2020 3rd Quarter Report

This past Friday, the Oregon Master Gardener Association (or OMGA) Board of Directors met via Zoom, for the 3rd quarter meeting of 2020. As the OSU Extension Master Gardener Statewide Coordinator, I sit on the OMGA board as an ex-officio and non-voting member and present a report on behalf of OSU.

Normally, OMGA meetings run from 10am – 2:00pm (or longer). However, now that we are meeting via Zoom, meetings are kept to 90 minutes. I thus tried to be extremely brief in this quarterly report, which can be found, below.

  • Wildfires and the Extension Master Gardener (EMG) Program: Like the rest of OSU Extension, the Master Gardener Program has both been affected by and has been kept busy by the wildfires. Many EMGs were evacuated from their homes for a period of time. There are three EMGS who have lost their homes and/or have experienced substantial property damage: one each in Lincoln, Jackson, and Marion counties. (Please note, that in my original report to the OMGA Board, I incorrectly stated that an EMG in Lane County had lost their property to wildfire. This was incorrect, and I apologize for my mistake.) Please be ready to lend support, when these folks are in a position to take stock of their needs, and how the EMG Program can help. At the same time, EMG faculty and volunteers have been asked a lot of questions about the hazards of ash to edible and ornamental plants in the landscapes. Brooke Edmunds was particularly timely in pushing out messaging and materials related to questions about ash and vegetables, garden plants, and bees. But most (all?) of us have been kept busy by the questions coming in through email, phone, Zoom, and Ask an Expert. I see and appreciate the messaging going out through local EMG social media channels. You were a great source of support for your communities, during a very difficult time.
  • Staffing and Hires: Andrea Stith will begin working as the Extension Master Gardener Coordinator in Wasco County, beginning sometime in October. She comes to us from the University of Kentucky, and has an extensive background in horticulture and in University Outreach and Extension. The announcement of her hire, can be found below.

OSU Wasco County Extension extends a warm welcome to Andrea Stith

We are excited to announce that Andrea Stith will be joining our OSU Extension team in Wasco County as a Master Gardener and Community Horticulture Outreach Program Coordinator. Prior to joining us Andrea served as a Master Gardener Coordinator with University of Kentucky Extension for 5 years. Andrea has a Bachelor of Science in Agriculture from Western Kentucky University with a concentration in horticulture and a minor in studio art, and a Master of Science from Murray State University in Agriculture Education. Andrea loves flower and vegetable gardening and is excited to learn from everyone at Oregon State University. We look forward to seeing how Andrea’s applies her diverse skillset to meeting the educational needs of home horticulturists and small acreage landowners in Wasco County.

Andrea Stith will be leading the Extension Master Gardener Program in Wasco County, beginning October 2020.
  • More Staffing News: We are in the process of interviewing candidates for the EMG coordinator position for the North Coast (Clatsop and Tillamook Counties). During the OSU hiring freeze, it is notable that the Wasco County hire and the North Coast search have moved forward. It represents a very strong endorsement of the value that the Extension Master Gardener Program brings to OSU, during a time when OSU is experiencing serious financial strains due to COVID. This leaves us with one vacancy in Master Gardener Program coverage in the state: Eastern Oregon.
  • Master Gardener week will be October 26-30,2020. The event will include a Mini-Film Festival (October 26-28), the state of the Statewide Master Gardener Program report (October 29th), and a trivia contest focused on pollinators and beneficial insects (October 30th). An official announcement and link to register will go out, as soon as we finalize the registration page.
  • The Master Gardener Program has been working on a branding and identity plan that recognizes the individual personalities of county- and region-based Master Gardener program, but also unites us as a statewide program that is a vital part of Oregon State University. As part of this effort, we recently updated our program mission and vision, and have circulated a survey about the program priorities and values. Thank you to all who contributed.
  • The 2021 Master Gardener annual training program will be open to all current Master Gardener volunteers and all of the trainees from the 2020 training class. The 2021 training will focus on elevating the skills of Master Gardener faculty and staff in four domains: Teaching and Technologies in the Master Gardener Program; Best Practices in Adult, Informal Education; Growing Leadership; Broadening Outreach to Underserved Communities. A survey will be going out to Master Gardener volunteers, to get input on the types of classes that folks would like to see. The training will be delivered online, using a combination of Canvas (OSU’s ECampus learning management system), Zoom, and other methods.

How’s the Diversity, Equity and Inclusion work going?

It’s been three months since we first posted here with a call for diversity, equity and inclusion in the Master Gardener program. Here is an update and what we’ve being doing since then.

We are approaching the work in three ways:

  • Ourselves: our own work. Looking at our own stories and history including the history of racism in Oregon and the founding stories of land grant institutions. We are looking deep into our field of work including colonization even in the naming of plants. We are learning to acknowledge this has been happening for years and before our time. This work improves our critical consciousness so we’re aware of inequities.
  • How and who Master Gardeners serve in the community: We’re asking questions like how do we as Master Gardeners serve our communities and neighbors? How far are we reaching into our communities, and who are we missing? Who needs gardening advice, support and education? What do we know and not know?
  • Systemic within the Master Gardener program: What does it mean to be a Master Gardener and who is the training program designed for? What are the barriers to the program and how can we remove them?

