The Fairfax County Master Gardeners Association (the FCMGA) formally came into existence in 1997. However, it stems from the Fairfax County Neighborhood Plant Clinic Program, created in 1976 to meet the horticultural needs of the community.
Master Gardeners – part of Cooperative Extension
Master Gardeners is one of the programs run by the Cooperative Extension Service. The Cooperative Extension Service or the Extension Service is a national program located in every state that provides research-based information and services to the agricultural industry, small business owners, youth, consumers, and others in rural and urban communities of all sizes. “Extension” indicates reaching out to the public. Part of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the Extension Service focuses on agriculture and food, home and family, the environment, community economic development, and youth (4-H).
The Master Gardener program began in 1971 in Washington State. The Puget Sound economy was tied to the success of the Boeing Corporation, which employed 100,000 workers in 1968. Then, the bottom fell out. With the massive hit to the economy, people had more time than money and began growing food to help make ends meet. Washington State University (WSU) Extension Agents David Gibby and Bill Scheer worked in the major metropolitan areas of Seattle and Tacoma, and were inundated with questions from these gardeners.
Gibby began attending garden club meetings in an effort to head off the flow of questions. He came to the realization that here was a pool of lifelong gardeners, already trained and experienced. The Agents proposed recruiting and training volunteers to serve the needs of home gardeners at scheduled plant clinics.
In 1973 Gibby and Scheer began the first classes teaching in public libraries. The first Master Gardeners were certified, and staffed the first plant clinics that year, serving over 5,000 gardeners.