Master Gardener Volunteer Program Policy

Appendix A – Civil Rights Agreement and “And Justice For All” Information (PDF)

Appendix B – Standards of Behavior Agreement (PDF)

Appendix C – Photo Release Agreement (Word)

Appendix D – Guide to Mandatory University Reporting of Sexual Misconduct

Appendix E – Best Practices for Presentations


Our Commitment to You

University of Maine Cooperative Extension is committed to making your volunteer experience as satisfying for you as it is valuable to our mission. Therefore, you can expect the following:

  • orientation
  • training
  • supervision that enhance effective use of your interests, skills, and time
  • clearly outlined and appropriate volunteer opportunities
  • recognition
  • a process for addressing concerns and conflicts

Beyond these basics that prepare you for and support you in your volunteer role, we want you to benefit personally from your relationship with UMaine Extension. You will have access to educational resources, build friendships with other volunteers, discover new interests, develop new skills, and have a positive impact on your community.


Your Responsibility as a Participant

Extension Master Gardener volunteers act as representatives of the University of Maine when performing assigned duties. 

You have the responsibility 

  • to be honest about your goals, skills, limitations, and motivations, in order to help Extension staff help you find suitable volunteer opportunities; 
  • to make sure you understand what you are being asked to do as a volunteer and fulfill your commitment to the best of your ability;
  • to provide feedback, so we can continue to develop our programs to better suit the needs of our participants; and
  • to be respectful and cooperative with clientele, other volunteers, and staff. 

Each Master Gardener volunteer is asked to comply with the university’s equal opportunity and non-discrimination policies as well as our sexual violence and mandated reporter policies. These topics will be reviewed in more detail later in this document. As a way to document that you are aware of and understand these policies, you will sign a Standards of Behavior Agreement when you enroll in the program and annually during the re-enrollment period at the beginning of each calendar year. In addition to re-enrollment, volunteers working with vulnerable populations are required to renew their background check every three years. 


Eligibility

Any resident of Maine interested in studying horticulture and volunteering in garden-related community projects are encouraged to apply to the Master Gardener Volunteer (MGV) Program. Since we usually receive more applications than we can accommodate, applications are screened for county residence and gardening and community service experience.

If you are a person with a disability and will need an accommodation to participate in this program, please contact the MGV program coordinator prior to the start of the training to assure the fullest possible attention to your needs. Receiving requests for accommodations at least 14 days before the program provides a reasonable amount of time to meet the request; however, all requests will be considered.


Volunteer Projects

All MGV projects need to be pre-approved by your local MGV program coordinator. County MGV coordinators may require you to participate in particular projects.

Volunteer opportunities fall into three general categories: administration, community, and education.

Administration projects involve leading and organizing programs or activities and include time spent 

  • planning and conducting meetings, 
  • developing communications, 
  • conducting surveys, 
  • entering data, and 
  • other tasks involved in managing a Master Gardener project. 

For example, a volunteer may serve as a local project coordinator for Maine Harvest for Hunger. This would include spearheading communications with fellow volunteers, farmers, and food-security organizations, as well as coordinating harvest and distribution. Master Gardeners may also earn volunteer hours by providing general support for Extension, such as serving on the county Executive Committee or Master Gardener Development Board; providing general administrative support; assisting with office projects; or other duties as approved.

Community projects involve working on approved projects that are non-educational, but support the Master Gardener program mission and include time spent 

  • designing and maintaining public habitat gardens, 
  • gleaning fields or growing food for Maine Harvest for Hunger, and 
  • assisting people who, for reasons of age or physical disability, need a helping hand to continue their passion for gardening, through authorized programs such as Garden Angels.

Education projects include, but are not limited to, 

  • teaching and preparing workshops or public events; 
  • answering horticulture questions; 
  • developing educational materials such as articles, bulletins, displays, and teaching aides; and
  • planning and implementing demonstration gardens. 

Master Gardener volunteers may also serve as mentors in our mentoring program or support school gardening initiatives or other youth horticulture programs.


Reporting Hours

Master Gardener volunteers are required to report their hours using a simple online form. That form also includes a space for you to share anecdotes, quotes, and success stories. Reporting takes only a few minutes and is critical to the success and continued support of the UMaine Extension Master Gardener Volunteer Program. Please do not consider reporting your hours as boastful or trivial. Data about time invested in these activities and the number of people reached are important measures of the worth of the Master Gardener Volunteer Program. Funding is dependent on our ability to show the impact of our volunteers and their efforts. 

