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.

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.

Letter to MG Program Partners

Dear Friends and Partners of the OSU Extension Master Gardener Program:

The OSU Extension Master Gardener Program partners with numerous organizations across the state, in support of our mission to make sustainable gardening information and educational opportunities open to all Oregonians. Our partnerships include local Recreation and Parks offices, Food Banks and Food Pantries, School Districts, Correctional Facilities, Gardening Non-Profits, Public Housing Authorities, Local Governments, and the Oregon Master Gardener Association and its non-profit chapters. I value our partnerships beyond measure, and recognize that our outreach efforts and our organization are elevated as a result of our collaborations.

I wanted to share an update on the current status of OSU Extension Master Gardener activities, in the context of the Phase 1 reopening of Oregon counties that began on May 15th. As a state agency and an institution of higher education, OSU Extension is under different guidance than Oregon businesses. For example, Executive Orders 20-17 and 20-09 suspend in-person instructional activities at Oregon Higher Education Institutions through June 13th.

In short, I am still in a holding pattern and awaiting direction from OSU and OSU Extension, related to face-to-face activities, events, and instruction. I have drafted, and am awaiting administrative feedback on a plan to resume limited face-to-face Master Gardener activities that adheres to state, university, and OSU Extension guidance. OSU expects to receive guidance from the Higher Education Coordinating Commission, later this week. OSU and OSU Extension expect to update their respective resumption plans, shortly thereafter. I am hopeful that the Master Gardener resumption plan might be reviewed, edited as needed, and approved shortly thereafter.

At this time, I would ask that we continue collaborative partnership by:

  • Keeping lines of communication open: sharing (as possible) resumption plans, and thinking about how we can jointly meet any mandated requirements for face-to-face activities.
  • Recognizing that we are bound by OSU guidance: and unable to resume face-to-face instructional activities until at least June 13th.
  • Presenting clear and united communications to volunteers and to the public that we serve: until the Master Gardener program gets the green light for face-to-face activities from OSU, we are not able to resume face-to-face activities.

    I look forward to continued and fruitful partnerships. Most of all, I look forward to the day that we can again partner to promote a love of and success with gardening, via hands-on, face-to-face, and fun activities.

    I hope that you continue to stay safe and be well!! Should you have any questions or concerns, please reach out to your local Master Gardener coordinator and/or to me.

    Sincerely,

    Gail Langellotto
    Statewide Extension Master Gardener Program Coordinator
    Oregon State University

CDC Issues New Guidance that Affects MG Outreach, Plant Sales, and Events, through May 10th

On March 15th, the CDC issued new guidance for large events and mass gatherings. This guidance recommends that, for the next eight weeks (which would take us to May 10th, or Mother’s Day) that events which can draw 50 or more people, in person, be cancelled or postponed.

This recommendation takes us out further on the calendar than the state of Oregon’s March 7th Executive Order banning face-to-face gatherings of 250 or more people for 60 days (which would take us to May 6th). It also takes us further on the calendar that Oregon State University’s policy banning face-to-face gatherings of 50 or more people, through April 30th.

Given the updated CDC guidance, I am updating the previous guidance given to Master Gardener groups (on 3/12), to adhere to CDC guidelines. Through at least May 10th, any face-to-face Master Gardener classes, meetings, outreach activities, and events, including Master Gardener Conferences and plant sales that can draw 50 or more people, should be cancelled or postponed.

All face-to-face Master Gardener activities, events, meetings ~ no matter how many people may attend ~ are suspended pending further notice. This suspension aligns with the guidance given by OSU Extension on March 13th.

As someone who has planned several large events, I know that this is heartbreaking news that will have negative impact on affected Master Gardener chapters. I truly feel bad for the many Master Gardeners who have tirelessly and enthusiastically worked for a year or more, only to have their event cancelled or postponed. But, the health of our volunteers, faculty, staff, and community is paramount, and should be put ahead of other concerns.

Wiley Thompson, the Regional Director for the OSU Extension on the coast, has said something like: ‘this is the year that a lot of things won’t happen: NCAA basketball tournaments, PAC-12 Spring Sports, and so much more’.

But, I’m also seeing many instances of ingenuity, in the face of these challenges.

Master Gardeners are holding meetings via Zoom. If you are able, and if your Master Gardeners are wanting and needing to meet, please help them by setting up a Zoom meeting.

The Benton County Master Gardeners are planning to offer Seed to Supper via Zoom!