To this end:

  • We’ve convened a working group of Master Gardener coordinators from different parts of the state to participate in and lead this work;
  • I’ve had a series of conversations about our work with coordinators across the state in every county where there’s an active Master Gardener program, as well as with coordinators and program leaders in California and Minnesota;
  • 25+ Master Gardener coordinators recently participated in a 3–hour training on equitable leadership;
  • We are examining and planning ways to include diversity, equity and inclusion in training for all Master Gardener volunteers;
  • Enacting a series of feedback surveys for Master Gardener volunteers to ensure voices are heard. This includes surveys for feedback on our program’s priorities and values, and upcoming trainings for 2021.

“So with all of this we’ll be done, right?”  I think about the best answer for this is in a gardening analogy. A few years back my partner asked me, clearly exhausted, “Aren’t we done with the garden yet?” As I stood there with eyes wide open, I pondered how I was going to break it to her. As gardeners we all know that a garden is never done. It’s an ongoing journey of discovery, setbacks, and amazing results. And a lot of soil building. And so it is with doing the work of diversity, equity and inclusion. We’re in it for the long haul.


Recent podcasts you might enjoy listening to:

Botany, Geography, History & Power: at the Heart of the Garden, Jamaica Kincaid on Cultivating Place

Robin Wall Kimmerer, The Intelligence of Plants (original airdate of 2016 but just as great today as it was then)  on On Being with Krista Tippett

 ‘Make Farmers Black Again’: African Americans Fight Discrimination To Own Farmland on NPR

How Running’s White Origins Led to the Dangers of ‘Running While Black’ (Yes, this is about running, but there are similar things to think about with gardening, and includes a connection to Oregon) on Code Switch

What’s coming in 2021 for OSU Extension Master Gardener training?

2020 has delivered many challenges and Oregon Extension Master Gardeners have risen to meet them. Identifying pest problems, recommending plant options, responding to compost concerns have all gone from in-person discussions to virtual workshops, email, and web based interactions. This has been a tremendous pivot, all while Oregonian’s interests in gardening, and beginner gardeners, have skyrocketed in numbers.

In order to meet the needs of the community and to support our 3,000 active Master Gardeners, we are excited to begin announcing our approach to elevated education in 2021.  

Current Master Gardeners (including 2020 trainees) will be offered an innovative new curriculum, online, via a combination of self-paced learning and live webinars and online conversations with OSU experts. Online discussion boards and meeting rooms will be used to foster connectedness, networking, and the exchange of ideas among Master Gardeners across the state. This curriculum will be delivered January – March, 2021, so that Master Gardener volunteers can launch the 2021 gardening season empowered to serve Oregon’s experienced and novice gardeners.

Trainings for new Master Gardeners will occur again in 2022.  

What this means for Master Gardeners: 
• access to top level university training opportunities to connect, learn and grow with others in your local community as well as across the state; 
• learn how to take the deep well of horticulture knowledge you have and bring it to more people, friends and neighbors through learning new online tools; 

What this means for Oregonians; 
• increased accessibility to OSU Extension Master Gardeners, questions and advice; 
• a whole wave of new regionally relevant resources to support Oregon’s gardeners; 
• increased topics of knowledge for growing plants for food, health and wellness; 

We will continue to offer our core services to gardeners in local communities, including answering your gardening questions, teaching and demonstrating locally-relevant gardening methods, and supporting locally-driven and delivered garden education opportunities. But we’re also expanding and strengthening our ability to develop and disseminate gardening advice and information in ways that are easily accessible to gardeners of all levels, on their own time, at their own pace, and at no cost. 

In the coming week, surveys will be distributed to current Master Gardeners to solicit your thoughts, ideas and priorities for this new 2021 curriculum. We look forward to hearing what’s important to you and your local communities and are excited to work together in 2021. Together, we can grow Oregon’s gardeners.
 

The Known-Unknown Framework of Discovery

The known-unknown framework for discovering and generating new knowledge is a time-tested approach, first attributed to the Greek Philosopher Socrates, and later refined by the 13th century Persian-Tajik poet and philosopher, Ibn Yami.

Briefly, this framework asks four questions:

  • What do we know already (known knowns)?
  • What are the surprises that we are completely unaware of (unknown unknowns)?
  • What biases and unconscious thoughts might be influencing our understanding (unknown knowns)?
  • Do our assumptions have validity, or are they off-target  (known unknowns)?
The known-unkowns framework of knowledge discovery considers the role of current knowledge, assumptions, biases, and surprises in our understanding of a situation.

As the Master Gardener Program continues to operate in the unique era of COVID-19, we want to take a deep dive into benefits, barriers, opportunities, and impacts that are experienced by Master Gardener volunteers and the communities that we serve. Thus, in true Master Gardener style, we’re going to ask a lot of questions ~ of ourselves, of you, and others ~ and we want to actively listen with open ears, open minds, and open hearts.

As the Statewide Master Gardener Program Cooridnator, I have lived and work in this program for 13 years. I spend a lot of time thinking about the Master Gardener Program (just ask my husband). I want to help the program grow in ways that lets the public know, without a doubt, that we are a trusted source of local gardening information. I want to swing the doors of our program open in such a way that makes Master Gardener trainings and volunteerism available to as many people as possible. I want to bring the benefits of gardening to every single Oregonian who wants to grow a houseplant, try their hand at composting, grow flowering plants for bees or birds, or grow their own food in 5-gallon buckets or in a 1/4 kitchen garden . . . and any or every other aspect of gardening.

