Texas Master Gardener Conference celebrates 40 years

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COLLEGE STATION – Each of the more than 700 Texas Master Gardener Association enthusiasts attending this week’s conference at Texas A&M University in College Station have another thing in common – community service.

The conference marks the 40th anniversary of the association as Master Gardeners continue to provide education across urban and rural Texas.

“The Master Gardener Association exemplifies the volunteer spirit, the spirit to gain knowledge and share that knowledge by giving back to our communities,” said Dr. Doug Steele, director of the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service, who welcomed conference attendees Wednesday at Rudder Auditorium. “We are excited to have you invest your time and resources to becoming a better Master Gardener.”

Texas Master Gardeners is a volunteer program conducted by AgriLife Extension to grow horticultural information and provide outreach throughout the state. To become a Texas Master Gardener, a participant attends 50 hours of instruction conducted by local AgriLife Extension county agents. Participants are certified to share this knowledge by donating 50 hours of volunteer service back to the community.

“We want this conference to be an opportunity for everyone to come together and celebrate the work so many do in helping improve the lives of people across Texas,” said Jayla Fry, state coordinator and AgriLife Extension specialist in College Station. “You will see a lot of people here have tremendous dedication, passion and service to the Master Gardener Program.”

Steele told attendees the program has grown to more than 150 county programs and 7,000 volunteers statewide.

“You helped Extension in our overall program efforts to reach 26 million people last year,” he said. “We have a reach across Texas that’s not possible without what you do.”

Wednesday’s keynote speaker was David Gibby, who in the early 1970s co-founded the first Master Gardener Program in Washington State.

“My dear friends, you are all inspiring people to participate,” Gibby told the group.

He said the program started with a little over $500 in grant funding, but the initial call for potential volunteers drew 300 people. From there, the program snowballed into a thriving national network of enthusiasts in all 50 states.

The conference continues through Friday and has attracted Master Gardeners from across Texas to breakout sessions featuring the latest industry practices. Tours, meanwhile, included a preview of The Gardens at Texas A&M — an initiative to which the Texas Master Gardener Association has contributed nearly $150,000.

For more information about the Master Gardener Program, visit http://bit.ly/2GximT1.

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