Don’t forget that the Advanced Training Master Gardener webinars start tomorrow (3/17). Once again, they will be offered via Zoom! It’s not too late to sign up for one or more classes.

Hang in there! We will get through this!

Updated Guidance for Master Gardener Training Classes and Guidance for Large Events, Ongoing Master Gardener Activities in the Context of COVID-19

To: Master Gardener coordinators (Extension faculty)

From: Gail Langellotto, (Professor of Horticulture, Statewide Coordinator, Extension Master Gardener Program)

Date: March 12, 2020, 11:57am PST

Coordinators,

As you are aware, OSU and OSU Extension are actively engaged in continuity planning as we prepare for a localized outbreak of COVID-19 in the university community and communities we serve. The guidance from Oregon State University is rapidly evolving. The latest guidance can be found on OSU’s COVID-19 webpage.

Given that older adults are both a vulnerable population and an abundant group in the Master Gardener Program, we are recommending that local Master Gardener coordinators carefully consider the guidance provided for upcoming large events (such as conferences and plant sales) and ongoing Master Gardener activities (such as plant clinics and demonstration garden work).

At this time, we are suspending face-to-face Master Gardener activities immediately, and through at least March 30th. Specific guidance for large Master Gardener events and meetings, as well as work in demonstration gardens or plant clinics, can be found below. There is also updated guidance on completing Master Gardener training classes.

Guidance on Options for Large Master Gardener Events

Large events pose a particular risk for the transmission of COVID-19. Master Gardener conferences and plant sales can easily draw 50 or more individuals, and often draw hundreds of people to a site.  

On March 11, 2020, OSU has stated that non-essential, OSU-sponsored events of more than 50 attendees will not be permitted, between March 30th and at least April 30th.

Note that even though OSU is not planning to limit OSU-sponsored gatherings of more than 50 attendees until March 30th, the OSU Extension Master Gardener Program is instituting this policy, immediately. All large Master Gardener events (i.e. those that draw more than 50 attendees) that are scheduled between now and the end of April, including those planned and managed by the Oregon Master Gardener Association and its chapters, should be cancelled or postponed until at least May.

Updated Guidance on Options for Completing Master Gardener Training Classes. At this time, no matter the number of attendees you have in Master Gardener training classes, we are requiring that you suspend face-to-face Master Gardener training classes, and pursue option(s) 2 (postpone and reschedule classes), 3 (use the online modules to complete your Master Gardener training, or 4 (end your 2020 training classes, if you have met minimum national and state standards for Master Gardener classes). These options were outlined in earlier guidance.

Guidance on Options for Other Ongoing Master Gardener Activities

Other ongoing Master Gardener activities, such as plant clinic and work in the demonstration garden, typically bring fewer than 50 people to a site.

At this time, we are suspending all face-to face work in Plant Clinic, Master Gardener meetings and other non-essential Master Gardener volunteer work, through the end of March. We are instituting restrictions on work in Demonstration Gardens through the end of March, and only if work is needed to prevent the loss of plant materials or to address emergencies at demonstration garden facilities (such as an irrigation line break). If Master Gardeners come to the Extension office to volunteer, observe best practices for limiting the spread of the virus.

Plant Clinic: March is a relatively slow time for many Master Gardener plant clinics. Suspending Master Gardener plant clinics through the end of March should not have too large of an impact on local Master Gardener programs. In lieu of walk-in plant clinics, questions may be redirected to OSU’s Ask an Expert service. If you have volunteers who you would like to sign up for Ask an Expert, you can sign them up online. Only volunteers who are well-practiced in plant clinic procedures, are comfortable working in an online environment, and have a strong understanding of how to craft a research-based and appropriate response to plant clinic questions should be signed up. A brief overview for how to view and answer questions in Ask an Expert can be found here. In addition, a dedicated email to receive questions/images could be set up, if needed, by the local Master Gardener coordinator to expand options for meeting the needs of the community.

Master Gardener volunteers who are seeking certification options, during this down time, may want to catch up on their continuing education credits by reading approved publications, or by participating in the upcoming Advanced Training Webinar Series for Master Gardeners.

Coordinators may want to relax plant clinic and other volunteer service hour requirements, in lieu of this disruption to our programming.

For Care of Plants and Facilities at Master Gardener Demonstration and Community Gardens: keep the number of individuals working in each demonstration garden to an absolute minimum. Observe maximum social distancing. Practice frequent handwashing. Use Approved Environmental Cleaners for shared surfaces, such as tools, hose spigots, or hose handles. Take care to reduce environmental exposure to these cleaners.

