A strategic visioning retreat aimed at creating a strategic plan for the ongoing growth of the Michigan Master Gardener program was held on February 19 and 20 at the St. Francis Retreat Center in Dewitt Michigan.   

Lead by MSU Facilitators Bonnie Zoia and Clare Bode, the sessions gathered together about 54 representatives of Michigan Master Gardener regional associations and at-large Master Gardeners, members of the Michigan Master Gardener Association Board of Directors and the MSU Consumer Horticulture program.  

Keynote speaker was new MSU Extension Director Dr. Ray Hammerschmidt who thanked the audience for their commitment to the Michigan Master Gardener program and lauded MGs as the first line of detection and defense against new diseases and issues with invasive species in the environment.  In his talk he discussed the budget cuts that led to changes in the way MSUE handled the master gardener program and expressed he’s committed to moving forward and “healing the wounds” that exist through communications, transparency and community visibility. He also expressed a desire to make MSUE more of a bottom-up organizational again, reinvigorating district councils and strategic partnerships that get everyone interested in the programs involved.

FOCUS: WRITING A STRATEGIC PLAN

The focus of the two-day event was to develop a plan, based on survey input received in January from a survey sent to all certified Michigan Master Gardeners and Trainees, which garnered a total of 1345 responses, as well as a series of six focus groups conducted by the retreat facilitators.  

The purpose of this retreat was to develop a working document [i.e. vision and plan] that will be used to guide the Master Gardener Program forward.  

Using survey results to focus the discussions, attendees worked on five critical issues identified in the survey:

  • Recognition and relationships
  • Communications and roles
  • Equity
  • Program delivery and distance learning
  • Funding and program sustainability

What follows is a summary of the topics discussed at the session.

A BUSY TWO DAYS

On day one a review of the Master Gardener Program was shared with key milestones noted:

  • The first class was held in 1978.
  • In 2008 there were state wide changes in leadership.
  • In 2011 there were significant budget cuts at the federal, state and local levels which led to huge staff reductions – the loss of over 70 MSUE educators.
  • Regional master gardener associations were told they needed to became independent in 2011 and that in the future MSU would no longer be responsible for background checks and liability insurance.
  • In 2012 a transition team of local association members was formed to determine how to handle the liability insurance issue and provide support for the volunteer segment of the program with MSUE remaining responsible for the education segment with a charge to standardize curriculum.  The Michigan Master Gardener Association was established to handle the insurance and work with local associations to help them obtain 501(c)(3) status.
  • In 2013 a new Volunteer Management System replaced the old, unstable Record Keeping System.
  • In 2014 MMGA received their IRS determination letter that includes all affiliate chapters.
  • 2014 also brought leadership changes at MSU and the university also received a grant to support the strategic visioning process with MMGA.

Participants then created a series of goals and objectives for each area determined as a critical issue.

During day two the group developed strategies and an action plan for the goals and objectives. Information developed during the retreat will be reviewed and a report provided to the group by April 22, 2015.  Retreat participants will come together again on May 4, 2015 in Lansing to review results from the retreat and formulate plans for the next step.


RESPONSES AND DEMOGRAPHICS

Master Gardeners from 70 of the 83 counties in Michigan  responded with the greatest responses from MGs in the following counties:
Oakland [250 or 18.6%]
Kent [121 or 9.0%]
Wayne [93 or 6.9%]
Macomb [81 or 6.0%]
Kalamazoo [74 or 5.5%]
Washtenaw [70 or 5.2%]

Demographically responders are an older group with 91.2% at 45 years of age or older and 77% are over 55.  Responders were also mainly female – 84% with the largest segment certified as master gardeners for four years or more – 35.7% certified for nine years or longer and 35.2% for four-eight years.

Almost 70% indicated they belonged to the Michigan Master Gardner Association (872 of 1267 respondents).

One of the clearest take-aways from the free form responses to the questions posed by MMGA is that there remains significant confusion about the roles and responsibilities of the different stakeholders – MSUE , MMGA, local and regional associations, individual MGs and VMS Ambassadors – of  the MI Master Gardener Program

For more photos click here to visit our photo gallery from the retreat.