NC State Extension Publications


  1. History
  2. Purpose
    1. Diverse Audiences
    2. Critical Issues
    3. Public Awareness
  3. Core Values
  4. Organizational Structure

A. History

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The Extension Master Gardener (EMG) program was created to increase NC State Extension’s (Extension’s) capacity to provide information on establishing and maintaining gardens, lawns, landscapes, and houseplants in ways that protect health and natural resources.

The first EMG program was started in January of 1973 when Washington State University Extension faculty recruited and trained a corps of volunteers to expand their capacity to meet the needs of the gardening public. This launched a movement that would spread across the world.

Six years later, in March 1979, the Extension center in Wake County started training volunteers in an EMG program. The first North Carolina Master Gardener volunteer reported to work on April 2, 1979. In that same year, New Hanover County quickly adopted and expanded its Garden Hotline program into an EMG program. Today there are over 3,000 Master Gardener volunteers (MGVs) across the state.

Photo of a master gardener volunteer in Wake County

NC State Extension Master Gardener Volunteer in Wake County.

N.C. Cooperative Extension

Photo of master gardener answering a phone in Wake County

NC State Extension Master Gardener Volunteer answering phones in Wake County.

N.C. Cooperative Extension

Photo of master gardener volunteers answering questions

NC State Extension Master Gardener Volunteers in Wake County answer gardening questions.

N.C. Cooperative Extension

B. Purpose

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NC State faculty and staff train MGVs to be highly effective community educators providing unbiased, research-based, environmentally sound information about growing lawns, fruits, vegetables, trees, and ornamentals. They focus specifically on issues of importance in their local communities related to residential gardening and landscaping, including environmental stewardship, water conservation, water quality preservation, energy conservation, green waste reduction, home food production, wildlife management, sustainable communities, and health and wellness for children and adults.

MGVs expand Extension’s capacity to meet the needs of the gardening public. Our volunteers are motivated by the opportunity to participate in a quality horticultural course, receive answers to their own gardening questions, interact with people who have common interests, help others expand their gardening knowledge, and make a difference in their community. Major tenets of the program include the following:

1. Diverse Audiences.

Our programs and staff reflect the diversity of the communities they serve. The land-grant university system was built to provide access to higher education and serve the needs of the common person. MGVs continue the land-grant university tradition by ensuring that the programs and people delivering them are available and applicable to all residents.

2. Critical Issues.

Projects must be relevant to the larger issues facing society—protecting environmental quality, ending hunger, building strong and safe neighborhoods, and growing healthy children.

3. Public Awareness. Extension and Master Gardener volunteers must let the residents, decision-makers, businesses, and communities of North Carolina know about the value of the work they do by illustrating its relevance to public goals.

Photo of master gardener working with students in Forsyth County

An NC State Extension Master Gardner Volunteer works with students in Forsyth County.

N.C. Cooperative Extension

C. Core Values

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Six core values direct the program’s priorities and goals and guide the behavior and actions of its staff and volunteers:

Education: MGVs learn to use and to teach research-based horticultural practices.

Service: MGVs give generously of their time, talents, support, and encouragement to each other and to the community in accordance with Extension’s mission and values.

Respect: MGVs demonstrate respect for others by valuing different opinions, viewpoints, and perspectives. They conduct themselves in a professional manner.

Fellowship: MGVs seek opportunities to come together on equal and friendly terms in ways that foster cooperation and camaraderie and promote teamwork.

Stewardship: MGVs strive to sustain the things we depend on, as an organization and as individuals, by acting in ways that protect and conserve our resources—natural, monetary, and human.

Self-sustaining: MGVs strive to ensure the continued success of the program.

Extension Master Gardener volunteers in Polk County

NC State MGVs in Polk County.

N.C. Cooperative Extension

D. Organizational Structure

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The EMG program operates under Extension organizational policies. The local Extension agent manages the program, sometimes assisted by administrative staff or a volunteer coordinator who is responsible for day-to-day operations. The program is supported by the state EMG coordinator and subject matter specialists at NC State. The State EMG Management Team works with the state EMG coordinator to provide leadership for the program.

Most local Extension centers are organized in the following manner:

  • Local Extension Director—provides leadership and supervises all faculty and staff in the Extension center
  • Local Extension Agent—provides leadership for educational programs and supervises the local staff and volunteers related to each program
  • Local Extension Program Coordinator (in some counties)—coordinates and manages specific programs and volunteers (may report to an agent or directly to the local director)

Volunteers in some counties have formed separate associations to work in partnership with Extension to support the EMG program. For more information about these partnerships, see appendix E.

In addition to county, regional, and state organizations within North Carolina, there are also multi-state regional teams and national leadership in the United States, Canada, and Korea.

Photo of master gardener volunteers in Swain County

NC State Extension Master Gardener Volunteers in Swain County.

N.C. Cooperative Extension

N.C. Cooperative Extension organizational chart

N.C. Cooperative Extension organizational chart.


Extension Urban Horticulture Specialist
Horticultural Science

Find more information at the following NC State Extension websites:

Publication date: May 29, 2019

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