Extension Master Gardener program successfully completes its first year in Puerto Rico
PUERTO RICO – The Extension Master Gardener, a volunteer program that trains individuals in the science and art of gardening in all 50 states, successfully completed its first year in Puerto Rico. The Agriculture Extension Service, from the University of Puerto Rico, received financial and technical assistance from the State and Private Forestry unit at the International Institute of Tropical Forestry to establish the program for the first time on the island.
The 12-module program included the participation of 25 volunteers from all regions of the island, including the municipal islands of Culebra and Vieques. Each module was taught by agronomists from the participating Agriculture Extension Service regions. After completion of the program, all volunteers will be certified as Master Gardeners and will be able to teach community groups and school kids on gardening topics, while also helping the Agriculture Extension Service in its efforts to educate the general public about safe and correct gardening for non-commercial agricultural practices.
The program, which officially concluded in June, has covered topics such as: plant anatomy, pathology, entomology, soil, cultural management of community gardens, wildlife management, plant diseases and sustainable gardening, among others. During the modules, participants have been exposed to field trips and hands-on practice in various locations and ecosystems around the island, including the Rio Piedras Botanical Garden, El Yunque National Forest in Río Grande, and the Agricultural Extension Service facilities located in the municipalities of Moca, San Juan, Vieques, Luquillo and Lajas.
This program was implemented in Puerto Rico modeling the University of Florida Master Gardener program, as the environmental conditions are similar to those in the island, explained in an interview Rubén Reyes, professor and agronomist at the Agriculture Extension Service, and point of contact of the EMG in Puerto Rico. He, along other experts, decided to introduce the program in the island due to the food security issues found after Hurricanes Irma and Maria in 2017, and the need of an accessible education for non-commercial agricultural practices to implement community and home gardens.
After completion of the program, which was integrated under the “Agriculture, Marketing and Natural Resources” program at the Agricultural Extension Service, five plant clinics will be built on-site at the facilities of each station in the island, offering an opportunity for volunteers to transfer the knowledge to local visitors and school kids in their respective regions. Each station at the Agricultural Extension Service will also provide laboratories with all the scientific equipment to immerse citizen science components into the program and engage the surrounding communities they’re at.
This program is a pioneer in its kind in the island, and unlike the 50 states, the District of Columbia, several Canadian provinces, and South Korea, the program in Puerto Rico was free of charge for the volunteers. All workshop costs, materials and travel expenses were covered by a grant for $44,000 received from IITF. This unique volunteer program has become internationally recognized and often duplicated as a model for other volunteer programs across the globe.