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.

Plant Clinic Procedures for Master Gardeners

Master Gardeners provide research-based recommendations for the home gardeners, community gardeners and others who grow for fun, relaxation or other non-commercial reasons.

Plant Clinic Procedures:

In most counties, Master Gardeners staff Plant Clinic phone lines and desks at county Extension offices.  Many counties also offer Plant Clinics in their communities, (i.e. at farmers’ markets, fairs or garden retail outlets).  Plant Clinics are a valuable service to the community, where Oregonians can ask questions about their home or community garden.  Those who utilize the services of a Master Gardener Plant Clinic are often referred to as our ‘clients’.  To ensure high quality answers to questions received at Master Gardener Plant Clinics, it is important that volunteers are trained to recognize and utilize appropriate resources and to consult with OSU Extension faculty and/or expert Master Gardeners, as needed.

Appropriate resources include the Pacific Northwest Weed, Insect and Disease Management Handbooks; peer-reviewed journal articles, OSU Extension publications, brochures and hand-outs; eXtension and/or university Extension websites; online materials produces by eXtension and/or university Extension Services; and other resources that contain validated, research-based content.  In addition, to utilizing county Extension faculty and expert Master Gardeners, on campus resources (e.g. OSU Plant Clinic; OSU Herbarium, Oregon State Arthropod Collection), Extension specialists, and other OSU faculty should be consulted when needed.

Master Gardener volunteers should utilize these resources to provide research-based information to those seeking information or advice on home and/or community gardening.  Master Gardener volunteers are not permitted to answer questions for commercial growers, or questions related to commercial production.

Master Gardener Plant Clinics accept plant (live, dead or preserved), arthropod (dead or preserved) and soil specimens for assessment.  Safety of the volunteers is paramount.  For this reason, the Master Gardener Plant Clinics will not accept swabs, tissues, hair or other specimens of human or animal origin; articles of clothing, bedding or towels; personal hygiene items such as toothbrushes, hairbrushes or any other items that may be contaminated with human or animal pathogens, parasites or secretions.  Clients with questions about possible human or animal health need to direct those inquiries to the appropriate public health or veterinary experts in the community.

A check list of the of what Master Gardeners can and can not do in plant clinic can be found below.

Guidance for Master Gardener Plant clinics, taken from page 18 of ‘An Introduction to Being a Master Gardener Volunteer’, EM8749 with OSU Extension.

Occasionally, a client may submit a sample to or seek advice from the Master Gardener Plant Clinic that could have implications for human health.  Examples include:  bed bugs, spiders, suspected arthropod-caused skin lesions, pesticide poisoning, poisonous plants, etc.  If this is the case, it is important to remember that Master Gardener volunteers are not permitted to offer medical evaluations, diagnoses or advice on treatment.  Instead, the client should be referred to a trained professional for these services.  Master Gardener volunteers are permitted to utilize appropriate resources to identify a plant or arthropod sample (e.g. bed bugs, poison ivy) – but not lesions, rashes or other symptoms that may have been caused by a plant or an arthropod (e.g. the bite marks or rash that could be caused by bed bugs or poison ivy).  OSU Extension faculty staff and volunteers should refer all clients seeking advice on managing any potential life/safety situations to medical or other trained professionals.

Often, the samples that are submitted to Plant Clinic make it difficult to confidently arrive at an accurate identification.  For example, the client may submit only a small portion plant foliage, or may submit a crushed arthropod sample between two pieces of tape.  If this is the case, and especially for those cases where the identity of the plant or arthropod could have implications to human health (i.e. a doctor would treat a patient who ingested a non-poisonous plant different than they would a patient who ingested a poisonous plant), it is important to use appropriate language when communicating findings to a client.  An example of appropriate language is:  “Based upon the information provided to OSU Extension and from the research conducted, it appears that this plant is a XXXXXX plant, which is listed as not poisonous.”

Master Gardener volunteers working in the Plant Clinic should be provided with continuing education and support, to ensure that they are current on information, understand appropriate resource use, recognize when they should seek additional help or support, and know that it is more important to accurately say ‘we can’t answer that question’ (for whatever reason – not enough plant material, sample to crushed to identify, no research based resources on the topic) than to provide an incorrect answer.


OSU policy for Master Gardener recommendations to clients:

  • Use appropriate research-based resources when providing recommendations.  Examples of research-based resources include the PNW Handbooks, OSU Extension Publications, other Extension publications, peer-reviewed journal articles.
  • MGs are not allowed to suggest homemade pesticides to clients. In addition to poor efficacy and potential plant injury, many homemade pesticides violate federal law. There are two laws that address this issue, the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA) and the Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act (FFDCA) Section 408. More information on this issue can be found here:
  • Master Gardeners are objective in their recommendations, and thus inform the client of all research-supported options:  Cultural, biological, and chemical (synthetic and organic).  Even if you do not use synthetic chemicals in your own garden, you should not exclude this option – so long as it is research-based – when making recommendations to the client.
  • Refer commercial clients to an appropriate extension agent


OSU Extension Master Gardener Program Stance on Select Gardening Topics:

As research on sustainable gardening practices continues to grow, we are learning more and more about those practices that methodologies that are backed by objective research.  Below you will find links to topics that have been reviewed by OSU faculty against the current published literature on the topic, and our current stance on what constitutes a research-based recommendation for that topic.

  • Compost Tea Policy: Research suggests that compost teas are equivalent to composts and inorganic fertilizers, as a source of plant nutrients and in their effect on plant growth. However, we are not able to make a clear recommendation on the use of compost teas as a disease suppressant.
  • Marijuana Policy:  Oregon State University and the Oregon State University Extension Master Gardener program are recipients of federal funding.  Oregon State University and the Oregon State University Extension Master Gardener program are also governed by the federal Controlled Substances Act, the Drug-Free Workplace Act and the Drug Free Schools and Communities Act.  Thus, to guard against risk of losing Federal funding and to adhere to the federal laws that govern our activities, OSU Extension Faculty, Staff and Volunteers do not provide advice or referrals on the culture, care and/or use of marijuana.

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).