Master Gardener Chapter Meetings: The OSU Extension Master Gardener Program has a collaborative relationship with the Oregon Master Gardener Association and its chapters. These organizations are separate 501(c)3’s from Oregon State University. However, when using the term “Master Gardener” in association with Association meetings or events, the Extension Master Gardener Program can require that Oregon State University provided guidance and policies be adopted.

  • Inform your Master Gardener Association and Chapter, that face-to-face meetings should be suspended, at least through the end of March.
  • Face-to-face meetings that might draw 50 or more people are not allowed, at least through April 30th.
  • Where possible, assist your Master Gardener Association or Chapter with remote meetings, when the meetings are necessary. Assistance could include setting up access to Zoom meetings, or conference call lines.

Please contact your regional director and me with any questions or concerns.

Please continue to prioritize your personal health and wellness. Take the time to regularly review updates from the CDC and OHA websites, as well as OSU’s COVID-19 webpage.

Updates specific to the OSU Extension Master Gardener Program will be sent out via the OSU Master Gardener Coordinator listserv, the OMGA chapter and executive committee listservs, and on the OSU Master Gardener Coordinator blog.

Thank you,

Gail

Options for completing annual Master Gardener training classes in context of COVID-19

To: Master Gardener coordinators (Extension faculty)

From: Gail Langellotto, (Professor of Horticulture, Statewide Coordinator, Extension Master Gardener Program)

Date: March 11, 2020, 12:41pm PST

Coordinators,

As you are aware, OSU and OSU Extension are actively engaged in continuity planning as we prepare for a localized outbreak of COVID-19 in the university community and communities we serve.

Thank you for your efforts during this rapidly changing situation, and for the care and compassion you are showing for each other and your program participants.

Given that older adults are both a vulnerable population and an abundant group in the Master Gardener Program, we are recommending that local Master Gardener coordinators carefully consider available options for completing the 2020 Master Gardener training season.

We are developing additional guidance for large events such as conferences and plant sales, and ongoing volunteer activities such as plant clinics.

Here are four three options to consider.

Option 1: Continue with classes, but observe recommended practices for personal wellness and minimizing spread of illness.

****This option was removed as a possibility on March 12, 2020, when updated guidance for OSU Extension Master Gardener Programs was issued.**** Note that the recommended practices for personal wellness and minimizing the spread of illness is still recommened, for personal use.

These include:

  • No mandatory attendance: Do not penalize students who opt not to attend classes, provide options for making up missed work.
  • Stay home if sick: Speakers, employees, volunteers, or students who are sick or have a household member who is sick should stay home.
  • Observe social distancing: Seat students so they are not apt to touch each other or touch a shared desk space. Remind students to refrain from shaking hands, hugging, or otherwise touching other class members. If your meeting space is limited and you cannot meet this requirement, it might be better to consider a different option for completing classes.
  • Practice frequent handwashing: Build handwashing breaks into the training day. Have hand sanitizers on hand.
  • NO shared food or potlucks: Temporarily halt the tradition of shared food or potlucks for meals or snacks. Ask students to bring their own food and drinks. Do not share food or food utensils.
  • Use Approved Environmental Cleaners for Classroom Surfaces. Take care to reduce environmental exposure to these cleaners.

Option 2: Postpone and reschedule classes (i.e., after the state of emergency has passed or has been revoked). The ability to do this may depend on whether or not you will have access to the training site at a later date, and if students and instructors can accommodate a schedule change.

Option 3: Consider using the online modules to complete your 2020 training schedule.

Option 4: If you have met the minimum national and state standards for Master Gardener trainings, you can suspend classes for 2020. If you have questions about the standards, please contact me.

Keep in mind that decisions may differ among coordinators depending on local circumstances. Extension decisions made locally should be coordinated through supervisors and leadership at the appropriate level. Please contact your regional director and me with any questions or concerns.

No matter which options you chose, please prioritize your personal health and wellness. Take the time to regularly review updates from the CDC and OHA websites, as well as OSU’s COVID-19 webpage.

Thank you,

Gail

2019 Annual Report

I am proud to share the 2019 Annual Report of the Oregon State University Extension Master Gardener Program.

