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Exploring Extension & Our Volunteer Opportunities

CCE Master Gardener Volunteer Network

Our Mission, Vision, Values (pdf)

National Extension Master Gardener logo

Not from New York State? National Extension Master Gardener 

Interested in learning more about becoming a master gardener volunteer in NY? Contact your local county office.  Not every CCE county office in New York has the resources to support a program.

Why be a Cornell Cooperative Extension Master Gardener Volunteer? Gardening is enjoying an expansion of interest. The documented benefits of gardening are numerous and include: lifelong learning, environmental/scientific literacy, a sense of accomplishment, physical exercise, improved health, stress relief, physical rehabilitation, psychological rehabilitation, economic success, enhanced social relationships, community building and direct access to nutritious fresh food. Garden-based learning can serve as a catalyst for addressing food security and hunger; climate change; sustainable energy; childhood obesity and nutrition; food safety; and youth, family and community development. The widespread appeal of gardening provides opportunity to use gardens to connect with diverse audiences. These and the other benefits of gardening are maximized when gardening success is achieved. Cornell Cooperative Extension is part of the USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture Cooperative Extension System, consequently CCE Master Gardener Volunteers are uniquely linked to Cornell University and positioned to provide best practices grounded in research-based knowledge. These practices foster the skills, knowledge and attitudes essential for creating successful gardening experiences among the 7 million New York State households engaging in garden-related activities as well as school and community organizations using gardening as a tool to achieve desired outcomes. Find more on the Benefits of Garden Based Learning and Research that Supports Our Work.

Cornell Cooperative Extension Master Gardener Volunteer Core Preparation Curriculum

At a glance:

  • 23 Sessions organized into 6 modules
  • Facilitator toolkit
  • Accessed online by staff members through the CCE MGV Core Preparation Learning Library
  • CCE county educators pick and choose which sessions to facilitate in your community

Our big question:
What is the role of gardening as the tool for understanding and problem solving around climate change, food security, youth development, community and economic vitality and environment and sustainable energy? (These are all core initiatives of the CCE Statewide Plan of Work).

About the approach:

  • The curriculum has a systems thinking approach that values the needs of adult learners and integrates experiential learning. It has been proven that a more hands-on and engaging core preparation will lead to more active MGVs.

  • The core preparation prepares MGV as peer educators in their communities. Consider the core preparation to be a launching-off point rather than a comprehensive horticulture course.
  • The core preparation includes both foundational horticulture knowledge and the skills needed for community engagement.
  • The Action Project allows participants to apply skills and principles from the core preparation and practice sharing information with peers in a group setting.

What you’ll find in each session:

  • Facilitator Guide
  • Participant Guide including educational material links to learn more
  • Presentation with facilitator speaker notes
  • Hands-on activity directions and print materials
  • PDF materials for participants
  • Knowledge check and key
  • FAQs sheets

Sample outline of a session:

  • Welcome, review learning objectives and session flow.
  • Reconnect by starting with what the group knows.
  • Ground them in why the topic is important.
  • Add fundamental knowledge through lecture, hands-on activities or discussions.
  • Discuss key points from the session and lingering questions.
  • Bring it all together to highlight: How does this tie into what we’ve been learning? How can you use this knowledge as a peer educator? What are some different settings where this knowledge can apply?
  • Direct participants’ attention to resources where they can learn more.
  • Provide participants with an avenue to give feedback and data for your program evaluation including reporting.
  • Provide an avenue for participants to assess what they know.
  • Post-module reflection and practice.

CCE MGV Core Preparation Session Learning Objectives

Intro: Welcome to Our Peer Learning Network

  • Recognize Cornell Cooperative Extension’s (CCE) valuable impacts.
  • Identify the connection of CCE to Cornell University.
  • Articulate the mission, vision and values of CCE and the Master Gardener Volunteer program.
  • Understand the role of volunteers in the CCE system.
  • Explore how the CCE Master Gardener Volunteer experience fits into the larger organization as well as into the local plan of work.
  • Recognize the importance of evaluating information and identifying reliable resources.
  • Value the good work you will be doing as a peer educator.
  • Recall where to find the core preparation materials including your pre and post session work and action project assignments.

