El Paso County Master Gardener Program Policies

Definition of the Master Gardener Program

The Master Gardener program is a volunteer development program offered by Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service to increase the availability of horticultural information for local residents and improve the quality of life through horticultural projects. Goals are implemented through the training and participation of local volunteers, known as Master Gardeners.  These volunteers assist Extension by answering telephone and email requests for horticultural information; providing horticultural presentations to community groups and the general public; establishing and maintaining demonstration gardens; overseeing school garden projects; working with special groups in the community and designing and implementing community improvement projects along with coordinating Master Gardener projects and events.

The Master Gardener program is administered by Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service, and the primary goal of the Master Gardener program is to extend the efforts of Extension Service personnel with well-trained volunteers.  The Executive Committee of the El Paso Master Gardener Association coordinates Master Gardener activities, Committee Chairs and Project Coordinators. All are ultimately responsible to the local County Horticultural Extension Agent or the County Director.

Objectives of the Master Gardener Program

  • To expand the capabilities of Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service by providing horticultural information to individuals and community groups.
  • To develop and enhance community horticultural programs including: landscape improvement activities with civic groups, horticultural therapy projects, and community demonstration gardens.
  • To develop a Master Gardener volunteer organization that assists in the administration of the local Master Gardener program.
  • To supplement 4-H programs through the establishment of garden programs for youth, such as Junior Master Gardeners.

Master Gardener Title Defined

The title, “Texas Master Gardener”, is to be used only by individuals trained in the Texas Master Gardener program to assist Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service and only when engaged in Extension-sponsored activities.  A trainee must receive a minimum of 50 hours of instruction, pass an examination administered by the Extension Service, and volunteer a minimum of 60 hours of service before being certified as a Texas Master Gardener.  Once a trainee completes the instruction and examination phase, the individual gains the title of “Master Gardener Intern”.  From that point, the Intern has 10 months to complete the 60 hours of volunteer service which are a continuation of the classroom training.  After these requirements are met, an Intern will be certified as a Master Gardener at a year-end ceremony.

Master Gardeners can then continue their education and volunteer service.  In order to retain the Texas Master Gardener title, individuals are required to provide a minimum of 30 hours of volunteer service annually as well as attend a minimum of ten hours of approved continuing education classes.  When one ceases active participation in the program, the designation as a Texas Master Gardener becomes void and credentials should be returned to Texas A&M AgriLife Extension.

When to Use the Master Gardener Title

The Texas Master Gardener program is a public service program operated by Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service to provide unbiased research-based information, and the Texas Master Gardener title is to be used only when doing volunteer work in the program.  Certified graduates of the program should not display credentials or give the appearance of being a Master Gardener unless they are participating in a designated Extension Service educational activity.  The title of Texas Master Gardener is not to be used in any form of advertisement nor as an endorsement of any product or place of business. When Texas Master Gardeners speak before groups on horticultural subjects, it is permissible to accept unsolicited reimbursements or gifts.

Background Checks/Screening of Master Gardener Volunteers

The Texas Master Gardener program provides the following minimum guidelines for conducting background checks/screening of volunteers within the program.  Master Gardener programs will conduct background checks on all Master Gardener volunteers, interns and trainees.  The Extension Service’s Youth Protection Standards (YPS) program is used for conducting such checks.  The YPS program does not request or receive credit reports as part of the background check.  YPS only receives criminal background information.

Prior criminal background checks are acceptable by YPS with documented verification from any one of the following sources:  school districts; churches; recognized youth groups or associations; law enforcement; Texas Youth Commission; Department of Defense – Child and Youth Services and/or Family Program; concealed handgun license; and/or licensed day care workers.

Background checks/screenings are conducted every three years for each Master Gardener.  The cost of the background check/screening is borne by the individual volunteer or through funds raised by the local Master Gardener program or association.

Pesticide Recommendations by Master Gardeners

When making recommendations that include the use of pesticides, Texas Master Gardeners must follow the current recommendations found in the various publications available from Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service.  Use of other pesticide recommendations, chemical or “organic” is not approved.  When making pesticide recommendations, if more than one product is listed as satisfactory, each product should be recommended.  Cultural problems which are not specifically covered by Extension recommendations may be handled by suggesting non-pesticide treatments that an experienced Master Gardener considers appropriate.  Questions concerning commercial production of crops and pest management on such crops are to be referred to the local county Extension Agent.

Volunteer Service Hours Defined

Master Gardeners are representatives of the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service and the Texas A&M System.  County Extension Agents make the final determination on what volunteer service hours are accepted to meet requirements for Master Gardener certification and recertification.

The following guidelines are provided.  Volunteer service hours should be performed during activities that are:

  1. Educational in nature, as opposed to service or maintenance-type work.
  2. Supportive of Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service’s mission, objectives and issues.
  3. Approved in advance for volunteer hours by the County Extension Agent.
  4. Identified as sponsored (or co-sponsored) by Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service.
    1. Master Gardeners should wear Master Gardener name badges and/or shirts/apparel.
    2. Collaborations with other organizations are important but Extension does not supply other organizations with volunteers to do their work.
    3. A Master Gardener’s volunteer hours may be claimed for credit with the Master Gardener program or another organization but not both.

Master Gardener Associations

Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service recognizes and registers Master Gardener Associations which:  1) Consist of certified volunteers (Master Gardeners) who serve as representatives of Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service, thus affiliating closely with the local County Extension office, and 2) a staff member of the local County Extension office serves as an advisor to the Association leadership.  Policy prevents the Extension Agent from soliciting money from the community, but a Master Gardener association is free to raise money needed for operating expenses beyond the basic level provided by the Extension Service in order to be financially independent.  The El Paso Master Gardener Association is an educational, non-profit 501c3 service organization.

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