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What are Master Gardeners, why were they created, and how did it all start?
Between 1636-1861, colleges and universities cater to upper class citizens and focus on teaching liberal arts and professions available only to the wealthy. In 1861, Congress passes the Morrill Act which grants Federally owned land to each state for the establishment of one “land-grant” university in each state to educate ordinary citizens in agricultural and mechanical fields.
Harvard College was founded, in 1636, as the first institution of higher learning in the U.S.
Recognizing the need still existed for more and newer information about agriculture, Congress passes, in 1887, the Hatch Act which establishes research facilities/centers at each “land grant” university.
In order to help disseminate the “land-grant” and research center information to citizens in rural areas, Congress passes, in 1914, the Smith-Lever Act. This created a “cooperative” partnership between Federal, State, and County governments to “extend” the information sharing of the university/center into local counties through the presence of an “cooperative extension agent” (a faculty member of the university) who acts as a conduit of information to local farmers and citizens. "Cooperative Extension” helps fulfill the initial purpose and mission of the “land grant” universities. The co-sponsor of the Smith-Lever Act, Frank Lever, from Lexington, SC got the idea as he saw Clemson professors feverishly travelling across SC to help farmers with their problems.
In 1973, the extension agent for Washington State University in King County, WA became overwhelmed with requests for information to support the growing interest in horticulture, gardening & plant problems. He and other agents recruit and train volunteers, whom they call “Master Gardener Volunteers”, to help them meet the needs. MGs “extend” the “extension agent” and the program becomes so successful that it is adopted in many counties across the U.S.
In 1981 Charleston County, SC is the first SC county to start a Master Gardener program.
As of 2008, 36 counties in SC offer the MG program as do hundreds of counties across the U.S. Many SC MGs form local associations like GSMGA and its sister MG associations in SC.
Click here to see the other SC MG sites!
Private Colleges and Universities