Over the years, I’ve had instances where ~ even with the best of intentions ~ I could see that I was wearing blinders that prevented me from seeing the program from all perspectives. While it was painful to realize that I was wearing blinders, at the time, I was able to better serve the Master Gardener Program once I recognized my own assumptions and biases, and once I become more comfortable with surprises.

  • In 2009, I co-organized Mini-College, which is the name for the statewide Master Gardener conference. I was so proud of the program of workshops that we put together for conference participants, including a workshop on how to prepare healthy meals from the garden that was hosted by a Master Gardener who was a culinary institute instructor. I arranged to use a classroom in a building I was not familiar with. The classroom had a full demonstration kitchen, with mirrors that allowed the audience to see what was being prepared. I was sure that it would be a hit. Fast forward to the day of the workshop. The classroom was on the third floor. The elevators were broken (which was, apparently common for this building). One of the workshop participants was in a wheelchair. Participants carried the participant up the stairs ~ and my heart broke at how my oversight ~ my blinders ~ created a difficult situation for all. Since that day, every single conference or event that I plan, I move through the space thinking about how someone with a wheelchair or walker might navigate; how someone with hearing aids or a hearing impairment might experience the space. And, I still get it wrong! I once organized an event and realized that I had not allowed for space for service dogs. Another blinder, but another chance to improve.
  • Speaking of accessibility, I once had a potential Master Gardener volunteer lay out the true cost of Master Gardener training classes. I knew that the classes were costly (from $150 to $495). What I didn’t realize was that a person who would need to take off work to participate in classes was losing an additional $1,440 in income (8 hour workday * 12 Master Gardener course weeks * $15/hour wage = $1,440). And, in some counties, individuals are asked to pay a penalty of $100-$200 if they complete the classes, but don’t complete their volunteer service hours. Taken together, the true cost of taking the Master Gardener training course is somewhere between $1,590 to $2,135 for individuals who are employed, full time. Once these costs were laid bare to me, we worked with our Master Gardener chapters to provide more scholarships, moved more classes to evenings and weekends, provided more hybrid (online and in person) opportunities to complete training, lowered the service hour requirement to become a Master Gardener volunteer, and removed the financial penalty for not completing volunteer service. Yet, there is more work to do to remove these and other systemic barriers to program participation.
  • Not only should our spaces be accessible, but they also need to be welcoming. Master Gardener training classes are often three hours long, which is a dreadfully long time to sit in one place. On my instructor evaluations, I’ve received feedback that says something like ‘great class, but these chairs are awful.’. This was another ‘blinders’ moment for me. I’m standing up and teaching for three hours. what would it feel like if I had to sit in those seats for three hours? Over time, I’ve reduced the length of my training classes (quantity of content presented doesn’t translate into learning). And, I’ve tried to move away from passive lectures to more active and hands-on learning (which has been a fun challenge). I wish I had the budget to buy comfortable and accessible chairs for every Master Gardener training venue! Alas, that is not the case.
  • Another factor that may influence how welcoming a Master Gardener Program is to others ~ particularly to newcomers ~ is where we choose to hold classes and meetings. Many Master Gardener Programs partner with local churches to host trainings. Could imagery or words on that space make someone who is holds a different set of beliefs feel uncomfortable? Take a look at your training spaces with fresh eyes, to make sure that you are not inadvertently excluding folks by hosting trainings in a space that signals ‘you’re not welcome here’. Related to this, think about where Master Gardener chapter meetings are held. In an effort to build community and fun into Master Gardener chapter meetings, some have been held at local restaurants or local casinos. Does this exclude others, who don’t have expendable income to put towards a restaurant or buffet meal? Could it exclude folks who can’t tolerate cigarette smoke in a casino?

Identifying and understanding the blinders that are limiting our work . . . the assumptions, biases, and suprises (in the known-unknown framework of knowledge discovery). . . is so important to build a strong, accessible, and welcoming Master Gardener Program.

Towards this end, we are initiating surveys for Master Gardener volunteer feedback on the program, experiences and offerings.

  1. The development of a statewide, yearly survey for every active Master Gardener. Opportunity to share your experiences, impact and ideas. We anticipate these to begin in 2021 and just become a regular ongoing tool.
  2. Within the next week we are issuing a survey for feedback and response on program priorities, and the underlying values of the program. Having clearly communicated program priorities will help decision making for the important work we do, and underlying values will help guide us in doing this work.
  3. Within the coming month we’ll be soliciting your feedback on courses for the 2021 training year, what the year may look like, and areas of interest to focus coursework for Master Gardeners.

To keep spammers from flooding the surveys (which happens when we share a public link), we will distribute the survey invitations through your Master Gardener Program coordinators. If you were a Master Gardener, in past years, and would like to share your experiences with us, please let me know. We will make sure to share the survey link with you, directly.

Master Gardener Program Update: August 7, 2020

Status of Face to Face Master Gardener Activities

It has been 136 days since OSU effectively shut down all face-to-face activities, in response to Governor Kate Brown’s ‘Stay Home, Save Lives’ executive order. As I take stock of Oregon’s Master Gardener Program, today, I can see that we are gradually and cautiously returning to limited face-to-face activities. Please remember, that all face-to-face programming and non-essential travel during the Modified Operations phase must be approved by your regional director, via the Extension Modified Travel and Programming Request form. Please make sure to cc me on your requests, so that I can continue to keep track of the evolving landscape of the statewide Master Gardener Program.

