Master Gardener Program and the Master Gardener Association
by Ann Guthals
Some Master Gardeners have asked lately what the difference is between the Master Gardener (MG) program and the Yellowstone County Master Gardener Association (YCMGA).
The MG Program was started to extend the effectiveness and reach of the county extension agent by educating many people in the county with advanced gardening knowledge who could then reach out to others. The gardening classes started in Yellowstone County in 1994 and now consist of three levels of classes with tests and volunteer hour requirements for each level. To remain a MG in good standing requires a certain number of volunteer hours each year.
To keep MGs educated and in touch with other MGs, there are also classes, field trips, and social events outside the main series of classes. The MG program is overseen by Montana State University and is part of a national program of master gardeners.
In 2012, a group of MGs wanted to provide a mechanism for receipt of grant funds and other donations to benefit the existing MG program which is dependent on government funding. The hope was that this outside source of funds could help keep the MG program viable even if there were funding cuts and would be a nonprofit vehicle to receive donations to help the MG program.
These MGs started regular meetings and in 2012 created the YCMGA, wrote Bylaws and Articles of Organization, obtained a 501(3) nonprofit status, applied for grants, and began formal association board meetings. The mission of the Association was to raise funds to support the MG program, to supplement educational efforts for and community involvement by the MGs, and provide ongoing opportunities for connections between MGs. The current association also seeks to educate residents and decision-makers in Yellowstone County of the value of the MG program.
To belong to the Association, a MG must be in good standing as a MG and pay annual dues of $15. About 40% of current MGs are also Association members. Association members may attend Board meetings and run for the Board when vacancies arise. The Association is active in promoting various volunteer programs such as the MG activities at the Metra fairgrounds and community gardens around the city. YCMGA also holds several social events during the year including summer barbecues and a winter Christmas party. The financial and volunteer help from the YCMGA takes some of the load off Amy Grandpre, the extension agent who runs the MG classes, and also allows her more time to pursue other aspects of her extension work.
In addition to helping financially support the MG program with dues and grants, Association members receive discounts at garden-related businesses in Billings and at some MG classes that require tuition. Dues fund some MG projects directly through mini “grants” from YCMGA.
The new Association President is Brian Godfrey who is excited to expand the scope of the YCMGA activities in new ways. He is interested in developing a mentorship program to connect seasoned with beginning gardeners. He would like to see more MGs who complete the courses remain active members and hopes to bring inactive members back into good standing as active volunteers. Brian and the Board are looking forward to celebrating the MG program’s 25th anniversary in 2019. And, having developed a MG project sign, they hope to see all projects display these signs to further educate the general populace about the reach and nature of MG volunteer projects in the community.
If you are interested in joining and becoming involved in the YCMGA, you may reach President Godfrey at 406.606.0184 or you may look up the Yellowstone County Master Gardener Association website (http://www. ycmgamt.com) to see Board members, minutes, articles, and a calendar of events.
Submitted by Ann Guthals