It is your responsibility to report your hours. If hours are not reported in a given year or you have not communicated with your coordinator regarding a leave of absence, then you may not continue to receive the rights and privileges of being an active Master Gardener volunteer. You may connect with your local coordinator to discuss reentry into the program after a leave (planned or unplanned). 

Examples of what counts toward your volunteer hours: 

  • Travel to and from MGV projects may be included in your volunteer hours. However, time spent traveling to and participating in educational programs for your own ongoing learning does not qualify for volunteer hours. 
  • Setting up chairs at a local garden club meeting does not typically count towards volunteer hours. However, if you were teaching a gardening seminar to the local garden club and are clearly doing so in your role as a Master Gardener volunteer, then the time assisting with chairs would be fine to report. 
  • Teaching a workshop at a place of business where you’re employed while you are being paid does not count towards volunteering. But a workshop offered as free public service at that business during your time off may be considered valid hours. 

If you have questions about what constitutes volunteer time, please ask the local Master Gardener program coordinator. Always speak with your local coordinator to make sure your volunteer plans are approved prior to moving forward.  

Your local coordinator will let you know how frequently they expect your reports. 


When Offered Payments

If offered payment during any MGV activity, please only accept reimbursements for expenses or unsolicited non-monetary gifts, such as homemade jam or free plants. If an organization such as a garden club or adult education program offers an honorarium, you may accept checks made out to “UMaine” to support the Master Gardener Volunteer Program. Checks should be given directly to the local coordinator to make sure the funds are deposited into the proper account.


Donations

Master Gardener Volunteers may not solicit donations on behalf of Extension or the Master Gardener Volunteer Program without explicit permission from your MGV County Coordinator.


Use of the Title “Master Gardener Volunteer”

The title Master Gardener Volunteer should only be used by individuals trained in a Cooperative Extension program. During the training and through the first 40 hours of volunteering, participants are considered Master Gardener Interns. The title of Certified Master Gardener Volunteer is awarded to participants who successfully complete both the training and the 40 hours of volunteering by the end of the calendar year of the program. 

  • The title is valid only when used by an active Master Gardener volunteer who is participating in a program approved by the local Master Gardener program coordinator.
  • Master Gardener volunteers who wish to remain certified and active in the program must re-enroll annually and continue to volunteer at least 20 hours per year. There is no fee for continuing as a Master Gardener volunteer. If something should get in the way of completing the annual volunteer requirement, enrolled Master Gardener volunteers may make arrangements with the coordinator for a temporary leave of absence.
  • The title should not be used in a manner that implies Cooperative Extension endorsement of any product or place of business. 
  • The title may be listed as an educational credential or volunteer experience in a bio or resume. Here’s an example of an appropriate use in a bio: “Joy Gardener has been an active UMaine Extension Master Gardener Volunteer since 2019, serving over 80 hours of her time on various educational and food-security projects throughout Penobscot County.” 

Additionally, it is important to note that the proper title is “Master Gardener Volunteer.” Including the term “volunteer” helps us send a clear message of the importance of volunteerism in the mission of our program. If you have any questions about the appropriate use of the title, please reach out to your local coordinator.


Re-enrollment

Re-enrollment is required for all volunteers annually in order to remain an active Master Gardener volunteer. The enrollment form helps county coordinators collect up-to-date contact information and mandatory annual sign-offs on our non-discrimination and standards of behavior statements. It also gives volunteers the option to agree to a photo release statement. Please do not complete the re-enrollment form until your MGV coordinator has notified you to do so.

If you don’t re-enroll…  

  • You’ll miss important MGV updates including new volunteer opportunities and incentives for being an active volunteer.
  • Your activities cannot be considered for official MGV hours.
  • You will not be considered under UMaine liability coverage while performing volunteer activities.

Background Checks

It is the University of Maine’s policy to conduct a background check on all new Master Gardener volunteers and every three years for MGV alumni who have direct responsibility for the care, safety, and security of minors (under 18), the elderly, incapacitated persons, or persons with developmental disabilities who participate in university-sponsored programs. MGV projects are diverse in scope and there are many occasions where Master Gardener volunteers do take on this level of responsibility.

The Human Resources Department handles the background check process and staff does not receive a copy of the results. Please be aware that any issues arising from the background check will not necessarily preclude you from participation in the program or being unable to volunteer, but it may impact which projects you are ultimately matched with.

What do I need to do?

