2022 Master Gardener Volunteer

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How do I become a Certified Master Gardener Volunteer?

Thank you for your interest in becoming a Dane County Extension Master Gardener Volunteer! Becoming a Master Gardener Volunteer (MGV) is a great way to give back to your community through supporting Extension, while learning about horticulture and meeting like-minded gardeners at the same time. For more information about the Wisconsin Master Gardener Program, visit: https://mastergardener.extension.wisc.edu/

MGV training is a three-step process. In order to increase flexibility and access to classes, they are offered in two formats and time ranges to accommodate schedules and preferences for online-only or in-person training. Steps are in a slightly different order depending on whether you choose all-online or in-person/online formats for the classes.

Local in-person/online Dual Audience classes through Dane County Extension Online-only Foundations In Horticulture (FIH) classes through UW-Madison
Step 1. Orientation through Dane County Extension online November-February 2021-2022 Step 1. FIH classes online September-December 2021, self-paced
Step 2. Recommended Green Thumb classes starting in March 2022 (see link to list of classes below) Step 2. Orientation via Dane County Extension online November-December 2021
Step 3. Onboarding online (certification) January-March 2023, self-paced Step 3. Onboarding online (certification) January-March 2022, self-paced

The Required Orientation Session: presents information about the MGV program, volunteer requirements, information about the local MGV association you can join after onboarding, and opportunities to volunteer in Dane County (various dates and times available). This will be offered online in 2021-2022. Sign up for an orientation date here. You are not obligated to become a MGV by attending this session, but it is required if you do decide to onboard as a MGV.

Horticulture Classes: are either online-only as Foundations in Horticulture (FIH) offered by UW-Madison OR as in-person/online hybrid Green Thumb classes offered at the Dane County Extension office on Madison’s far east side.

  • Online-only Foundations in Horticulture (FIH): The deadline to register was August 13, 2021. FIH will be offered again through the UW-Madison MGV State Program Office in fall of 2022. Current classes started in September 2021 to qualify for onboarding in January-March 2022. FIH classes will not be available again until fall of 2022. There are 12 self-paced, pre-recorded classes online through Canvas/UW-Madison. Taking FIH classes qualifies you to take onboarding to become a certified MGV. Information about becoming a MGV and the onboarding process is included. There is also more about onboarding below. Learn more about FIH here.
  • Recommended (but not required) Green Thumb Gardening classes (in-person/online hybrid format): can also be used to qualify for the onboarding certification offered by the MGV state office (see more on onboarding below). Click here. to see the recommended class list, descriptions. Click here to view the Green Thumb Gardening page in order to register for classes. These classes are open to anyone interested in increasing their horticulture knowledge. In cases of financial need, a limited number of scholarships are available. Contact Chip Thompson Thompson.charles@countyofdane.com for more information. You may sign up to take the classes either online or on-site. If you are interested in the on-site option, please be sure that you are able to regularly attend as the on-site class size will be limited to 20 due to space limitations for Teaching Garden labs and hands-on activities. Note that there will be in-class activities for online participants as well, but they will be different (though equivalent as much as possible) from those done by on-site participants. Classes will be recorded with videos available upon request. On-site labs and activities that take place in the Teaching Garden will not be recorded. Handouts will made available to all participants. *Note that classes may begin as or remain in a virtual-only format depending on the status of the COVID-19 pandemic. Outdoor Teaching Garden activities may still be held on-site even if classes continue in a virtual-only format. Contact Lisa Johnson at Dane County Extension johnson.lisa@countyofdane.com if you have any questions about the local classes.

MGV required online ‘onboarding’ is offered through the UW-Madison Division of Extension’s MGV State Program Office annually, January-March. This is the portion of MGV training where you gain your MGV certification status. During onboarding you will learn about volunteering with UW-Madison Extension at the county level, set up an account in the Online Reporting System (ORS) for reporting hours, sign various forms and agreements, purchase physical copy (if desired) of the MGV manual ‘Foundations in Horticulture’ or receive an electronic version, take and pass the MGV exam with 70%, and after passing the exam, receive a MGV badge to wear when volunteering. The cost is $100.  You must go through orientation and classes (either in-person/online dual audience local classes or online-only FIH) to qualify for onboarding. There are limited exceptions for MGVs currently certified in states in the Midwest who are transferring to Wisconsin or professional horticulturists and botanists. They may be able to onboard without classes, but still need to attend an orientation. Click here for more information

Volunteer Activities with Dane County Extension for Master Gardener Volunteers

At the successful conclusion of onboarding, you will be ready to volunteer as a certified MGV! Note that you cannot volunteer as a MGV until onboarding is completed. A detailed list of volunteer opportunities and locations is in the Online Reporting System (ORS), which you will get access to during MGV onboarding.

