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University of Minnesota Extension

Master Gardeners serve communities from garden bed to boardroom

Master Gardener volunteers engage their community through gardening to promote healthy landscapes, healthy people and a healthy planet. Some also help steer this University of Minnesota Extension research-based program.

Master Gardener advisory board
Master Gardener State Advisory Board at the U of M Landscape Arboretum

Four times a year, a dedicated group of University of Minnesota Extension Master Gardener volunteers from across the state gathers with Master Gardener program leaders at the University of Minnesota Landscape Arboretum to make sure they are all serving the needs of volunteers and Minnesota communities.

From weeding to leading

“The board provides outreach and a sense of community to Master Gardener groups across Minnesota,” says Karen Sutherland, a Master Gardener in Ramsey County and University of Minnesota alumna (Computer Science - Ph.D. ’94), who chairs the Master Gardener State Advisory Board.

Karen Sutherland holding a potted plant
Karen Sutherland, Master Gardener State Advisory Board chair, U of M alumna - Ph.D. computer science 1994

Sutherland, who has been a Master Gardener for nine years, is one of 18 elected or appointed Master Gardeners who, along with two appointed Extension staff, comprise the board. “We bring county groups together, whether large or small, metro or outstate, to share ideas and concerns,” she says. “The result of going this extra mile is enrichment and results for all.”

For example, board members and local Master Gardener groups are hosting seven regional educational gatherings together this fall in North Branch, Willmar, Houston, Maplewood, Alexandria, Grand Rapids and Le Center.

Volunteer work based in science

With her entire research and teaching career shaped by science, Sutherland naturally gravitated toward the program when she retired and decided to focus on her passion for gardening. “The volunteer work we do and the knowledge we share is based on solid scientific research, especially from the University of Minnesota,” she says. “What we tell folks in our communities is backed by evidence we can share. I do not know of another volunteer program for gardeners that comes close to that standard.”

Feedback brings local needs into the big picture

Sutherland’s sentiment about serving as a board member is echoed by fellow members who say they like bringing different perspectives and sharing new ideas for successful programming statewide. They report that they appreciate being a part of the “big picture” of the program and providing feedback from their counties and regions that will help the program evolve toward a relevant, sustainable future.

"When considering program decisions and strategic planning, it's crucial for the Master Gardener statewide leadership team to listen to ideas and feedback from volunteers," says Tim Kenny, state director. "This dedicated group of volunteers has on many occasions provided valuable, authentic input that helps us move the program forward."



Learn, grow, share: Become a Master Gardener volunteer

U of M Extension Master Gardener volunteers focus on priorities for today's world: Horticulture skills, clean water, nearby nature, plant biodiversity, local food, pollinators, climate change. 

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Apply by Oct. 1 to become a Master Gardener
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