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.

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.

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.

Master Gardeners’ Recommend Readings to Support Social and Racial Justice

It has been one short week since LeAnn Locher and I published a call to work for racial justice within the Master Gardener Program. In the interim, I have been touched and heartened by the many notes of support. In fact, of the 49 personal responses that I received about that post, only four were negative. The majority were overwhelmingly positive. Folks shared that they welcome the challenge, and look forward to continued efforts to make the benefits and resources of the Master Gardener Program available to all gardeners.

Many of us (including me!) are nervous about speaking out in a crowd about race. What I have learned over the past week is that there are many Master Gardener volunteers have been desperately hoping, waiting, and wanting a focus on diversity, equity, and inclusion in the Master Gardener Program. For many of us, however, the conversations are uncomfortable, and we don’t know where or how to start. The more we talk about diversity and equity work in the Master Gardener Program, the easier these conversations will become. As we practice applying an equity lens to our volunteerism, we will be able to more easily recognize the voices that are missing from our conversations and the actions we can take to build a better world ~ for everyone ~ through gardening.

I am 10,000% committed to this work, and hope that you will join me. Whether you are volunteering in the city, the suburbs, or in a rural area, there are actions big and small that we can take. Last week, we challenged you to be open to difficult conversations, to talk about social and racial justice issues in your Master Gardener groups, and to read and learn from the stories and perspectives of black people and people of color. We asked you what you were reading, and several of you shared your book and video recommendations. Your list includes a lot of non-fiction, some non-fiction, and recommendations for a TED Talk and a movie, including:

From a friend of the Wasco County Master Gardener Program

From Master Gardeners in Linn and Benton Counties

From a Master Gardener in Yamhill County

From a Clackamas County Master Gardener

In the coming weeks and months, we will continue talking about social and racial justice in the context of our Extension Master Gardener Program. We’ll also continue talking about and teaching gardening. But peppered in with talks of tomatoes, and native plants, and pollinators, and peonies, we will be developing and discussing a plan of action for diversity, equity, and inclusion work within our program.

At this moment in the time, here are my initial ideas. I welcome your feedback. What am I missing? What do YOU want to see in your Master Gardener Program?

  1. Grow the confidence and capacity of allies to diversity, equity, and inclusion work in the Master Gardener Program. Basically, I don’t want folks to be afraid to speak up about social and racial justice issues in Master Gardener meetings. Having allies in place will help all of us be more courageous.
  2. Continue our efforts to remove systemic barriers to participation in the Master Gardener Program. Our volunteer program is structured in a way that makes participation difficult, if not impossible for all but a narrow demographic. Our annual training classes are often costly (average of $182 and maximum of $495 in 2019). Our service hour requirement is high (average of 52 hours in 2019, which is a 12% decrease from recent years, but is also 30% higher than the minimum national standard). Our classes are mostly held during the workday, which would require someone to take between 80-96 hours off of work (and for someone making $11 per hour, that’s the loss of $880 to $1,056 in income). Challenging Master Gardener faculty, staff, and volunteers to ask ‘Who’s in the room? Who’s missing?’ is ultimately a challenge to identify actionable steps that we can take to make our program more accessible to all. Many Master Gardener Programs have made specific and concerted efforts to remove or reduce these barriers, and should be applauded. More work remains. Let’s keep going.
  3. Adopt an equity lens, in our work within the Master Gardener Program. There are many models for doing this, including the work of Portland Public Parks. One of the things they do is physically map all of their park assets. They use that map to decide where new community gardens should go, and where the next tree planting program should be held. The Parks Department then works in partnership with individuals and families within those communities, to help ensure the long-term success of the initiative. We have the beginnings of a map of where Master Gardener programming occurs, although it does need a few updates. When you look at the map for your neighborhood, are you able to see areas where we could or should be working? Are there opportunities to expand our work into new areas that could benefit from access to gardening and gardening education? How can we reach out to new neighborhoods and communities in ways that build trust and center the voices of those living and working in those communities?

One last note, regarding the few negative responses that I received on our first post. A few folks thought that the post was too political.

My attention to social and racial justice within the Master Gardener program is not political. It is literally part of my job. A “commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion” is included in every OSU Extension faculty member’s position description. A demonstrated “commitment to diversity and to ensuring equal opportunity for those wishing to benefit from OSU Extension programs and services” is also included in every OSU Extension Master Gardener volunteer’s position description. Thus, working towards social and racial justice within our program is our collective work and responsibility.

The other negative feedback that I heard was from one person who noted that they had tried to participate in the Master Gardener Program in the past, but did not feel welcomed. They felt that the Program was focused on older folks and housewives, and that they did not belong. I appreciated them sharing their experience, which further challenges me . . . . further challenges all of us . . . to continue working towards an Extension Master Gardener Program where everyone feels welcomed and is able to thrive.

Racial Justice + Master Gardeners: Biodiversity in the garden means the people too

By Gail Langellotto and LeAnn Locher

We are in the middle of a major shift and many changes in our country. For some, it’s incredibly painful. For some, it’s incredibly needed. But what we know for sure: what’s worked in the past – old systems, limitations, and hierarchies won’t work in the future. This is the same for Oregon’s Extension Master Gardener Program.

Right now, we have a great opportunity to look at who we are and why we exist. In this shifting landscape, if we hold tight to what once was we risk losing relevance and credibility with our communities. But we can flex. We can dig deep. We can shine a light on our core values and realign ourselves to meeting the needs of our communities. We need to stand for racial justice in all corners of our lives, including gardening. We know this work. Decades of ecological research tell us that gardens are stronger with more biodiversity.

