire-proof' their homes by using less flammable plants, removing combustible materials and properly spacing trees.

In Maryland: The Grow It, Eat It program by Master Gardeners in Maryland help people improve their health and save money by growing fresh vegetables, fruits and herbs, using sustainable agricultural practices.



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