Care of Plants and Gardens in the Context of EO 20-12 (Stay Home. Save Lives)

March 25, 2020

To: OSU Extension Master Gardener Coordinators, Faculty, and Staff

From: Gail Langellotto, Statewide Master Gardener Program Coordinator

Subject: Guidance on Master Gardener Activities and Plant Care, in the Context of Executive Order 20-12

In response to the COVID-19 outbreak and in accordance with Oregon Gov. Kate Brown’s Executive Order 20-12 (Stay Home. Save Lives), Master Gardener Programs are to continue with the suspension of face-to-face programming. This means no face-to-face Master Gardener classes, events, meetings or outreach activities.

The purpose of the executive order and this guidance is to slow the spread of COVID-19 in Oregon, to protect the health and lives of Oregonians, particularly those at highest risk, and to help avoid overwhelming local and regional healthcare capacity. Oregon State University fully supports the governor’s executive order and encourages its community members to stay at home.

Plant Care in Greenhouses or Gardens

In terms of plant care in greenhouses or gardens (whether they are school, community, or educational gardens), I offer the following guidance:

If the greenhouse and/or garden is on OSU-owned or OSU-leased land:

  • Only OSU employees will be allowed access to maintain plant materials or gardens. Limiting on-campus and onsite operations is required under EO 20-09. Volunteers are not to be permitted to access OSU Extension-owned or leased property for any reason, including plant care or garden care.
  • A single OSU employee should be identified (as per Anita Azarenko’s March 23rd email noting that ‘regional directors will identify one individual per off campus location to monitor building security, receive mail, and perform other critical functions determined by the university’.
  • Maintenance of plant materials or gardens by a designated OSU employee will be performed on an ‘as available’ basis. Employees should only include plant or garden maintenance in their short-term Plan of Work if they have the capacity, ability and willingness to do so.
  • Carefully consider whether or not plant care or garden care represents a critical function at this time. Supervisors will help employees to determine what qualifies as a critical function. If plant care or garden care is deemed critical, think of the steps that you can take to minimize plant care or garden care needs. For example, can the greenhouse temperature be lowered to reduce watering needs and slow plant growth? In parts of Western Oregon, many perennials can survive without supplemental water well into June. Note that many common gardening maintenance activities, such as weeding, pruning or plant propagation, are not critical activities.
  • Worm bin or compost pile maintenance is not considered a critical function.

If the greenhouse and/or garden is on land that is NOT owned or leased by OSU:

  • We must honor the policies in place of our community partners. Many fairgrounds, recreation and parks units, and schools have closed their facilities to the public.
  • Individuals should refer to Executive Order 20-12, particularly section 22, which dictates that “individuals are directed to minimize travel, other than essential travel to or from a home, residence or workplace; for obtaining or providing food, shelter, essential consumer needs, education, health care, or emergency services . . .”
  • Under the current directives of Executive Order 20-12, Master Gardener volunteers are not authorized to care for greenhouse plants or gardens on behalf of OSU or in their role as a Master Gardener volunteer.

Donating or Selling Plants

Many of you have asked about the possibility of selling or donating plants that were originally destined to be sold at Master Gardener Association plant sales.

For plant materials that are owned by Master Gardener Chapters or Associations and not by OSU:

  • We are exploring whether or not the plants can be sold or donated to partner agencies, while using the Master Gardener name. If we proceed, we aim to work with partner agencies that already have distribution channels in place rather than creating our own distribution network.

For plant materials that are owned by OSU:

  • We would have to work through the university’s surplus system, before donating or selling excess plants.  

These guidelines, like Executive Order 20-12, are in place immediately and until further notice.

I hold the important work that we do in the Master Gardener program in such high regard. I especially value and appreciate the joy that gardening and plant care brings to our lives and to the lives of Master Gardener volunteers, and the friendships that are formed through the Master Gardener Program. 