Module 1: The Fundamentals

  • Section 1.1 Plant Biology for Gardeners
    • Recognize the parts of a plant and their functions.
    • Discover the ways plants are classified into family groups and the value of scientific names.
    • Become familiar with the environmental factors that affect plant germination, growth and phenology (spacing, nutrients, light, day length, water, temperature)
    • Examine the three basic processes for plant growth and development: photosynthesis, respiration and transpiration.
    • Consider how plant characteristics are used in classification, identification and dichotomous keys.
  • Section 1.2 Right Plant, Right Place (Soil and Site Assessment)
    • Describe the basic relationship of soil and other environmental factors to plant growth and development.
    • Understand the characteristics and basic properties of soil such as texture, pH and organic matter and their impact on nutrient availability.
    • Recognize that there is a right plant for the right soil and the right soil for the right plant.
    • Become familiar with the concept of systems thinking and explain how developing habits of systems thinking when practicing management tactics in homes, lawns, gardens and landscapes can support environmental stewardship and a sustainable community.
    • Apply the criteria for basic site assessment.
  • Section 1.3 Beneficial Insects
    • Become familiar with beneficial insects, how to attract them to the garden and their value in the ecosystem and cultivated landscapes.
    • Learn about insect morphology and identify key morphological characteristics of insects;
      • Three major body parts: head, thorax, abdomen
      • Six legs
      • Exoskeleton
      • Antennae
    • Explain the two common life cycle types of insects – complete and incomplete metamorphosis
    • Become familiar with the characteristics of five orders of common garden insects:
      • Coleoptera (beetles)
      • Diptera (true flies)
      • Lepidoptera (butterflies and moths)
      • Hymenoptera (bees, wasps and ants)
      • Hemiptera (true bugs, hoppers, aphids)
    • Recognize the evidence insects leave behind on plants.
  • Section 1.4 Basic Plant Pathology
    • Explain the difference between biotic and abiotic diseases.
    • Review the five types of biotic disease organisms and their life cycles (fungi, bacteria, viruses, nematodes and phytoplasmas).
    • Recognize the disease pyramid/triangle.
    • Be familiar with the five basic steps of the systemic approach to diagnosing plant problems (determine if problem exists, look for patterns, determine time of development, ask questions and synthesize the information). Use the systemic approach to determine if example plant problems are caused by abiotic or biotic factors.
    • Recognize the importance of accurate, early detection of introduced and invasive pathogens.


Module 2: Food Gardening

  • Section 2.1 Nutrition, Food Safety After Harvest and Food Security
    • Recognize Eat Smart New York’s (ESNY) nutrition education activities and how garden programs link to their main messages.
    • Identify the ways in which MGVs can partner with ESNY.
    • Understand safe handling, preparation and preservation of food including important practices in preventing foodborne illnesses and avoiding cross contamination.
    • Examine aspects of food security including the availability and access to food, sufficiency of food, social and cultural acceptability of food, and nutritional quality and safety of food.
  • Section 2.2a Vegetable Gardening I (part 1)
    • Recognize common vegetable families.
    • Identify common garden pests and diseases.
    • Examine methods to start vegetable seeds indoors and outdoors.
    • Describe best management practices for water, weed, pest prevention and nutrient management for maintaining vegetable and herb crop.
    • Become familiar with how and when to harvest and properly store vegetable and herbs crops.
  • Section 2.2b Vegetable Gardening II (part 2)
    • Create a multi-year plan for a vegetable and herb garden including site selection and preparation, variety selection, season extension, container gardening, intensive gardening methods.
    • Practice answering vegetable garden-related questions.
  • Section 2.3 Fruit Gardening
    • Describe the critical components of a suitable site for growing fruit and planning for minimizing pests.
    • Identify keys to success in a garden setting for:
      • Trees (apples, pears, peaches, cherry, plum)
      • Woody vines (grapes & kiwi)
      • Bushes/shrubs (elderberries, currants, gooseberries, blueberries)
      • Herbaceous perennials (raspberries & blackberries)
      • Groundcover (strawberries)
    • Recognize pruning strategies for fruit crops.