  1. Always let your MGV coordinator know well ahead of time when you plan to have direct responsibility for the care, safety, and security of minors, the elderly, incapacitated persons, or persons with developmental disabilities. If unsure of what that means in relation to your specific project, please discuss with your coordinator.
  2. Wait to be notified by your MGV coordinator about when you will need to complete the background check process.
  3. Submit your information for screening via Verified Credentials. This should take approximately 10 minutes. Be sure to have the following information handy: driver’s license and social security number.
  4. Notify your MGV coordinator after you have completed the form.

Photo Use

University of Maine Cooperative Extension respects the intellectual property rights of authors of all written, photo, and digital works. For this reason, we have guidelines available about photos and their use in written and digital materials. Your MGV coordinator can share it with you and answer any questions.


Pesticide and Medicinal Plant Recommendations and Use of Pesticides

Because Cooperative Extension is legally liable for its advice, and because pesticide recommendations for organic or synthetic products change constantly, only Extension staff may recommend pesticides when representing Cooperative Extension. Master Gardener volunteers are encouraged to refer all requests for pesticide recommendations to the county Extension office or the University of Maine Cooperative Extension Pest Management Office. However, you may provide copies of or links to current Extension fact sheets that include pesticide recommendations. 

Master gardener volunteers may not make recommendations about the use of plants for medicinal purposes.

Use of any pesticides as part of your MGV activities other than on your own property is strictly prohibited. 


Master Gardener Toolkit

For your future reference, these policies and procedures, along with other volunteer-specific resources can be found in the Master Gardener Toolkit, a password-protected website used as a hub for information specific to Master Gardener volunteers such as policy updates, special events, forms, and a direct link to our online manual. 


Basic Garden Safety

For all gardening projects we recommend these basic safety measures: 

  • Wear work gloves to protect hands from sharp objects and irritants. 
  • Always wear closed-toe shoes. 
  • Use common sense measures to protect yourself from sun and heat such as wearing a hat, long-sleeved, lightweight clothes, using sunscreen, drinking water, and taking frequent breaks. 
  • Basic eye protection is recommended to minimize exposure to dust and plant debris.
  • Avoid exposure to insects and tick bites by wearing full-coverage clothing and insect repellent.

Tools and equipment can be hazardous and have the potential to cause severe injuries when not used or maintained properly. Always use the right tool for the job and examine it before using to make sure it’s in proper working condition. Report any broken or unsafe tools to your supervisor as soon as possible. 

Seek approval of project coordinators before using mechanized equipment such as tillers, string trimmers, mowers, and saws. 

Maine AgrAbility, a nonprofit collaboration of the University of Maine Cooperative Extension and Alpha One, has a number of resources for people looking for adaptive solutions to make gardening safer and less physically demanding. 


Project Risk Assessment

Volunteers proposing projects or programs where they’ll be working independently, not supervised in-person by Extension staff, must have a project-specific risk management discussion with their local coordinator and may be asked to go through additional training. Your coordinator may use our risk management checklist (Google Doc) (available as additional reading in the Volunteerism module and in the online toolkit) as a guide to help you consider all aspects of safety in your specific program or project. We may ask that community partners, such as a school staff collaborator, join the discussion in order to build a more robust risk management plan. Our goal is to help you avoid unsafe situations so you can focus on fun.


Enrollment and Communication Best Practices 

Communication is key to managing risks. It’s important that program participants and collaborators have clear expectations. The following details should all be clearly available before the program takes place:

  • program goals, 
  • whether parents are expected to be present or involved, 
  • general explanation of activities, clothing/equipment requirements, 
  • meeting times/locations, 
  • contact information for program leaders, 
  • cancellation policies,
  • and for more in-depth programs, orientation sessions might be helpful. 

It’s also important to know some information about the participants before starting a program, especially when working with vulnerable populations. Therefore, vulnerable populations are required to formally enroll in programs or events, if the participant is not attending with a parent or guardian. The enrollment process is something your local coordinator will walk you through and may vary depending on the nature of the program. 

For example, enrollment in Garden Angels, a program offered in some counties where Master Gardener volunteers help tend gardens for those with physical and financial limitations, includes a request for emergency contact information as well as a release allowing the volunteer to perform gardening tasks on the property. By contrast, the enrollment form for youth in a monthly gardening program may ask permission to use or apply insect repellent or sunscreen, and may ask parents to indicate food allergies if snacks are a regular part of the routine. In some cases, the enrollment process can be done in collaboration with a program partner, such as a school or nursing home. 