To date, here are the face-to-face Master Gardener activities that have been approved for county Extension offices in the Modified Operations phase are listed below. Please note that these activities represent low-density, outdoor activities, with the exception of low density Plant Clinics in select Extension offices.

  • A trial run of a virtual plant sale has been approved, for potential scaling up of a fall, public, virtual plant sale. Master Gardeners are hosting a ‘closed’ sale, open only to other Master Gardeners, to try and identify and work out potential kinks in protocol that may be issues for a larger, public sale.
  • There are two Citizen Science projects that have been approved. In one project, select Master Gardeners will travel to help our state partners monitor invasive pests. In the second project, Master Gardeners will travel to an OSU research farm to help evaluate plant that are part of butterfly bush research project.
  • One hybrid training opportunity has been approved. Master Gardeners will participate in self-guided plant identification activities, and will ‘meet’ via Zoom for a follow up session.
  • Master Gardeners are working in Extension office plant clinics in two counties. Plant clinics at markets, fairs, retail stores, and other high density public venues are still off-limits, at this point.
  • Master Gardeners are working in demonstration and community gardens across the state. Unlike the Restricted Operations phase, when only activities that were focused on critical services for food security and/or facilities maintenance, that approvals have been expanded for counties in the Modified Operations phase to include maintenance of compost piles and worm bins.

Creating Opportunities for Social Interactions and Celebrations

On yesterday’s weekly Zoom call, we discussed how we might thank and celebrate our Master Gardener volunteers, while also adhering to public health and safety guidelines. Here is what we came up with:

  • Governor’s Proclamation of Master Gardener Week in Oregon, November 2-6 2020
  • Celebratory / Thank You Video featuring OSU administrators, faculty, staff. We’ll be asking high level administrators (Anita and Alan) to deliver messages of thanks. We will cut in video of MG faculty and staff, holding up signs with different thank you messages, and points of celebration/resilience. Will ask LeAnn to help storyboard. Am seeking video production assistance from OSU Faculty Multimedia Services.
  • Annual State of the MG Program Address (to be delivered by Gail, as a webinar)
  • A three-film Gardening Film Festival. Gardeners can live stream films at home. We will arrange for Q&A with directors, as a Zoom webinar or meeting. Potential Films: The Love Bugs (Entomology Focus),  Land Grab or Plant this Movie (Urban Ag Focus), and a third movie that should have a plant focus.
  • The week concludes on November 6, with the final Board Meeting of the Oregon Master Gardener Association.

Upcoming MG Coordinators Zoom Meeting Topics

  • August 13th: 2021 MG Training Plan, including plan for 2020 trainees who could not complete training.
  • August 20th: Developing MG Program Priorities & Values (including workshopping DEI training scenario that we did not get to on July 30th)

August 27th: Open to Your Suggestions, but could be focused on planning and progress for the 2020 Oregon Master Gardener week celebration.

Resuming In-Person MG Plant Clinics

The Master Gardener Program began in Washington State in 1973, when David Gibby and Bill Scheer (who were then Washington State University Extension agents) proposed recruiting and training volunteers who could respond to gardeners’ questions as a way to serve the needs of home and community gardeners (Gibby et al., 2008). Since that time, the program has endured and expanded. Today, Master Gardener programs are active in all 50 states, nine Canadian provinces, and in South Korea (Langellotto et al. 2015), and most recently, Puerto Rico!

Receiving and responding to the public’s gardening questions remains a core part of our mission. In 2019, for example, a total of 6,321 questions were submitted to OSU Extension through eXtension’s Ask an Expert Service. Of these, 4,925, or 78%, were related to home gardening, insect identification, urban forestry, or other questions commonly fielded by Master Gardeners. Of the 4,925 Ask an Expert questions that were related to home gardening, Master Gardener volunteers fielded and answered 3,650 questions, or 58% of all of OSU Extension’s Ask an Expert questions in 2019. And, these numbers do not include the thousands of gardening questions that are fielded and answered by Master Gardener volunteers at Plant Clinics located in Extension offices, at Farmer’s Markets, or at other sites.

When COVID-19 hit, it put a halt to all in-person Master Gardener activities, including Plant Clinics in Extension offices and at Farmer’s Market. Now that many Oregon counties have entered Phase 2 of the Governor’s Plan to Re-Open Oregon, some Oregon State University Extension Offices are moving from a restricted operations model to a modified operations model. Master Gardener Programs in at least two counties have included in-office Plant Clinics as part of the Modified Operations Plan for their County Extension Office.

In case you are thinking of resuming in-person Plant Clinics, here are some things to keep in mind:

  • According to OSU Extension’s Decision Tree for Adult Learners, in-person Plant Clinic activities can not occur during the ‘Restricted Operations Phase’ (i.e. counties in Phase 1), but can be considered for counties in the ‘Modified Operations Phase’ (i.e. counties in Phase 2).
  • If your Plant Clinic activities can be effectively accomplished, remotely, you should continue to focus on remote delivery of this public service. However, as we know, many Plant Clinic questions yield better answers if clients can drop off a plant or pest sample. Also, many of our clients are not able to submit Plant Clinic questions, online. Finally, some Master Gardeners have limited internet access, and are not able to easily access and answer questions in an online environment. If these scenarios describe your situation, and if it is safe and prudent to do so, you may want to consider resuming Plant Clinic in your County Extension Office.

