Master Gardener Impact Felt Across Iowa

Master Gardener projects help give back to and improve communities

February 1, 2018, 9:23 am | Susan DeBlieck

Redbor and Prizm KaleAMES, Iowa – Growing healthier, happier and more equitable communities is at the heart of the Iowa State University Extension and Outreach Master Gardener program. Master Gardeners spent 2017 working to reach these goals through a variety of projects.

“This was a great year for the Master Gardener program as we have brought in a group of new people who are passionate about volunteering,” said Susan DeBlieck, Master Gardener assistant coordinator with ISU Extension and Outreach. “Master Gardeners are able to help expand the work of yard and garden extension staff. The impact they have and their commitment to their communities is truly incredible.”

Nearly 2,000 Master Gardeners were active across the state in 2017, compiling 115,055 volunteer hours. That averages out to nearly 60 hours worked per volunteer, significantly more than the 20 hours Master Gardeners are required to volunteer. Those volunteer hours are valued at $2.7 million spent improving Iowa.

In the past year Master Gardeners spent their time:

  • Growing produce to be donated to nearby food pantries. In 2017, 74,937 pounds of fresh produce was donated to food pantries across the state. Nearly a third of that total – 24,000 pounds – came from Woodbury County through the Up From the Earth project. Since starting in 2014 this project has grown and distributed 64,256 pounds of produce to food pantries throughout the county. The program also developed a partnership with the Blue Zones project to educate families about growing fruits and vegetables.
  • Influencing others. Three other land grant institutions – the University of Wisconsin, Purdue University and the University of Nebraska – finished the first year of a program modeled after ISU Extension and Outreach’s program.
  • Innovating their approach. In an effort to better meet the needs of those who wanted to become Master Gardeners, the program has begun using a flipped classroom model for its training where much of the instruction is done in a hands-on environment. This provides a more flexible schedule while giving opportunities for trainees to work in a garden sooner than the traditional model. The trainees are also able to meet and learn from Master Gardeners.
  • Impacting pollinators. Master Gardeners in Linn County won the ISU Extension and Outreach Search for Excellence award for their work creating pollinator habitat. A partnership between Master Gardeners and the Monarch Research Project has provided for the distribution of 30,000 milkweed plugs in Linn County and 5,500 acres of pollinator habitat created. There are plans to add an additional 1,000 acres of pollinator habitat over the next five years.

“The commitment of Master Gardener volunteers is truly incredible,” DeBlieck said. “Master Gardeners come from a variety of backgrounds and bring a diverse skillset to their projects. Their projects are able to reflect what is happening in a county and what the needs and interests of a community are.”

If interested in becoming a Master Gardener, trainings are held in the fall across Iowa. Contact your ISU Extension and Outreach county office for training dates near you or visit

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