Two-Deep Policy

  • At no time during an Extension youth program may a paid staff member or volunteer be alone with a single youth where others cannot observe them. This is a must for anyone working with youth. 
  • Paid staff or volunteers should never leave a youth unsupervised. 
  • Staff or volunteers will make sure suspicious or unknown individuals do not occupy the restroom before allowing children to use the facilities. 
  • No child should enter a public restroom alone. Always send children in pairs. 
  • Never release youth to anyone other than the authorized parent or guardian, or other adults designated in writing by the parent/guardian. 

Mandatory Reporting

Extension, as part of the University of Maine, has policies that require the reporting of certain information by our volunteers. We want to ensure the environment in our programs is comfortable, equitable, safe, and welcoming for all — that includes program participants, volunteers, and employees. Therefore, it is important for us to know about issues of discrimination so that the University can address them in a proactive way. 

University of Maine policy makes all employees and volunteers mandated reporters of sex discrimination. So, if you witness or are told about sexual discrimination, including sexual violence, related to your Cooperative Extension volunteer work, you must report it. We ask that each and every Extension volunteer view the following video clip entitled Sexual Discrimination Training for Cooperative Extension Volunteers. In addition, if you work with youth in any of our Extension programs, we ask that you also watch the training entitled Mandatory Reporting of Child Abuse and Neglect. Each year, you are an enrolled volunteer, you will be asked to sign a Requirements and Standards of Behavior Form (Word | PDF) indicating you have received this training and understand your reporting responsibilities.


Liability

Generally, the university will provide liability protection and pay the legal expenses of a person who is sued for alleged negligence while acting appropriately as an approved volunteer of the university.  

In order to be recognized as an approved Extension volunteer, the person must

  1. be currently enrolled or registered, 
  2. have received orientation and/or training, and
  3. be engaged in projects or assigned duties that are approved by an Extension staff member.

However, the university will not pay such expenses if the person did not act in good faith and with the reasonable belief that his or her action was appropriate and in the best interest of the university, or if the person had reasonable cause to believe that his or her action was illegal.

Health, accident, and life insurance are not the same as liability insurance or protections. The university does not provide any of these forms of insurance for someone hurt or injured in connection with its activities, unless the injury was caused by the university’s negligence. 

The university provides no liability protection or physical damage insurance coverage (collision and comprehensive) for non-university vehicles. If you use a personal vehicle for a university-related volunteer role, your own vehicle insurance will be responsible for any insurance claims. The university recommends that personally owned vehicles used for university business carry at least $300,000 in liability insurance coverage. The university will not reimburse a volunteer or their insurer for any deductible or liability claim paid by their auto insurance or for any damage to a personally owned vehicle. 


Our Commitment to Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion

University of Maine Cooperative Extension is committed to ensuring the civil rights of its volunteers, program participants and employees. Our civil rights policy requires that every person must be treated fairly and equitability with dignity and respect regardless of race, color, religion, sex, sexual orientation including transgender status and gender expression, national origin, citizenship status, age, disability, genetic information or veteran status. These policies apply to the general public, Extension staff, and you as a volunteer. You will be asked to commit to this civil rights policy each year as part of your re-enrollment. We expect our community partners to share our commitment to civil rights.   

The following “And Justice for All” document with a green image of the Statue of Liberty is a direct message from our federal funder, who wants to be sure you know you have a right to access our program and an accommodation if necessary. 

If you feel you have not been treated according to our policies, please contact your Master Gardener coordinator.  If the issue is with your coordinator, you can contact Fran Sulinski, our assistant director, who oversees civil rights within UMaine Extension. 

The “And Justice For All” handout tells you how to contact the federal government directly to voice concerns as well.

Our federal funder (USDA) requires that UMaine Extension staff and volunteers make an effort to collect demographic information for all our direct contacts, such as workshop participants. So if you are leading a workshop or event in your role as a Master Gardener volunteer, you may be asked to collect program feedback and demographic information about your audience. It is optional for participants to share their race/ethnicity and gender, but it’s important to give them the opportunity to provide the information. Your local coordinator can help you determine the best way to collect demographic information in an easy, professional, and comfortable manner.  

Requesting demographic information is not only something we are required to do, but also an important tool to learn about the people we are currently serving. This information can help us tell our stakeholders about how we are serving diverse audiences and also identify who we might be missing.  

Public workshop and event organizers are also asked to work closely with their Master Gardener coordinators to ensure

  • that promotional materials clearly state our ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) policy,
  • activities are held in an accessible location whenever possible, and 
  • requests for accommodations are addressed in an appropriate manner.

Thank you, in advance, for joining us in our commitment to ensuring the civil rights of everyone involved in our work.