Additional Things to Consider For Plant Clinics in OSU Extension Offices:

  • The public may not be allowed into the Extension office, even during the Modified Operations phase. You thus should consider putting out a station where clients can drop off plant samples and/or questions. For Master Gardener volunteers that are not able to access and answer questions, online, this station can also serve as the pickup site for plant samples and questions. Think about how samples can be submitted and retrieved, in a safe and sanitary way.
  • You will want to limit the number of volunteers working in an Extension Office Plant Clinic, so that adequate social distancing can be maintained, and should have a sign-up system in place for Clinic shifts. Volunteers must complete the OSU Extension COVID-Awareness training prior to participating. Volunteers must agree to relevant OSU policies prior to participating, including OSU’s policy on face-coverings in public and common settings.
  • Volunteers who are high risk for serious illness from COVID-19 should not participate in face-to-face volunteer activities. Volunteers who are sick or who have been in contact with someone who has COVID-19 or symptoms that are consistent with COVID-19 are to refrain from participating.
  • If you are confident that your county and your Master Gardener Program is in a good position to restart Extension Office Plant Clinics, work with your Office Manager to write Plant Clinic into the County Extension Office Phase II reopening plan. The plan will be routed to your Regional Director, and then to OSU administrators for review and approval.
  • Remember that the health and safety of you, your colleagues, volunteers, and community is paramount. It is better to err on the side of health and safety. Do not rush to re-open in-office Plant Clinics if it is not prudent to do so, at this time.

For Plant Clinics at Outdoor Farmer’s Markets or Other Outdoor Sites

Plant Clinics at Outdoor locations are surprisingly more complicated to consider. This is because our Outdoor Plant Clinics are usually held in conjunction with a collaborating organization, which will require communication and coordination before an Outdoor Plant Clinic can resume. In addition, our Outdoor Plant Clinics are often held in spaces where the general public gathers, such as a Farmer’s Market or retail site.

Because the health and safety of our volunteers is paramount, I don’t think that it makes sense to set up outdoor Plant Clinics at this time. If we did, we would be putting rotating shifts of volunteers in direct contact with a large number of people. For this reason, I would suggest holding off on Outdoor Plant Clinics at Markets and Retail sites, at least until we move into Phase 3 of county re-openings.

Let’s recap how Master Gardener activities have been approved, thus far, during this COVID-19 crisis and Oregon’s phased approach to re-opening. I think it is important to recap what has been approved, thus far, because we are seeing some counties be moved down to a earlier phase, as case counts rise.

  • Baseline: during baseline phase, we were under the Governor’s ‘Shelter in Place’ order. During this phase, we received approval to work with community partners with distribute plants in our communities. A key point to this approval was that the community partners served as the distribution site during this phase, to limit the OSU faculty, staff, and volunteer travel and gatherings.
  • Phase 1 / Restricted Operations: during this phase, we received approval to resume work in Master Gardener demonstration and community gardens.
  • Phase 2 / Modified Operations: during this phase, we are just starting to see some counties receive approval to resume Plant Clinics in Extension offices.
  • Phase 3 / Full Return (Yet to Come ~ Date Unknown): is when we expect to see a return to in-person classes, meetings, and events.

Stories of race, culture, place, and people surround us, even in the garden. We must face them.

Photo by @blcksmth – Quote by James Baldwin

What are the stories we tell about our lives, our history, our gardens, our favorite flowers? I’ve been thinking about these things, and how we can personalize what’s happening in the world. How we bring issues of justice and equity into our lives as gardeners.

What can we do? How do we start? Why haven’t we done this earlier? What does this have to do with gardening?

These are all questions I’m hearing from Master Gardener leaders and volunteers throughout the state. Via Zoom, phone and email, I’ve been doing a lot of listening in my new role as statewide outreach coordinator, and asking questions.

And in the way of the world right now, I’m incredibly thankful to be learning so much, even as I’m unlearning stories I thought I knew. For example, while I have sentimental childhood memories of visiting Mt. Rushmore on a classic family road trip across the country, I know now that project defiled sacred Lakota land and that the creator, Gutzon Borglum, was deeply involved in the Ku Klux Klan.

I wonder why I never learned in school about what happened in Tulsa, Oklahoma in 1921, or the important significance of June 19th.

Facing our need as Master Gardeners to better serve our community through a lens of equity, diversity and inclusion means uncovering the truth, questioning our stories, and checking our own assumptions. It’s why I’m turning to the words of James Baldwin right now: Not everything that is faced can be changed. But nothing can be changed until it is faced.”

Let’s start with the plants themselves.

Me with a favorite ajisai (hydrangea) as big as my head.

Take hydrangea, one of my favorite plants. But it wasn’t always called hydrangea. Known and revered for centuries in Japan as ajisai, the flower was caught in the colonization sweeps of Joseph Banks. When it was presented at Kew Gardens in England, the “newly discovered” plant was renamed hydrangea, effectively erasing its Japanese cultural history and lineage.

And then there’s the dahlia….

A cocoxochitl in my garden last week, also known as a collarette dahlia named Pooh from Swan Island Dahlias in Canby.

