Knox County Master Gardeners Win International Award

Knox County UT/TSU Extension Master Gardeners has received a high honor. The MG’ers placed second in the workshop/presentation category of the International Master Gardener Search for Excellence competition. The award recognizes the whole of their work supporting a Master Gardeners Speaker’s Bureau for the county. The Search for Excellence is the recognition program of Master Gardener volunteer work throughout the US and Canada. The award will be presented at the International Master Gardener conference, held next July in Portland, Oregon.

Last year the Knox County Master Gardeners gave sixty-plus public talks with over 1,000 people attending in total. This year they’re even busier. “For 2016, we have eighty-six presentations on the schedule,” says Marsha Lehman. “So far, eighty-one are completed with year-to-date attendance of 1,622.” The outreach efforts really took off in 2014, she adds, when the MG’ers launched a speakers bureau. Lehman is the current chair of the Speakers Bureau and was responsible for submitting the application to the international competition. Barbra Bunting was chair from 2013 through 2015, the year the bureau won a statewide award.

“The breadth of our Master Gardeners’ work is really quite remarkable, so it's a very significant award!” says Emily Gonzalez, Extension Master Gardener coordinator with UT/TSU Extension Knox County.

The bureau was established to further UT/TSU Extension’s mission through several series of presentations at public venues, clubs, and civic groups throughout the county. Presentations emphasize university research-based information and provide ample references for further study. The target audiences are home gardeners interested in ornamental and/or vegetable gardening.

Along with the extraordinary dedication of Master Gardeners like Barbra Bunting and Marsha Lehman, Gonzalez credits UT Extension’s important partnership with Tennessee State University Extension in making the Knox County Extension Master Gardener program possible.

"Without the UT/TSU partnership, this program would probably not exist in Knox County as it does today, nor the way the community benefits from our Master Gardeners and their many forms of service.” Gonzalez, a TSU Extension Agent II, has been developing and coordinating the Tennessee Extension Master Gardener program in Knox County since 2010.