We have 1,587 active Master Gardener volunteers in Connecticut. In 2015, they donated 34,555 hours of community service to towns and cities throughout the state, with an economic value of $797,183. Master Gardener offices are in each of the county offices, on the Storrs campus, and the Bartlett Arboretum in Stamford.
Tracy Burrell of Mystic is a Master Gardener volunteer, and president of the Connecticut Master Gardener Association (CMGA), the Master Gardener alumni group. CMGA is a non-profit, all volunteer group that provides scholarships to interns, stipends to the UConn Extension Master Gardener Coordinators, and outreach grants for Master Gardener volunteer projects across the state. In 2014, Tracy also served on the UConn Extension Centennial Committee.
“I became a Master Gardener in 2008,” Tracy begins. “It was something that I was always interested in, and that year, I was finally able to do it. It is a gateway to a whole new world, and becomes all encompassing. You want to learn more and more. As your interests and skills change and develop, there is always someone that you can talk to in the program.”
Tracy continued taking classes and volunteering, and is a Ruby volunteer, the top level in the program. She is also a Master Composter, and an instructor in that program. Through her position as president of CMGA, Tracy works with all of the UConn Extension Master Gardener locations. “Meeting the people is my favorite part about being a Master Gardener,” Tracy says. “I travel regularly to all of the Extension Offices and to the Bartlett Arboretum– the energy and enthusiasm of Master Gardeners is wonderful!”
Reflecting on her own learning experiences through the MG program, Tracy cites learning about rain gardens as a prime example of learning to embrace the landscape, instead of trying to fight it, and being frustrated and disappointed.
“I grew up in a volunteer family; it is natural for me to volunteer,” Tracy concludes. “I think it is a natural part of the American character, as noted by Alexis de Tocqueville in his Democracy in America and more recently by President Obama encouraging folks to volunteer. Master Gardeners provide a unique bridge between the knowledge we learn via the university and the knowledge we gain from interacting with Connecticut’s citizens.”