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
- White Fragility: Why it is so hard for white people to talk about racism. by Robin DiAngelo
- TEDTAlk by Ron Finley: A Guerilla Gardener in South Central LA (10:45)
- The World is My Garden: a journey of consciousness. By Chris Maser with Zane Maser.
From a Master Gardener in Yamhill County
From a Clackamas County Master Gardener
- Rising Out of Hatred: the awakening of a former white nationalist. by Eli Saslow.
- Just Mercy: a story of justice and redemption. By Bryan Stevenson (a recommendation for the movie, as well)
- An American Marriage: a novel. By Tayari Jones
- Between the World and Me. By Ta-Nehisi Coates
- The Book of Unknown Americans. By Christina Henríquez
- The New Jim Crow: mass incarceration in the age of colorblindness. By Michelle Alexander.
- So You Want to Talk About Race. By Ijeoma Oluo
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?
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.