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Rooftop garden at The Lovelady Center in Jefferson County. Master Gardeners tend the rooftop garden.

AUBURN UNIVERSITY, Ala. — At the heart of many community projects, there will often be an Extension Master Gardener (EMG). These volunteers give of their time and green-thumb talents to improve community green spaces, provide fresh produce for food pantries, offer hands-on experience to elementary and high school students and provide educational opportunities where they live and work. Each year, the Alabama Cooperative Extension System recognizes outstanding EMG volunteers for the hard work they do in their communities.

Recognizing Volunteers

Alabama Extension’s home grounds team leads the EMG program through the county Extension offices. These offices serve as hubs for community service opportunities, as well as locations for volunteers to answers calls made to the Master Gardener Helpline year-round.

“We recognize volunteers each year with two awards — the Fred Evans ACE Intern of the Year and Search for Excellence, which has seven categories,” said Kerry Smith, Alabama Extension’s state coordinator for EMG programming.

Smith said both of these awards are intended to highlight how the volunteers connect with Extension’s mission.

2024 Intern of the Year

For the Fred Evans ACE Intern of the Year award, home grounds regional Extension agents that have an EMG intern class are asked to nominate an intern from each county. Interns are then selected for this award based on the following criteria, encompassed by the acronym ACE:

  • A: All around supportive
  • C: Cooperative and dependable
  • E: Exceptional steward of the program

In 2024, there were three winners of the Intern of the Year award. Traditionally, one intern is chosen for the award. However, Smith said these nominees were strong enough to merit a three-way tie. The recipients of the 2024 Fred Evans ACE Intern of the Year award were Jo Termotto, Kent Huisingh and Rosielene Carpenter.

Smith said these individuals embody the desire for service that is the hallmark of the EMG program.

“Extension Master Gardeners have a heart for service,” Smith said. “As community volunteers, they easily find opportunities to serve their communities in many different ways. We are grateful for their service as the volunteer arm of the Alabama Cooperative Extension System. Our communities and our state benefit from their creative projects.”

Search for Excellence 2024

Two counties were selected in the 2024 Search for Excellence: Autauga and Jefferson.

“This prestigious award recognizes Extension Master Gardener projects across Alabama,” Smith said. “Winning projects must meet a community need, show that significant learning occurred for the intended audience and represent teamwork.”

Autauga County

The Autauga County Master Gardeners Association (MGA) project, The Gardening Buzz, won the Innovative Project category. Autauga County EMGs said the original intent of this booklet was to educate readers about who they are, what they do, where they may be found working in the community and how they can help others become successful gardeners in Autauga County. The booklet explains that Autauga County MGA members are trained by Alabama Extension and are dedicated to beautifying communities, sharing their knowledge of gardening and promoting environmental awareness.

Jefferson County

The Jefferson County MGA won the Special Needs Audience category for their gardening project at The Lovelady Center (TLC), a faith-based residential center serving 550 women and children in the Birmingham area.

The 2023 Jefferson County EMG interns and TLC formalized a project plan with specific time-bound and achievable goals to refurbish the garden’s 12 raised beds. They also included classes for the residents, such as house-plant propagation, seed starting and flower arranging. Residents and staff said the garden project brings them joy, peace, serenity and a place to learn and heal.

The intern class successfully completed the project in May 2023, with all beds restored to production, and continue to guide activities in the garden.

More Information

To learn more about the EMG program and other home grounds programs, visit www.aces.edu. From Alabama Smart Yards to Grow More, Give More, there is something for everyone.