Proposed by: Pam Bennett

Presenters: Bennett, P., State Master Gardener Volunteer Coordinator, Anr Educator, Ohio State Univeristy Extension, Springfield, OH 45502
Johnson, D., Program Manager, State Master Gardener Volunteer Program, Ohio State University Extension, Columbus, Oh 43201

In 2011, Ohio State University Extension (OSUE) had several retirements in the area of Agriculture and Natural Resources which left a void in many counties in the area of answering home gardening questions. In addition, several counties were left without Master Gardener Volunteer (MGV) leadership in the counties which meant that these counties were struggling with meeting clientele needs. At the same time, the eXtension Ask an Expert program was implemented. The Educator realized this need and recruited MGVs to answer questions via the eXtension online program.

The goal for the OSUE Ask a Master Gardener program was two-fold: 1) to assist counties that did not have Agriculture Educators as well as those counties whose MGV programs were small or struggling; and 2) to become the go-to resource for consumer gardening information in Ohio. Extension Administration supported this program by providing money for a 40% FTE Program Manager to help oversee the questions and answers and financial resources to develop marketing materials for the program. The Program Manager position is ongoing and the marketing dollars are for a three year period of time to get the program up and running.

The Educator recruited MGVs who would be interested in this position. They were required to be recommended by their County Coordinator and had to attend two online training programs in order to participate. During the first and second year of implementation, the MGVs answered more than 2/3 of the total questions coming into the OSU Extension portals.

The Educator and Program Manager worked with a professional public relations firm to develop advertising materials which included a rack card, magnets with the web address, and an icon for the website, and a table top display. The table top display was used at the State Fair and more than 1,600 visitors stopped to ask questions. Other marketing materials have been distributed by MGV programs throughout the state and more than 20,000 magnets and 10,000 rack cards have been distributed.

In 2013 we had 93 MGVs in 34 counties answering questions. During the May through August growing season, they answered 911 questions out of a total 1,396 that came into OSU Extension overall. This indicates that there is a need for trained volunteers to answer home gardening questions.

We provided 15 training webinars for the volunteers and paid their registration fee for statewide Diagnostic Workshops and other programs. We also provide them with resources to improve skills.

We recruited new volunteers in November and December and targeted those counties that did not have a representative. The MGVs have been overwhelmingly supportive of this effort and have responded to questions in less than 24 hours. In 2013, they spent approximately 680 hours answering questions and contributing their services to OSUE. They are eager to learn and develop skills in the area of diagnosing plant problems.

All Accepted Proposals