We’re going to ask a lot of questions—and do a lot of listening. Who deeply needs our services that we’re not reaching? Where can we make a bigger impact on growing future gardeners in Oregon? Who are the faces among us that are missing and who do we need to make sure we’re standing shoulder to shoulder with as we dig into this great work?

The fact is, our program is predominantly white, older, and female. But gardening, itself, is such a multi-faceted activity that affords opportunities for participation from many angles. Gardening and garden plants provide food, beauty, and shade. Gardens can engage bird watchers, insect enthusiasts and other wildlife caretakers. Perhaps you love gardening because you are drawn to the sweet smell of healthy soil or the magic that occurs during composting. Gardening offers an opportunity to grow, and touch, and smell, and taste the foods that were part of our youth, but that can be hard to find in the stores: heirloom varieties or cultural favorites. A garden can be the common ground that brings diverse perspectives, experiences, hopes, and desires together in one place.

There are many ways and many reasons for people to engage with gardening. If our goal is to reach all budding Oregon gardeners, are we only in conversation with each other? What is the need and what resources do we have to give and share? Who’s not in our garden and at our tables?

Why does this matter?

As Oregon State University President Ed Ray recently wrote:

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. “

Working for racial justice and equity is not only part of OSU’s core values. For Gail, it’s also personal.

From Gail:

As a mixed-race person (Filipino and White), I developed the ability to blend in with the dominant culture at an early age, and it has benefited me throughout my career. This is a form of privilege that black and brown people do not have.

Even so, I was once pulled over for making a wide left turn. It was summer, and I was tan after months of working in New Jersey salt marshes for my M.S. thesis. On a break, I was helping a friend move to Arizona, driving a moving truck with trailer hitched to the back. I was not used to driving something so big and I made a wide turn. I was pulled over by the police, told my license was suspended (it was not), handcuffed and sat on hot asphalt, while the officer (and backup) went through the moving truck. It was painfully hot and humiliating, and thinking about that incident, today, makes me tear up. Still, I have only experienced something like this, once in my entire life. I am able to shed my tan. It is a form of privilege that racial profiling is not part of my daily life.

Everyone belongs here as Master Gardeners: it’s imperative we acknowledge and hold space for fellow gardeners of color.

What can we do now? Be open even if it feels scary. Get comfortable with discomfort. Talk about issues in your neighborhood, community, and Master Gardener meetings. Listen to the hard conversations. And read! We’re reading a lot. Here are some suggestions:

Let us know what you’re reading and what podcasts you’re listening to. What questions are you asking? What have you heard that resonates with and challenges you?

I know that some Master Gardener groups and individual Master Gardener volunteers have worked hard to fulfill our mission of serving all Oregonians. You have shared your successes, and we have learned from them. You have shared your disappointments when the best of plans and intentions did not work out as you had hoped. Even if you carry concern that a focus on racial justice and equity has not worked, or will not work within our program ~ this is not the time to stop. This is exactly the time we need to step up our game, listen, learn, and grow our work to be more equitable and inclusive of our many communities, particularly our communities of color. We look forward to growing together, and to working towards racial justice and equity in the Master Gardener Program.

Gail Langellotto is a Professor of Horticulture and an Urban and Community Horticulture Extension Specialist with Oregon State University.

LeAnn Locher is the Outreach Program Coordinator for Oregon State University’s Extension Master Gardener Program.

OSU Extension Service hires Master Gardener outreach coordinator

LeAnn Locher, a marketing and communications strategist, has been named Master Gardener outreach program coordinator for Oregon State University Extension Service.

LeAnn Locher is the new outreach program coordinator for OSU Extension’s Master Gardener Program.

Locher will join Gail Langellotto, statewide coordinator of the Master Gardener program, in a new position that will oversee diversity initiatives, branding and marketing, website management and social media. The award-winning strategist founded LeAnn Locher & Associates in 2006 providing creative and strategic communication services to national and local nonprofit organizations and public sector clients, including Metro Master Gardeners, establishing and launching their first website and social media tools, including the campaign Get the Real Dirt.

“Our program is so lucky to be working with someone who has LeAnn’s credentials, skillset and love of horticulture,” Langellotto said. “During the COVID-19 pandemic, interest in the Master Gardener program has skyrocketed: Over 40,000 people enrolled in an online Master Gardener short course and our social media following has more than tripled to over 20,000 followers. The pandemic has focused attention on the importance of gardening to food security and strong community food systems. Hiring a Master Gardener program outreach coordinator right now is timely, and will allow OSU to better serve the needs of the gardening public.”

Locher first became a Master Gardener in 2009, and has been a garden columnist, blogger, podcaster and photographer. As a communication strategist and designer, she has managed staff, budgets and work plans for major events, openings, brand launches, media events, equity initiatives and fundraising campaigns. Her clients have included the National Academies of Science, National Resource Center on LGBT Aging, City of Portland, state of Oregon, University Innovation Alliance and National Crittenton.

Locher holds a bachelor’s degree in information and communication studies, instructional technology, from California State University, Chico.

“Now more than ever, Master Gardeners are needed to reach deeper into and better reflect our communities to help more people grow their skills in gardening, for food and for spirit,” Locher said. “Public understanding of what Master Gardeners do, how the public can access the incredible amount of information and support online and connect with real people to answer their questions: These are all things I’m looking forward to and to working with the amazing team of Master Gardeners across the state.”