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Skaggs: Thank a Master Gardener
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Since 1979, almost 5,000 people across the state have worked for the University of Georgia without a paycheck.

And they’ve done this willingly!

As graduates of the University of Georgia Cooperative Extension’s Master Gardener program, they volunteer their time to assist county Extension agents in providing horticultural education and information to the community.

Individuals who are accepted into the Master Gardener program get 40 hours of intensive horticultural training on topics such as soil fertility, integrated pest management, plant selection, landscape management and growing fruits and vegetables. After at least 50 hours of service through their local Georgia Extension office, they’re certified as Master Gardeners.

Master Gardener graduates are thoroughly trained by County Extension Agents, UGA specialists and other local horticultural experts. While participants gain knowledge they can use in their own landscapes and gardens, the real success of the program is the work and dedication of the volunteers. They serve their communities through a variety of projects that promote their love of gardening and teach others to protect and preserve the environment.

In 2009, Master Gardeners in Georgia volunteered more than 200,000 hours of their time. Hall County Master Gardeners contributed almost 18,000 hours of volunteer service in 2009, valued at more than $350,000 and leading the state with the largest number of hours returned.

Hall Master Gardeners drove more than 72,000 miles, answered 4,100 phone calls and had contact with more than 27,000 people.

There are approximately 170 Hall County Master Gardeners along with 27 Master Gardener interns who volunteer their time and talents to promote correct gardening practices. The group hosts several public events each year, including two garden expos, an educational symposium and a biannual garden walk.

Hall County volunteers educate the public through "Ask a Master Gardener" plant clinics, the Lunch & Learn Gardening Series at the Hall County Library, the Junior Master Gardener program, and other workshops and seminars. Master Gardeners also actively volunteer with local organizations and charities such as Elachee Nature Center, Smithgall Woodland Garden, Habitat for Humanity and the Northeast Georgia History Center.

As spring approaches, the Hall County Master Gardeners are preparing for their biggest event of the year — the Spring Garden Expo, April 9-10 at the Chicopee Woods Agricultural Center in Gainesville. The Expo is the complete garden event featuring more than 50 exciting vendors, interesting gardening demos and a children’s booth.

The Hall County Master Gardeners are known statewide for these and their many other contributions to the community. In recognition of their efforts, Saturday has been declared Master Gardener Day by Gov. Sonny Perdue and the Hall County Board of Commissioners.

If you know one of these good folks, let them know how much you appreciate their hard work and dedication.

Billy Skaggs is an agricultural agent and Hall County extension coordinator. Phone: 770-531-6988. Fax: 770-531-3994.