July 2023 will mark my 16-year anniversary at Oregon State University (OSU). My first week as OSU’s Statewide Master Gardener Coordinator coincided with the timing of the annual Master Gardener(TM) Mini-College. I was excited (and a bit overwhelmed) by the many new people I was meeting, geographic names and locations I would learn (was it Dalles? or The Dalles? I was so confused!), and the broad and inspiring activities that were part of one of the longest-running Extension Master Gardener Programs in the nation.
At the time (July 2007) OSU’s Master Gardener Program had just entered it’s third decade, and I marveled at the legacy that legends such as Duane Hatch, Gray Thompson, Anne Marie VanderZanden, Ray McNeilan, Jan McNeilan, and many others had built. I realized that my role was to be a good steward of program so that I could proudly pass on the baton to someone else, just as Jan and Ray had passed on the baton to me.
I’ve loved my time working in the Master Gardener Program. But, it is time to move on to new opportunities. I will be staying at OSU, where I will be transitioning to a research/teaching position on July 1st. The change will give me time to focus on my research with the OSU Garden Ecology Lab, and to pursue some novel opportunities in supporting native plant producers, hydroponics, insect husbandry, urban agriculture, and environmental microbiomes . . . all of which are super interesting, but not directly germane to the work of the Master Gardener program. The change will also give me an opportunity to focus on my teaching, and make course improvements I’ve long wanted to make, but never had the time to do.
As I look back on my time in the Master Gardener Program, I am both proud of the work that I have done, and excited for what is yet to come. Some of the memories that I will most cherish, and work that I am proud of, includes:
- Teaching 340 gardening classes to a combined total of more than 20,000 people. If I include online gardening classes, an additional 60,000 people have taken one of my courses. Many of my classes were about insects and other arthropods in the garden, and one of my greatest joys was being one small part of people changing their perspective from insect- or spider-fearing to someone who might at least tolerate (if not actively encourage) arthropods into the garden.
- Hosting 1,294 Master Gardeners and friends at the 2017 International Master Gardener Conference in Portland, Oregon was a blast! Attendees rated their overall experience at the conference as a 4.6/5.0, which reflects the hard work and dedication of the many volunteers and staff who helped the event come together.
- Working with colleagues on the Extension Master Gardener National Committee to craft the first mission statement and set of national standards for Extension Master Gardener programs in the United States. Our group also launched an online resource site serving the needs of Master Gardener Coordinators, and established the process for reviewing and vetting resources.
- Developing a broad portfolio of award-winning online gardening courses (now managed by Signe Danler), which have been recognized by outlets such as TreeHugger.com and Bob Vila as being the ‘Best Online Gardening Course’ for value and advanced study. When a student in one of the first iterations of the online courses asked if she could use the materials to teach gardening in correctional facilities, the courses helped to launch the Lettuce Grow Garden Foundation, now stewarded by Growing Gardens. The online courses were also the genesis of a Master Gardener social media presence. What started out as a Facebook group that was intended to facilitate communication between 31 online gardening students has since grown to a community of nearly 25,000 gardeners.
- Working to advance equity, inclusion and access in the Master Gardener program, so that all of Oregon’s gardeners might benefit from the resources and support that Extension provides. Some of this work can be seen in the Culture of Gardening Initiative.
- Helping to launch the National Initiative for Consumer Horticulture, and serving as the organization’s first secretary. This organization has been essential to helping those of us who study the science of gardening and landscaping successfully compete for federal funding.
- Helping to author the 1st version of Growing Healthy Kids, an award-winning garden-based nutrition education curriculum. Kids who are participate in Growing Healthy Kids increase the number of vegetables and fruits eaten, and increase their reported preference for a range of garden vegetables.
Beyond the work that I’ve done, meeting so many amazing, smart, dedicated, and FUN gardeners, volunteers, and colleagues has been the absolute best part of the job. Some of you were there for me, from the start, and have been reliable and trusted advisors, collaborators, and friends. Others, I have only recently met or started to work with, and am so inspired by the ideas, enthusiasm, and expertise that you bring to the program.
I am not going far, such that I hope our paths might continue to cross.
As I think about what comes next for the Master Gardener Program, I want to make sure that I leave the Program as strong and vibrant as possible, for the next person to step into the Statewide Coordinator role. In that vein, I wanted to let folks know about the Statewide Master Gardener Endowment Fund, which has helped fund new tools to support Master Gardener work, and has helped bridge gaps in funding for local programs. If you are able and interested in doing so, you can make an end-of-year gift to support the program. The funds will truly help the next Coordinator continue the good work that we’ve been doing over the past 45+ years, and will enable them to build new opportunities and invest in new activities that will keep the program fresh, relevant, and impactful.
With sincere gratitude for the past 16 years, Gail Langellotto.