Named for Swedish botanist Anders Dahl, the dahlia was brought to Europe by the Spanish after the conquest of Mexico. Grown in the beautiful and sophisticated gardens of Montezuma, the Aztecs called this flower cocoxochitl, where it was grown for its grandeur, function and as a food crop. The tree dahlias grown here could grow to thirty feet tall and with hollow stems three inches in diameter, they were used for transporting water. All of this rich, Mexican, cultural history vanished when it was claimed and named by Europeans.

“This naming of things is so crucial to possession—a spiritual padlock with the key thrown irretrievably away—that it is a murder, an erasing, and it is not surprising that when people have felt themselves prey to it (conquest), among their first acts of liberation is to change their names (Rhodesia to Zimbabwe, LeRoi Jones to Amiri Baraka). That the great misery and much smaller joy of existence remain unchanged no matter what anything is called never checks the impulse to reach back and reclaim a loss, to try and make what happened look as if it had not happened at all.”

—Jamaica Kincaid, My Garden (Story)

The author Jennifer Jewell writes about her interview with Jamaica Kincaid:

In my conversations with Jamaica Kincaid … she said this: “The thing we have liked the most about gardens is the love of a flower from somewhere else. Most people don’t know that the marigold and dahlia were part of Montezuma’s gardens. If we could just honor one another, it wouldn’t feel so badly to have taken them. Honoring one another is one way perhaps that we redeem ourselves; I am very interested in redemption,” she told me. Redemption. An interesting word – Jamaica talks about how we as people can work to honor one another – work to re-find and retell and re- share histories which were hidden – stolen – histories that some strove to erase. But they are still there those histories – embodied in the plants and the seeds and the art and the myth and the lived history of peoples and places.

I have two stories to leave you with. One is a tiny example of what can happen when we begin to ask questions and see things with a new eye. I recently noticed the description for Trachelospermum jasminoides on a favorite plant resourcing site. Common names listed were star jasmine and confederate jasmine. Do we really need to celebrate the confederacy with one of my favorite plants? Probably not. I mentioned it to the website owner and within ten minutes, the name confederate jasmine was gone.

But then there’s the story the woman riding her bike by our garden told herself a few weeks ago. My partner and I were gardening in our front garden, and the bicyclist pulled a u-turn when she saw our giant stand of romneya coulteri. Approaching my partner she asked about the flower, first inquiring if she was the landscaper. My partner is Mexican-American, had a bandana holding back her hair, and earbuds in her ears. The woman repeated the question, this time overpronouncing with the assumption she might not speak English. I couldn’t believe what I was witnessing. I’ve never been assumed to be the landscaper in our front garden. And that was my white privilege.

Romneya coulteri

We all have stories to unlearn and we’re in a special moment where we can use new eyes in the way we see and move through the world. And we can act. Even in our gardens.

Resources mentioned in this essay:

By LeAnn Locher, Statewide Master Gardener Outreach Coordinator

Racial and Social Justice in Oregon’s Master Gardener Program: How to Respond to Critical Comments

It’s been three weeks since we published our first post, calling for increased attention to racial and social justice in Oregon’s Master Gardener Program. In that time, the response has been overwhelmingly positive. For every critical comment that I have received, I have received 10-15 encouraging comments.

Thank you. Every Master Gardener who steps forward to say that they value this work makes it easier to weather the criticism. Every Master Gardener who reaches out to say ‘FINALLY! This is what I have been wanting to see from the program!’ grows our collective commitment to this work.

But what do you do, if you speak up for racial and social justice within the Master Gardener Program, and you are personally criticized? How might you respond? Where can you turn for support?

Below, we offer a suggestions for responding to colleagues or constituents who might question or criticize the relevance of incorporating racial equity work into the Master Gardener Program.

  1. Remember that one person’s comment is only one.
  2. Give yourself time to reflect and respond thoughtfully, and officially. As a Master Gardener coordinator or volunteer, your words are the voice of the program.
  3. If you are confronted, criticized, or questioned on the spot, look for allies who can help echo key talking points, if you are at a loss for words.
  4. Consistently refer to OSU’s stated responsibility to diversity, equity and inclusion, pointing specifically to OSU’s stated commiment to inclusiveness.
    • As a university community, we must join together to ensure that all members of the OSU community — students, faculty, staff and visitors — not only feel welcomed and safe, but experience our community as a place to thrive. Each and every member of our community must know they are valued, that they belong here, and that we celebrate the rich diversity that they bring to Oregon State University. We should not tolerate anything less.“ — OSU President Ed Ray, in a statement delivered May 31, 2020
  5. Make it clear that this is not a political statement or strategy. Instead, we are working to do a better job at what has long been an explicit and stated part of our job as Master Gardener Coordinators and Volunteers.
  6. As long as you feel comfortable, stay in the conversation. Do not shut down dialogue among participants, unless they fall into particular categories. I have been encouraged to find that some of the people who harshly criticized our initial statement ended up being open-minded, willing to listen and discuss concerns, and sometimes came away agreeing that racial justice work *is* important.
  7. Nonetheless, there may be times when the conversation needs to be shut down, whether it be in person, on social media, or on another medium. These inlcude:
    • Hate Speech, which is defined as abusive or threatening speech or writing that expresses prejudice against a particular group, especially on the basis of race, religion, or sexual orientation.
    • Intimidation of Threats of violence.
    • Either of these warrant immediately reporting the incident to your supervisor, the Statewide Master Gardener Program Office, OSU Extension administration, and potentially to local authories.
  8. If you do not feel comfortable responding to critical comments or questions, please reach out to Gail or LeAnn for assistance.