Module 3: Plant Ecosystems Services

  • Section 3.1 Plant Ecosystems Services, Lawns and Herbaceous Plants
    • Understand the concept of ecosystems services and discuss
    • Describe ways to use lawns and herbaceous plants (perennials, bulbs, biennials and annuals) in the landscape that support ecosystem services.
    • Identify the factors that should be considered in site selection for herbaceous plants and lawns.
    • Become familiar with the cultural practices needed to successfully grow perennials, bulbs, biennials, annuals and lawns.
  • Section 3.2 Woody Plants
    • Acknowledge the variability of urban and other growing conditions and how these various conditions might influence selecting site appropriate materials.
    • Discover Cornell University’s Woody Plant Database and other tools to help identify appropriate trees and shrubs for different landscape conditions.
    • Become familiar with the basics of landscape tree or shrub care including soil preparation and remediation, mulching, establishment period, water needs, and pruning.
    • Recognize the three forms in which trees and shrubs can be purchased and the basic steps and considerations for planting.

Module 4: Problem Solving

  • Section 4.1a Pest Management Strategies and IPM
    • Describe the principles of Integrated Pest Management (IPM).
    • Apply the ‘IPM Triangle’ to identify preventative measures and controls for plant diseases.
    • Use the five-step systemic approach to diagnosing problems to gather the necessary information for IPM.
    • Articulate options that reduce pesticide exposure to the environment.
  • Section 4.1b Pesticide Use and Reading Labels
    • Be aware of different types of pesticides and how they work.
      • Insecticides, fungicides, herbicides, rodenticides, etc.
    • Read and follow a pesticide label; Recognize that the terms “natural”, “organic”, “biological”, “synthetic” do not imply how safe or toxic a product is.
    • Become familiar with the different pesticide formulations, and which formulations pose the least risk of exposure to the user.
    • Assess the risks vs. the benefits of pesticide use.
  • Section 4.2 Troubleshooting Scenarios: Food Crops
    • Identify the signs and symptoms of at least one common disease of vegetable and fruit crops.
    • Recognize best practices in growing food crops in healthy soils and garden sites.
    • Practice how to package samples for shipment to the Plant Disease Diagnostic Clinic and Cornell Insect Diagnostic Lab for diagnosis; and articulate what information is needed for diagnostics.
    • Develop confidence and skills in using the five-step systemic approach to diagnosing problems (determine if problem exists, look for patterns, determine time of development, ask questions and synthesize the information).
  • Section 4.3 Troubleshooting Scenarios: Ornamental and Landscape Plants
    • Identify the signs and symptoms of at least one common diseases of ornamentals.
    • Practice how to package samples for shipment to the Plant Disease Diagnostic Clinic and Cornell Insect Diagnostic Lab for diagnosis; and articulate what information is needed for diagnostics.
    • Develop confidence and skills in using the five-step systemic approach to diagnosing problems (determine if problem exists, look for patterns, determine time of development, ask questions and synthesize the information).
  • Section 4.4 Troubleshooting Scenarios: Pests in the Garden
    • Identify nuisance wildlife, pests and weeds commonly found in the garden, and understand their lifecycles and attraction to ideal habitats.
    • Practice how to package samples for shipment to the Plant Disease Diagnostic Clinic and Cornell Insect Diagnostic Lab for diagnosis; and articulate what information is needed for diagnostics.
    • Determine cultural control methods and steps to for exclusion of wildlife and garden pests.
    • Develop confidence and skills in using the five-step systemic approach to diagnosing problems (determine if problem exists, look for patterns, determine time of development, ask questions and synthesize the information).

