If one of your goals is to become a better gardener and contribute to your community, you should look into your local Master Gardener program.
Usually sponsored by Cooperative Extension Services affiliated with state universities, there are Master Gardener programs in just about every state and Canadian province.
These intensive horticultural training programs teach non-professionals about soil and composting, basic botany, pest management, plant diseases, animal husbandry, nutrition and food safety, and how to grow fruits and vegetables, indoor and outdoor plants, trees, shrubs, and turf. This is no course for slackers! Weekly classes include lectures and hands-on experience.
You are expected to study and be able to pass a test every week.
After completing the program, Master Gardener interns are required to volunteer a certain number of hours in garden-related activities during their first year. After fulfilling the volunteer commitment, interns graduate as full-fledged Master Gardeners and are awarded their certificates.
Every year Master Gardeners need to put in a certain number of hours of volunteer work in their communities to keep their certification. This can include speaking to garden clubs, school groups, or civic organizations about gardening, manning an information booth at the county fair or farmers’ market, helping with a school garden or community garden, or giving workshops, garden tours, classes, seed swaps, or clinics. In my state we have a Family, Home & Garden Education “hotline” that is manned by Master Gardeners who are equipped to answer any questions you may have about growing healthy families as well as gardening, food safety, or raising backyard livestock.
At my library we have a seed swap each spring that is run by a Master Gardener. He solicits seeds from a variety of sources and gives those away along with the seeds that participants bring to share. He is on hand to answer any gardening questions people might have. It is very well attended and growing in popularity!
If you have time on your hands and would like to help others while doing something that you love, please consider this extremely rewarding program. You receive excellent training that you can rely on for the rest of your life and in return you pass this knowledge on to others. A win-win for everyone!