*****You can access the entire report HERE. ****

It has been a stellar year of accomplishments across the state, due to the hard work and dedication of the volunteers, faculty, and staff associated with the program. I am particularly proud of the work we have done over the past year, focused on equity and accessibility, as well as food justice. In 2019, Master Gardeners donated 52.5 tons of fresh, healthy produce to local food banks and food pantries across the state. Much of this food was grown in the 121 gardens where Master Gardeners volunteer as garden mentors, coaches, and educators. But, a lot of this food came from the personal gardens of Master Gardeners who participate in the Plant a Row for the Hungry program that was started by the Garden Writers of America (now Garden Communicators International).

In terms of our work to advance equity and accessibility in the program there are four items I would like to highlight:

  • The Oregon Master Gardener Association dedicated the first leadership day of 2019 to advancing diversity and cross-cultural understanding. They hosted a full day training, led by Gilda Montenegro-Fix of ‘Celebrate Diversity’. The training was attended b about 40 volunteers from across the state, and was extremely well-received.
  • The Portland Metro Master Gardener Program hosted a half day training on diversity, at their annual Fall Recertification event. The training, entitled ‘A Diverse Garden is a Healthy Garden – Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion in your role as an OSU Master Gardener volunteer’, was led by the City of Portland Office of Equity and Human Rights. More than 300 volunteers participated in the training, which elicited strong feelings (mostly positive) from many in attendance. I was lucky enough to attend, and look forward to sharing my experience in a future blog post.
  • In 2019, many Master Gardener coordinators made the decision to reduce the minimum number of volunteer service hours needed to become a Master Gardener volunteer, in an effort to remove structural barriers to participation in our program. The national minimum for required service hours is 40 hours. However, Oregon’s average requirement for volunteer service hours was between 60-65 hours. With the reduction in required hours, we now have an average requirement of 50-55 hours.
  • Since 2009, we have collaborated with Lettuce Grow (now a program of Growing Gardens) to offer sustainable gardening programs in 14 adult and two youth correctional facilities across Oregon. Over 780 students have graduated from this program. Of those who have been released, the recidivism (return to prison) rate is around 4%. This is substantially less than the statewide average recidivism of 31%.

There have also been challenges in 2019, particularly in terms of faculty and staff turnover and coverage in three regions of the state. At the end of 2019, the program lacked faculty coverage in the North Coast (Clatsop and Tillamook), Central Gorge (Hood River and Wasco), and Eastern Oregon (Union and Baker) regions. However, I am happy to report that the staffing outlook has improved at the start of 2020. We have receive approval to hire a Professor of Practice for the North Coast Counties. And, there are plans to hire a Professional Faculty to oversee the Master Gardener Program in Wasco County. This still leaves Hood River, Union, and Baker Counties without faculty leadership. But, one step at a time, and I am grateful to pause and celebrate the victories with staffing in three counties with more than 200 active volunteers.

I am also thrilled to share that I have received permission and financial support to hire a 0.60 FTE Outreach Program Coordinator to support work in the Statewide Master Gardener Program. This person will work in three main areas to support Master Gardener Program Coordinators in Oregon:

  • OSU Extension Community Horticulture Web Content Development and Maintenance
  • Statewide Master Gardener Program Administration
  • University Compliance for Master Gardener Coordinators and Volunteers

So, after a long drought, in terms of University support for the Master Gardener Program, we are starting to see real and meaningful investments in the Program, at the county and state levels. Over the past year, there have also been investments to increase the FTE of three Master Gardener Program coordinators across the state. These investments have helped to better align the position descriptions and compensation of these coordinators, with the work that they actually do. Ultimately, I am hoping that these investments help to promote long-term stability in staffing within the Master Gardener Program, in ways that will ultimately benefit the volunteers and general public that we serve.

If you are a Master Gardener faculty or staff member, and have questions about your position description, position expectations, workload, or other factors, please feel free to reach out to me. I do not control budgets, and can not immediately fix an issue, should it exist. But, I can be an advocate on your behalf, or can be a sounding board for options that might help to prioritize or manage workload. There are also many senior Master Gardener coordinators who you might want to reach out to for their input and perspective. I know that we all want to see each other succeed. Do not be afraid to reach out and ask for help.