Some core Dane County Extension volunteer activities include:

  • The Dane County Extension Teaching Garden as part of a team in one of the 12 garden areas (you can choose your garden area). For more information on the Teaching Garden: Click Here. You will also learn more about the Garden and activities during orientation.
  • Plant Health Advisor (PHA) work: This entails an extra layer of training to learn how to diagnose plant problems. It includes learning how to work with clients to answer their questions by phone, email or occasionally walk-in traffic, diagnosing insect, disease, nutritional, environmental, and human-caused issues. It is one of the best ways to learn! You will be paired with an experienced PHA to learn the ropes until you are comfortable on your own. PHAs work at the County Extension office (in-person for beginners or remotely for experienced PHAs, if desired), at Farmers Markets (we have MGV booths at six markets), and at community events such as the Garden Expo (https://wigardenexpo.com/ ). Since these activities are overseen by Extension, a background check and Mandated Reporter Training will be needed in addition to the PHA one-day training.
  • Dane County Extension MGV Speakers Bureau: We have over a dozen scripted PowerPoints that MGV Speakers present to various community groups every year. If you enjoy teaching and public speaking, this would be a great activity for you! If you want to observe one of the presentations being given before deciding, that can be arranged. If you prefer to work with a co-presenter, that can also be accommodated. Since these activities are overseen by Extension, a background check and Mandated Reporter Training will be needed.

Note that in 2021, due to the pandemic, no volunteer hours are required. In non-pandemic times, to maintain certification, Master Gardener Volunteers should put in a minimum of 24 volunteer hours. Volunteer calendars end each year on December 31st and restart January 1st of the following year. If you are not able to do 24 hours any particular year, you may remain in the program, do fewer than 24 hours and regain certification when you are able to. You can certainly do more than 24 hours if desired, there are many deserving projects that would be delighted to have your participation and expertise! Many MGVs like to volunteer at Olbrich, the Arboretum, the Teaching Garden, the MAMGA prairie at Lake Farm Park, the Henry Vilas Zoo grounds, Allen Centennial Gardens, the West Madison Ag Station, various police station gardens, gardens at local libraries, the Goodman Center garden program, city or county parks, school gardens, the Monona Terrace Rooftop Garden, and the UW-Madison Botany Gardens at Birge Hall are some examples.

MGV Continuing Education: To maintain certification, Master Gardener Volunteers should accrue 10 hours of continuing education annually. Volunteer calendars end each year on December 31st and restart January 1st of the following year. If you are not able to do 10 hours any particular year, you may remain in the program. Many things qualify for continuing education. See the state policy for events that qualify under the ‘Learn’ tab on the state MGV website: Click here. Note that Green Thumb Gardening classes are one way to fulfill that requirement, along with educational events from MAMGA, Garden Expo events, Landscaping and Grounds Maintenance Short Course classes, Larry Meiller’s Garden Talk program on Wisconsin Public Radio and much more.

Thank you so much for volunteering as a Dane County Extension Master Gardener Volunteer! You make a difference!

Madison Area Master Gardener Association (MAMGA)
MAMGA is the local MGV association that supports Dane County MGVs with fellowship events and monthly educational events. MAMGA provides other benefits to its members as well. Some of these include discounts at area nurseries and retailers, free admission to MAMGA-sponsored programs, events and educational programs, garden tours, service and community education opportunities, fellowship and social events. Annual dues are $25. After you complete onboarding, you are eligible for membership. For more information about MAMGA, click here.


Register for Orientation

Required Orientation session: If interested in taking the MGV recommended classes package and you intend to become a MGV, a one-hour orientation session is required. For 2022, this will be online. Sign up here.

Questions?  Please contact Lisa Johnson, Horticulture Educator at johnson.lisa@countyofdane.com or 608-224-3715

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