Module 5: Management Strategies/Issues

  • Section 5.1 Organic Waste Management: Composting
    • Understand that composting is managed decomposition and that there is a link between compost and soil health.
    • Articulate the proper management of compost including acceptable inputs and the balance of browns and greens.
    • Demonstrate the proper technique of lasagna layering.
    • Assess various composting systems (i.e. wire bin, tumblers, worm bin) and be able to assist the public in selecting the type that best suits them.
    • Understand the process of how composting works and be familiar with the factors that facilitate or slow the process.
    • Determine if compost is finished (mature) and be versed in how to harvest and use the compost.
    • Recognize the current statistics regarding food waste and steps that can be taken individually and statewide to minimize the food waste stream.
    • Identify common composting troubleshooting and problems and become familiar with composting FAQs.
  • Section 5.2 Soil Amendments and Fertilizers
    • Understand how to read a soil test report to gather information about soil nutrient status of a site.
    • Explain management practices that help individuals enhance soil to optimize plant success.
    • Identify when and how to use compost and other soil amendments.
    • Practice using Cornell’s Cover Crop Guide: and become familiar with the use of cover crops.
    • Recognize that soils can be impacted by lead and other contaminants and it’s important to consider the quality of any material that you add to your garden in order to avoid unknowingly spreading contamination.
    • Read and understand fertilizer labels to be able to identify appropriate fertilizers to meet plant needs and personal goals.
  • Section 5.3 Invasive Species for Gardeners
    • Consider definitions of what’s ‘non-native’ and what’s ‘invasive’, and discuss some of the controversy around these definitions.
    • Recognize the impacts invasive species have on our ecosystems and human quality of life.
    • Understand the invasion curve and what actions are appropriate at each stage of invasion.
    • Learn the profile of an invasive weed, and the red flags for invasiveness
    • Discuss the regional nature of invasiveness, and what that might mean in the face of climate change.
    • Become familiar with resources that will assist in identification characteristics, lifecycles, signs and symptoms for current top invasive species in your region
    • Explore the prohibited and regulated species regulations in New York and how to report suspect invasions to state and local agencies.
    • Consider and discuss invasive species in our landscapes, and how to manage them.
  • Section 5.4 Gardening in a Warming World
    • Understand systems thinking as it applies to your garden system.
    • Become familiar with the basics of climate change.
    • List current and future possible impacts of climate change on New York State.
    • Identify ways to manage gardens to mitigate and adapt to climate impacts.
    • Feel prepared to encourage dialogue around Gardening in A Warming World and appreciate the principles of climate change communication.

Module 6: Facilitating Learning

  • Section 6.1 Adult Learning and Community Engagement
    • Reflect on your identity along with how you best learn.
    • Understand the basic principles of adult learning, apply them to garden-based learning outreach and create lessons that include numerous teaching methods and encourage participation.
    • Recognize that CCE MGV programs are peer learning networks and a critical component in the exchange of information between research practices and local knowledge and appreciate the characteristics of an effective member of peer learning network.
    • Acknowledge that community engagement is essential to identifying collaborative solutions.
  • Section 6.2 Youth Development and School Gardens
    • Recognize the benefits of positive youth development and identify how to incorporate meaningful opportunities for youth engagement in garden-based learning (gbl) settings.
    • Discuss some challenges, fears and expectations regarding youth engagement in the garden setting.
    • Understand the steps to planning a successful garden project.
    • Practice innovative garden-based activities and discuss how they could be adapted to fit various settings.
    • Research school and youth garden projects in your community.

Action Project

  • Apply skills and principles from the Core Preparation including program planning and horticultural knowledge.
  • Create educational materials that are significant to your community’s needs.
  • Practice sharing information with peers in a group format.
  • Provide key feedback to your peers to move them forward in their action project efforts.
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