If you are sharing racial justice or diversity, equity, and inclusion posts locally, you may want to include a statement of the OSU Master Gardener Program’s ongoing commitment to racial equity. If relevant conversations are occurring locally, you may want to refernece those, as well.

If you’re not comfortable sharing racial justice or diversity and equity updates in your local communities, you don’t have to. If that is the case, we hope that you will continue engaging with this work in other ways.

We will continue to share learning resources that support racial and social justice within the Master Gardener Program. On an individual level, one of the easiest and most accessible things you can do is to take the time to learn more, so that when it comes time to do more, we can do so from an informed perspective.

I wanted to end this post on a positive note. The Multnomah County Master Gardener Association, on their own accord and with no formal input from the OSU Extension Master Gardener Program, developed a statement of commitment to racial justice within their own work. This statement of purpose is the first from a Master Gardener chapter. I look forward to working with them ~ and anyone who wants to join us ~ to fulfill our shared responsibility of working towards racial and social justice within the Master Gardener Program.

The Multnomah County Master Gardeners™ recognizes that silence at this time perpetuates violence and oppression.

We condemn racism and the systemic oppression of Black people created and perpetuated by white individuals and institutions in this country. We recognize that all white people and institutions are complicit in this oppression of Black people.


We stand in solidarity with our Black neighbors and all People of Color in demanding justice: for those who have been killed and harmed by police violence, and for their families and communities.

We affirm that Black Lives Matter.

Our mission calls for “Growing, Educating and Connecting Communities.”


We acknowledge that we have not been living up to our mission, especially with our Black neighbors and communities of color. We recognize that we are coming late to this critical issue and we know that we will make mistakes as we do the work we must do to catch up.

We nonetheless commit to doing the work: to engage in critical self-reflection, to make our community antiracist, and to use the resources available to us to transform our organization into one where our Black neighbors, and all People of Color feel welcome, supported, and seen.

Now for the work of moving beyond words into new actions.

Renewed Mission and Vision for the Extension Master Gardener Program

Short and Sweet Version of this Post

The OSU Extension Master Gardener Program has an updated mission statement and an updated vision statement, as of June 11, 2020.

Our Mission: Cultivating resilient and healthy communities throughout Oregon through sustainable horticulture education and gardening projects that are rooted in science and that are supported by OSU Extension volunteers.

Our Vision: We provide accessible and equitable education programs that nurture life-long learners and volunteers who can expand the reach and impact of science-based sustainable gardening practices to benefit all Oregonians. 

The Full Story

When I first came to OSU in 2007, our organization didn’t have a formalized mission statement. At least, there was no formal mission statement that I could find. Thus, in 2008, the Home Horticulture working group (which includes every OSU faculty and staff member that has a position description that includes the Master Gardener Program) set out to create the very first mission statement for our then 32 year old organization.

Our First Mission Statement, Circa 2008 – June 10, 2020: We educate people about sustainable gardening in the Pacific Northwest, via annual Master Gardener trainings, educational opportunities for the general public, and recommendations and advice delivered by trained volunteers.

A few years later, I (Gail) decided that our organization also needed a Vision Statement. I came up with one, on my own.

Our First Vision Statement, Circa 2010-ish – June 10, 2020: We endeavor to establish OSU Extension as an authoritative and first choice for people seeking research-based and objective information and education on sustainable gardening in the Pacific Northwest.

For some reason, I was in a very competitive mood when I came up with that vision statement. I think I may have been feeling threatened by the ubiquity of internet information searches. Would the Master Gardener Program no longer be needed? Whatever the reason, almost everyone who read that vision statement hated it. It was time for a change.

Thus, in the winter of 2019, a small group of us took advantage of funds provided by the College of Agricultural Sciences at OSU, to dig deep into our programmatic mission, vision, and priorities. We hosted two-day, program-wide retreat in May of 2019, for Master Gardener faculty and staff. Every county with a Master Gardener Program was in attendance. Representatives from the Oregon Master Gardener Association also joined us for this work.

Facilitators Susan Sahnow and Norie Dimeo-Edigar helped lead us through two days of self-examination. They helped us understand that a mission statement is a formal summary of the aims and values of a company, organization, or individual. Crafting a mission statement requires us to ask:

  • What do we do?
  • Whom do we serve?
  • How do we serve them?

They talked us through the process of drafting a vision statement. A vision statement requires us to ask:

  • What are our hopes and dreams?
  • What problem are we solving for the greater good?
  • Who and what are we inspiring to change?

We left the meeting with four draft mission statements, and one draft vision statement that needed a bit of wordsmithing. A committee of us (Gail Langellotto, Sam Clayburn, Nicole Sanchez, Michelle Sager, Pami Monnette, Eric Bosler, Sue Nesbitt) worked to wordsmith each statement, and to identify the mission statements that we wanted to advance to the entire working group for consideration. These edits and recommendations were presented to the Home Hort Working Group in December 2019. The final mission and vision statements were selected and approved on the MG Coordinators Zoom Call on June 11, 2020. As noted at the start of this post, the new statements are:

Our Mission: Cultivating resilient and healthy communities throughout Oregon through sustainable horticulture education and gardening projects that are rooted in science and that are supported by OSU Extension volunteers.

Our Vision: We provide accessible and equitable education programs that nurture life-long learners and volunteers who can expand the reach and impact of science-based sustainable gardening practices to benefit all Oregonians. 