August 2018 Statewide MG Program Update and Helpful Hints

Developing Best Management Practices for Master Gardener Plant Sales

The Master Gardener Best management practices task force met via conference call, last week. Our task force include Master Gardener volunteers who coordinate their Master Gardener Association plant sale, and have also operated a commercial nursery. The task force also includes the Oregon Department of Agriculture’s invasive species response coordinator, myself (as statewide Master Gardener Program coordinator), and Brooke Edmunds (as county MG faculty). Prior to working for OSU, Brooke worked with the Oregon Department Plant Health group, where part of her work involved certification of nursery plants. Thus, we have a lot of expertise in the group.

We will soon be surveying plant sale coordinators, to find out:

  • do you apply for an ODA temporary nursery license?
  • where do you get your plants for MG plant sales?
  • how and where are they propagated?
  • what are your concerns regarding changes to plant sale guidelines?

The goal of the survey is to get a general sense of what Master Gardener Associations are currently doing, to identify key areas of risk for invasive species introduction, and to provide guidance on how to transition to lower risk activities. Please keep an eye out for the survey, and share with your plant sale coordinators, when available.

We are also developing a draft list of best management practices for Master Gardener Plant sales, in cooperation with our Extension colleagues, volunteers, and nursery industry professionals. In the next 4-6 weeks, we expect to share this list of practices, as well as case studies of Master Gardener Associations that have successfully transitioned from higher risk to lower risk plant sale activities.

Please stay tuned!

Food Safety for Master Gardener Tasting Events (i.e. Tomato Tasting)

A question recently came in about how to approach an event such as a tomato tasting, to ensure safe food handling and food safety. I consulted with Jeanne Brandt, statewide coordinator of the OSU Extension Master Food Preserver Program, to get her feedback. Below is her response (edited for brevity).

My understanding is that sharing samples is part of educational programming, not food service, so that site or event licenses and food handler’s permits are not required.  Those come into play when any products are sold.  Providing samples for educational purposes is included in liability coverage offered by OSU, as long as best practices are used to prepare them. We put out a sign that says  “Products made/prepared by volunteers in our classroom or home kitchens.”  This makes booth visitors aware of where the products came from and that they are not commercial, so they can choose to sample or not.  

This resource has guidance for handling produce samples at public events:

https://www.fcs.uga.edu/docs/13_Keeping_Food_Safe_at_Market.pdf

Page 3 has some good guidelines for preparing samples.

Best practices are good hygiene, clean produce, and protection from contamination by the customers. That’s not as easy as it sounds,  since we are often places without handwashing stations.  Setting up individual samples so that customers can’t handle more than their own sample is ideal. 

Clients with Biting Bug Infestations, Without an Apparent Cause

Every now and then, a client comes into the Extension office, wanting advice for how to deal with insects that are biting them, or that have infested their house. After some conversation, or time to examine the sample that the client has brought into the office, you may determine that the client might be feeling a sensation on their skin, but that it is not due to an insect or mite issue. How do you help these clients? The cases are often heartbreaking: a client desperate for relief, with no apparent cause or solution in sight. Colleagues in extension published an excellent article on this topic, a few years ago, that includes a long list of recommendations for working with clients who believe their body and/or environment is infested with insects or mites, despite evidence to the contrary. Please read, and share with your Master Gardener volunteers, as needed.

Kerr et al. 2014. Recommendations for extension professionals and volunteers regarding individuals with delusional infestation. Journal of the NACAA 7(2).

Best Practices in MG Plant Sales

Master Gardener plant sales are a major fundraiser for many Master Gardener Associations. However, recent Oregon Department of Agriculture quarantines and restrictions to the movement of plants and soils in Washington County, Oregon have affected some Master Gardener plant sales and have highlighted the role that plants sales may play in promoting invasive species introductions.

In fact, a recent news story reported on the role of a Coos County plant sale in introducing an invasive weed from India. Other news reports show that the sale of invasive plants, or that the introduction of invasive species via plant sales, is neither unique nor isolated (e.g. ‘Invasive species for sale in Kootenay region’).

And, plant trades between gardens are also potential venues for the movement of native plants. In fact, research conducted in the United Kingdom estimates that ~2 million seeds are moved via the movement of garden soils and soils for new housing developments. Further, the researchers found that the risk of introducing invasive plants was far greater from the movement of garden soils, than other soil types.

Over the next year, a task force will work to develop best practices for Master Gardener plant sales, in order to prevent the introduction and spread of invasive species in Oregon. The task force includes two Master Gardeners, two Master Gardener faculty, and an advisor from the Oregon Department of Agriculture. As we develop specific recommendations, we will post them for feedback and critique. Stay tuned!