The Impact of Master Gardener Volunteers

The annual report of the Extension Master Gardener Program documents the activities of volunteers throughout the state in a brief executive summary, provides statistical information on volunteer hours reported in Wisconsin, and includes  narrative reports submitted by county programs.

At the end of 2019, 2627 Master Gardener Volunteers reported nearly 169,000 hours of community service from 71 of Wisconsin’s 72 counties, equivalent to $4,291,000 (Independent Sector).

Since 2001, Wisconsin Master Gardener Volunteers have contributed 1,482,087 hours of community service, equivalent to $65,442,478 (Independent Sector).

Executive Summary

Making a difference yesterday, today, and tomorrow

In the mid-1970’s, the Master Gardener Program started as a way to assist Extension in delivering unbiased, researched based gardening information to the public.  Over 40 years later, the Wisconsin program continues to do this service. This past year:

  • 817 Wisconsin Master Gardener Volunteers reported over 11,900 hours answering gardening questions. This included 342 projects across 62 counties and made over 37,000 contacts with people. 
  • 1518 Wisconsin Master Gardener Volunteers reported over 30,000 hours educating the public. This included 703 projects across 69 counties and made nearly 244,000 contacts with people.

Today, Master Gardener Volunteers assist Extension to address the emerging issues in our Wisconsin communities.

Supporting healthy and safe food systems

Rates of food insecurity are generally below the national average in the Midwest, including Wisconsin. In the period from 2014-2016, 10.7% of Wisconsin households were food insecure, meaning they lacked assured access to safe, affordable foods. While the Wisconsin food insecurity rate fairs better than the nation as a whole (13.0%), the overall state food insecurity rate masks considerable regional and subpopulation variation. Households at greatest risk for food insecurity are poor, single headed households, households of color, and households with children (USDA ERS, 2017). Food insecurity has a negative impact on health and nutrition and has been associated with nutrient deficiencies, increased rates of chronic disease, and chronic stress (FRAC, 2018).


🍎This past year, 413 Master Gardener Volunteers across 36 counties reported nearly 12,000 hours and over 16,000 contacts with people while involved in one or more projects related to food access.

  • This includes over 100 community gardens and over 52,000 pounds of veggies donated.

In 2019, Master Gardener Volunteers continued to volunteer with FoodWIse colleagues in order to address food security issues by growing vegetable in community gardens and donating to food pantries to give pantry patrons increased choice of accessing fresh vegetables.  Over 50 Master Gardener Volunteers in 15 counties and 1 tribal nation grew and donated 3500 pounds of produce.

The patrons were very appreciative to have the additional choices of fresh vegetables.

-Barron County Food Pantry

Protecting valued natural resources

Invasive plants decrease the diversity of native plants, which in turn limits habitat availability for pollinators, birds, and other wildlife. Invasive plants can adversely impact human health- for example, wild parsnip sap causes burns and Japanese barberry infestations host higher populations of Lyme-infected deer ticks. By excluding ground-layer vegetation, many invasive plants contribute to soil erosion and water quality problems. (See Invasive Species, Invasive Species and Pests)


🌳This past year, 1,190 Wisconsin Master Gardener Volunteers across 45 counties reported over 33,000 hours and over 87,000 contacts with people on one or more projects relating to protecting natural resources.  

  • 19 counties reported one or more projects to protect pollinators
  • 21 counties reported one or more projects regarding invasive and native plant species
  • 13 counties reported one or more projects to protect environmental resources (water, soil, lakes, etc.)
  • 8 counties reported one or more projects relating to gardening with a changing climate
  • 8 counties reported one or more projects relating to invasive insect/animal species

Creating healthy and vibrant communities

Cared-for plants and green spaces in our communities have positive social, economical, and environmental benefits, such as aiding in creating walkable streets, attracting shoppers to downtown business areas, and mitigating urban heat islands. These Master Gardener Volunteer projects utilize a Placemaking framework combined with the latest interdisciplinary research on the benefits of plants (see Green Cities Good Health, National Initiative of Consumer Horticulture) in order to do meaningful work in communities.


plant sale

🏡This past year, 904 Master Gardener Volunteers across 42 counties reported nearly 23,000 hours and over 26,500 contacts on one or more projects relating to community beautification and placemaking

  • 2 counties reported one or more projects at their agriculture research station
  • 9 counties reported one or more projects at botanical gardens
  • 39 counties reported one or more projects at a city, village, or county facility
  • 3 counties reported one or more projects at a correctional facility
  • 8 counties one or more projects demonstration gardens projects
  • 38 counties one or more projects projects at fairs
  • 19 counties one or more projects projects at a farm markets
  • 28 counties one or more projects projects at a cultural/historic locations
  • 18 counties one or more projects projects at a health care facilities/hospitals
  • 17 counties one or more projects projects at a natural areas
  • 11 counties one or more projects projects at a nature centers
  • 17 counties one or more projects projects at a place of worship
  • 41 counties one or more projects projects at a green spaces/parks
  • 38 counties one or more projects projects at a schools

Improving human well-being

E.O. Wilson, University Research Professor Emeritus at Harvard, developed the biophilia hypothesis, stating humans are innately drawn to the natural world. Research also shows that human interactions with plants can have positive impacts on our well-being and improve our health, relationships, and learning (see Green Cities Good Health, National Initiative of Consumer Horticulture).  Master Gardener Volunteer projects include vocational and therapeutic gardening activities, as well as educational events, to improve the well-being of participants and introduce new audiences to plants and gardening.


🐞This past year, 71 Master Gardener Volunteers across 13 counties reported nearly 700 hours and over 2,300 contacts on one or more projects relating to well-being.

  • 7 counties reported one or more projects with audiences with disabilities*
  • 3 counties reported one or more projects with the incarcerated*
  • 29 counties reported one or more projects with individuals who are low-income*
  • 3 counties reported one or more projects specifically for women*
  • 19 counties reported one or more projects with seniors/elders*
  • 3 counties reported one or more projects with veterans*
  • 50 counties reported one or more projects with youth*

*participation numbers not reflected in the 2,300 contacts

County Narratives

Statistical Report

In 2019, Extension completed the merger with University of Wisconsin-Madison and implemented a new online reporting system.  The color change from blue to red notes the transition.

All charts are interactive. Details will appear when you move the mouse over the bars.


Volunteer hours (2001 to 2019)

In 2019, reported hours were categorized by activity to better understand how volunteers are engaging in projects.

  • Answering Questions / Diagnostics: activities related to the one-on-one addressing of garden questions
  • Educating others: activities related to the engagement with gardening information, directly or indirectly, such as workshops, symposiums, displays, etc. Includes preparation and delivery
  • Gardening: activities related to the physical aspects of gardening
  • Administration/Support: activities related to the ongoing success of programming; includes meetings involving decision making; preparation/recovery of planned activities


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Number of Volunteers (2001 to 2019)

From 2017 through 2019, Extension underwent a simultaneous internal reorganization and a merger with UW-Madison. Participation numbers reflect these efforts.


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Hours per Volunteer (2001 to 2019)

Even though the overall number of volunteers have decreased in 2019, the calculated average of hours per volunteer remains high.  This is hypothesized to be the most dedicated, high performing volunteers remaining with us through the reorganization and merger process.


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Audiences

MGVs interact with a wide range of audiences, including youth, seniors, individuals with disabilities, the incarcerated, and more. Contacts are recorded as interactions with an individual one or more times in an approved project. This excludes indirect contacts through media and social media.


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