What changed with these statements?

For the mission statement:

  • We removed the word ‘trained’ (a volunteer commented that it made it sound as if MGs were circus animals).
  • We removed reference to the PNW region, since our focus is in Oregon.
  • We broadened our focus beyond plant clinic trainings and volunteerism, to also include gardening projects.
  • We added in the word ‘science’, since a core feature of the Master Gardener Program is that we provide recommendations and educational opportunities that are grounded in science.
  • We identified who we are serving through the program: our communities.

For the vision statement:

  • We removed my obnoxious competitiveness.
  • We added in our intention to bring equity and accessibility to the forefront of our work.
  • We added in our ‘why’ ~ that we want to nuture and support our communities.
  • We added in our commitment to science, as a core component of the Master Gardener Program, and note that we want the benefits of science-based information to be available, for the benefit of ALL Oregonians.

We hope that these renewed mission and vision statements will help to guide our work for the next decade. If they truly are guiding stars for our activities and efforts, we should be able to identify how our programs have improved communities. We should be able to identify improvements in equity and access. We should be able to identify new audiences who have access to our programs, as a result of our efforts.

Founded in 1976, Oregon’s Master Gardener Program is on the precipice of a big anniversary. In six short years, we will be 50 years old!!! (As an aside, in about 6 short months, I will personally be 50 years old). Approaching half a century tends to make one reflective. Where have we been? Where do we want to go?

When we gather in 6 short years from now, to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Master Gardener Program in Oregon ~ I hope that we can also celebrate progress towards our vision of offering accessible and equitable programs that expand the impact of science-based gardening programs to benefit us all.

Resuming MG Activities: Now What?

June 13th has been the date that we have been waiting for! Oregon Governor Kate Brown’s Executive Order 20-09 suspended higher education instructional activities (including non-credit instruction through Extension). Executive Order 20-17 extended this moratorium on instruction until June 13th.

So, what happens on June 14th? On June 12th, the Governor issued Executive Order 20-28. This Executive Order notes that in person instruction will be subject to restrictions, including the adoption of minimum standards for face coverings, physical distancing, and sanitizing. Because we are a program within Oregon State University, we are obligated to follow OSU’s resumption plan (and in fact, the links I have above for face coverings and physical distancing are OSU recent guidance on those subjects).

We are now entering what OSU Extension has been referring to as the ‘restricted operations’ phase, where we can cautiously resume some MG Program activities. This doesn’t mean that we can rapidly return to business as normal (I wish!). Instead, we’re working to resume work in ways that limit risk of illness to volunteers, faculty, staff, and our communities.

OSU faculty and staff developed guidance for resuming work within the MG Program, and this guidance was reviewed and approved by OSU Extension administration. Briefly, work in MG gardens is approved under OSU Extension’s restricted operations phase. MG Coordinators have been submitting requests (through DocuSign) to resume work in specific gardens. Several requests have been approved, today.

As noted in the guidelines, other Master Gardener activities, including plant clinics, classes, workshops, and meetings have been approved for the modified or full operations phases of OSU Extension’s resumption plan. According to OSU’s resumption plant (pages 19 and 30), OSU will remain under restricted operations until at least July 13th.

To all of the MG Coordinators, volunteers, and friends: I thank you for your patience as we work through a new way of doing business in the midst of a global pandemic. I thank you and SALUTE you for all **ALL** that you’ve done to support gardening education and outreach in your communities. Your work has helped to blaze new trails for the Master Gardener program in Oregon, and has helped to engage many new learners and clients with OSU Extension. Your resilience is paying off in the form of building stronger local food systems, reducing unnecessary pesticide use, and promoting an overall love for plants and the beneficial insects that associate with them.

So, what now? How are we going to restart our on-the-ground work in MG gardens? Here are a few of the steps that need to happen.

  • MG coordinator should develop a sign-up and/or sign-in system for garden work. This will help to limit the number of people who are working the garden at one time. This system will also aid in contact tracing, should there be a documented risk of COVID-19 exposure at a garden.
  • Volunteers will need to complete OSU Extension’s COVID-19 awareness training before returning to work in the gardens. You can sign up for and complete the training online, at this link: https://envisionextension.thinkific.com/enrollments
  • There is a checklist that we are asking gardeners to review and sign, before returning to work in the gardens. The checklist is on the last page of the ‘Guidelines’ file that is shared in this post.
  • MG Coordinators should complete the template for resuming work in gardens, and route through DocuSign for necessary signatures.
  • MG Coordinators will also be working to set up a communications plan, that may include posting signage at the garden.

Although it is surely disappointing to not be able to jump back into business as normal, I hope that a return to work in the gardens provides some light that we are moving towards happier days. I also know that the time away from the garden may find you greeted by weeds that were demanding attention months ago. I tried to find an inspirational garden quote about weeds, and stumbled upon one from Robert Michael Pyle, who was scheduled to be our keynote speaker for 2020’s Mini-College (which had to be postponed, due to COVID-19 restrictions on large gatherings).

But make no mistake:  the weeds will win; nature bats last.  ~Robert M. Pyle

Not exactly the inspirational ‘get out into the garden’ quote that you might have been looking for. But I still love this quote, because it suggests a degree of needing to let go, rather than raging against the indomitable nature of . . . nature.

Happy gardening to all.