Volunteer involvement is one of the most important and unique aspects of Virginia Cooperative Extension. This is in keeping with Extension's philosophy that active citizen participation in planning and implementation insures program success. Volunteers (non-paid staff working jointly with paid staff) are a valuable resource and an integral part of the education mission of VCE. VCE-MGs are part of this family of volunteers as they are education partners with VCE.
The VCE-MG training was created by Extension to meet an enormous increase in requests from home gardeners for unbiased, research-based horticultural information. This increase was a result of the urban and transient nature of modern American life. Fifty years ago, an Extension agent dealt with the questions of a few hundred farm families. In many regions, however, land that once constituted a single farm now encompasses several subdivisions, increasing the number of families an Extension office must serve by hundreds. In addition, many of these families are new to the area and are unfamiliar with the grasses, shrubs, trees, pests, etc. that comprise the microenvironment of their new urban, suburban, or rural homes. They often call their local Extension office for advice on what to plant and how to care for it. Consequently, the VCE-MG training was created in 1972 in the state of Washington. Since then, it has spread to 48 states.
In 1999, VCE was joined by 65,000 volunteers, including Master Gardeners, who contributed millions of hours to help VCE reach and teach more than one million Virginians. VCE works closely with hundreds of private and public sector agencies and organizations to complement and supplement our resources so that collaboratively, Virginia is better served.
The VCE-MGs provide a resource for all VCE program areas and for professionals from many other agencies. VCE-MGs provide communities with locally identified programs, including answers to individual questions via: hotlines and plant clinics; radio, newspaper, and computer links; educational programs to meet targeted needs, such as the establishment of community gardens for low income and elderly persons; education for the preservation of historic landscapes; urban tree planting programs; and guidance in making the natural environment accessible to all residents regardless of disabilities, incomes, or where they live.