Who We Are
The Western Massachusetts Master Gardener Association is a nonprofit organization dedicated to the educational mission of promoting good and sustainable gardening practices. We are volunteers who have graduated from an academic training class and have completed service hours working with the public to advance our mission.Individuals who complete this training and service are then certified as Master Gardeners. Although members participate in activities throughout Western Massachusetts, the organization is divided into three sub-regions: Berkshire County, Upper Valley, and Lower Valley which organize activities and volunteer efforts in their respective regions.
Master Gardener programs exist throughout the nation and are typically associated with a state university. Our program originated at the Cooperative Extension Service of the University of Massachusetts. In 1989 due to funding limitations, the program was discontinued at UMass. We have been operating independently since then thanks to a very dedicated group of program graduates. Our ranks continue to grow.
The purpose of the Western Massachusetts Master Gardener Association is to provide means by which graduates of the Master Gardener Program may:
- share their knowledge and expertise and offer help and assistance to the public.
- extend their knowledge of and interests in gardening and related topics through seminars, lectures, field trips, and other similar activities.
- train future Master Gardeners.
Our Roots ... and How We've Grown
In 1979 the University of Massachusetts Amherst began a program to ‘recruit and educate volunteers in home horticulture’ in order to assist Extension agents. These volunteers were called Extension Gardeners and by 1986, Ron Kujawski, the Hampden County Extension agent for the University of Massachusetts Cooperative extension, had expanded the program into all four counties of Western Mass with over 100 volunteers. They were now called ‘Master Gardeners’.
Sherry Wilson writes in Our Roots…and How We’ve Grown:
“Training was held for 13 weeks, every Thursday from 9 am - 3 pm. Lecturers were primarily Cooperative Extension agents and UMass professors. Topics ranged from basic botany to turf care, entomology, plant pathology, houseplant care, and how to deal with the public. There was a pretest and a final exam plus weekly quizzes. Only two absences were allowed. After completion of training, new Master Gardeners were required to fulfill 60 hours of community service before receiving certification. Much of the work was done in county offices where regular garden clinic hours were established several days a week. Local gardeners could call the Garden Hotline or bring their problem plants to the offices for diagnosis of problems. Soil testing for pH was an important service. In addition, Master Gardeners were encouraged to go into the community to hold soil test and garden clinics at community centers and councils on aging, to teach classes in elementary and middle schools, to undertake projects with 4-H groups and scouts, and to bring programs to nursing homes. Some worked with community gardeners, homeless shelters, survival centers, and food pantries. Between 1984 and 1989, Ron Kujawski and his associates trained 150 Western Massachusetts residents as Master Gardeners.”
In September 1989, a state budget crisis called for cutbacks, especially at University of Massachusetts and the Cooperative Extension eliminated their ‘Master Gardener’ program. With the encouragement of those Master Gardeners who were still interested, Ron Kujawski and Mark Cohen, a Master Gardener and an attorney, “drew up bylaws and filed appropriate papers with state officials for the group to be a nonprofit organization” and to be called Western Massachusetts Master Gardener Association.
After Cooperative Extension had ended their training program in 1989, the WMMGA membership (which originally had totaled 90) was down to about 40. The Master Gardeners had to disband or start their own training program. In 1994 they asked Mass Horticulture to take them under their umbrella (as they had the eastern part of the state) but Mass Hort refused. So the Master Gardeners decided to do it on their own. They drew up a curriculum (which was almost identical to the original) hired lecturers, advertised in the fall and got more than 60 applications for 40-45 spaces. The first training was at Hampshire Mall in their then community room. They had to charge for the program, which had been free under Cooperative Extension. Sherry Wilson tells me that “Training was originally planned for every year, but after a few weeks, I remember Marjorie Anderson calling me and saying "Sherry, we'll kill ourselves if we try to do this every year." So we agreed to do the training every other year. The symposia, which now are offered in triplicate, started in 1997 and were the brain child of Renate Oliver.”
Our founding members are Ron Kujawski, Sherry Wilson, Pat Steele-Perkins, Marjorie Anderson, Margaret Rae Davis, Caroline Wiejek, Dawn Marvin Ward, Ellen Goodwin, Larry King, Anna Polluck, Jeri Moran, Karen Berk, Nancy Wojcicki, Ken Barton, Sol Goodnof, Susanne Gavin and Henry Little. We still have 14 members of the Class of 1995, and six who are from the Cooperative Extension days.
In our 25 years, we have had 636 people who have taken Master Gardener training in Western Massachusetts. We currently have 246 members in WMMGA. To quote Nancy Wojcicki from Our Roots and How We’ve Grown, “From my point of view, the Master Gardener program in Western Massachusetts is stronger than ever. We have a range of talented individuals from all walks of life who generously donate their time for the love of gardening and to share it with others.” As stated in our By-Laws, the purpose of our organization is still clear: To share our gardening knowledge and expertise and offer help and assistance to the public; to extend the knowledge of and interest in gardening and related topics through seminars, lectures, field trips, and other similar activities; and to train new Master Gardeners.