But during this public health crisis, the best thing that we can do to ensure the health and safety of our volunteers ~ many of whom are in groups that are at higher risk for serious illness if they are exposed to COVID-19 ~  is to encourage them stay home. Those of us in positions where attendance on campus or at the Extension office is not essential or critical should also be staying home. By doing so, each of us will reduce the risk and spread of COVID-19 locally and across Oregon.

Image result for stay home save lives oregon

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!

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.

October 2018 Update

Updates from the Statewide Master Gardener Program

  1. MG Instructor Database: for those of you searching for instructors for your 2019 MG classes, please remember that the list of MG instructors is annually updated, and housed in the ‘Master Gardener Program’ on Box. If you need access to this folder, please let me know. Specifically, the Excel file with the list of MG Instructors is in the sub-folder called ‘MG Basic Training Resources’, which can be accessed via https://oregonstate.box.com/s/alop5gv86az1q5zjscomgghds1v4y2mn
  2. MG Core Courses: Signe Danler recently sent out a information on how to access online Master Gardener modules, to supplement your in-person MG trainings. The required classes for MG training (Oregon MG Program, Botany Basics, Understanding Pesticides) are FREE for use. Other modules are available on a sliding scale ($50-$150 per module). If the sliding scale is out of your range, but you are interested in using an online module, please let us know. We charge a modest price to help cover basic program costs, but want to be flexible for counties without resources.
  3. MG Re-certification Stickers: I have 2019 Re-certification Stickers to send out for veteran MGs who have completed at least 10 hours of continuing education and 20 hours of approved volunteer service. If you have not already done so, please let Gail know (via email) how many stickers you need for your Master Gardener Program. They will go out in next week’s mail.
  4. Best Management Practices for MG Plant Sales: I have received feedback on our first draft from our task force. My goal is to synthesize all comments into a revised draft, by the end of this week (October 12th).
  5. 2018 CHAP Update: The 2018 Consumer Hort Advisory Panel came up with three recommendations to make annual MG trainings more fun, interactive, and accessible. These recommendations were to: a) move towards active learning in MG training classes; b) consider ways to keep costs low for MG trainings (scholarships, payment plans); c) lower the minimum number of required volunteer service hours for new MG trainees, to 55 or fewer hours. You can see the full description of recommendations on the hypertext entitled CHAP DRAFT Recommendations April 2018 on this page. At our working group meeting in July, recommendations 1 and 2 were adopted. Recommendation #3 received majority support, but there was still a lot of concern related to this recommendation. We are thus tabling this third recommendation, for the moment.
  6. Working Group Innovation Grant Funded:  Several Home Hort working group members advanced a proposal for a two-day retreat, to carefully consider what changes are needed to build a more inclusive EMG Program, but also how to implement change. Our Innovation Proposal for the Home Hort Working Group was funded!!! We are targeting May or June for the actual two-day retreat. Keep an eye out for the first step in this effort ~ a survey of MG coordinators.
  7. Fall OMGA Newsletter: The fall issue of the Gardener’s Pen Newsletter has been published and posted online. Please make sure that your Master Gardener volunteers have access to this statewide MG newsletter.
  8. 2019 International Master Gardener Conference (IMGC): If you will be attending the 2019 IMGC (June 16-21, 2019 in Pennsylvania), the room block is now open for reservations. Registration is not yet open, but the full slate of speakers and tours has been posted.
  9. Professional Development Opportunity, “Achieving the Extension Mission through Volunteers“: an instructor-led, online course offered by the University of Minnesota. This course has received positive reviews from other Extension Master Gardener coordinators. The cost is reasonable ($250), but the timing coincides with Oregon’s Master Gardener training. Topics include ‘Identifying and Recruiting Volunteers’, ‘Selecting and Matching Volunteers’, ‘Supporting Volunteers’, and ‘Communicating Public Value’. If you are interested in taking this course, but cost is an issue, please let Gail know.