Are you growing food this year? If so, it helps to have a credible source of growing information. Maybe you need someone to answer your questions about pests or plant diseases. Perhaps you need good advice on selecting varieties, growing tips and maximizing harvests. For many Californians, the UC Master Gardener volunteers come to the rescue.

These trained volunteers offer free science-based gardening information to people all over the state, according to Melissa Womack, UC Master Gardener Program Statewide Marketing Coordinator. The UC Master Gardening Program is administered as part of the UC Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources.

“The program has been in California since 1981, and its mission is to extend home horticulture information to the public,” says Womack. “The program is here to serve the public and has thousands of eager volunteers available to teach you about whatever gardening topic you are interested in. You don’t have to be a gardening expert to benefit.”

How many people do UC Master Gardeners regularly reach a year? Quite a lot.

“If I were to estimate, this number would surpass over a million face-to-face contacts if we captured them all into our reporting system,” says Womack. “If we also add the contacts from our websites, social media, newspaper contributing articles, videos, etc. the number would skyrocket!”

How Can Gardeners Growing Food Benefit from UC Master Gardeners?

The UC Master Gardener Program is unique to the needs of individual communities across the state where they serve, but it has a long history of providing great information about growing food in an edible garden. “Many programs adjust their curriculum to meet the communities they serve,” Womack adds.

Some of the ways that UC Master Gardener volunteers educate the public about food gardening:

  • Holding hands-on demonstrations (pruning orchards, building raised garden beds, trellising, irrigation, etc.)
  • Partnering with local community gardens or school gardens
  • Participating in booths at farmers markets
  • Hosting a help line / desk where volunteers answer phone calls, emails and walk-ins to UC Cooperative Extension offices
  • Giving workshops on gardening

Not Just Gardening Either

A lot of people don’t realize the breadth of services that UC Master Gardeners provide.

“Not only do we help individuals with gardening questions, we also play a critical role in preserving the environment and building communities with our partners,” says Womack.  “We cover a wide array of gardening topics that make a difference in not only California’s landscape, but also the communities we serve.”

Some major areas include:

  • Improved science literacy
  • Reduced green waste
  • Early detection of invasive pests, plants and diseases
  • Reduced spread of endemic pests
  • Improved water quality
  • Increased water conservation
  • Increased pollinator habitat
  • Improved nutrition (food gardening)
  • Improved emotional and physical health
  • Closer connection to community

This is a very exciting time for the UC Master Gardeners, according to Womack.

“With changes in technologies we are now able to extend research-based and trusted gardening information to the public in more ways than ever thought possible,” she explains. “We continue to see tremendous value in teaching in-person or face-to-face, but access to information is more readily available now than ever before with current technologies.

We constantly post information onto websites, use social media channels and even talk about developing garden applications for smart phones. In a digital age with so much misguided information available online we know UC Master Gardeners are a trusted resource for reliable information backed by UC research, advisors and industry experts – no one else can offer that!”

Find UC Master Gardeners on Social Media


Facebook @UCMasterGardeners

Editor’s Note: The Master Gardener Program in California is part of UC Agriculture and Natural Resources – Cooperative Extension. The federal partner is the USDA, the state partner is the land-grant institution (in California, that’s University of California), and there is a local partner (typically county government). The first Master Gardener program in the U.S. was started in Washington state in 1972; it has now spread to all fifty states.

Find a California Master Gardener on this list. In all 50 states, find a Master Gardener on this list by the American Horticulture Society.

Full Disclosure: I was trained in California and Idaho as a Master Gardener volunteer, and it was a fun and educational way to learn about gardening and help my community.


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