Overview of the Master Gardener Program Martin Luther King, Jr. Day of Celebration and Discussion

This year, the OSU Extension Master Gardener Program is sponsoring an evening discussion on January 18, 2021 from 7pm-8pm, as one small part of OSU’s 39th Annual Martin Luther King, Jr. Day of Celebration. This Zoom event is open to Master Gardener volunteers, and is intended to provide an opportunity to reflect on Dr. King’s legacy, and our programmatic commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion.

How the Discussion Will Work

The discussion will be divided into three parts:

  • We will start with introductions and housekeeping tasks. Since this event is being hosted as a meeting, and not a webinar, we want to make sure that folks understand how to mute and unmute their microphone, ask a question or add a comment, where to go for technical help, etc. If you are new to using Zoom, you may want to join a test meeting, to practice using video and audio, before the event.
We will start the meeting by going over the different ways that you can engage with the group during the meeting.
  • We will then present a series of five questions to the group, and will ask you to share your perspectives. We’ll first direct everyone to an electronic bulletin board that we’ve pre-populated with the questions, so that everyone has a chance to share. A benefit of this approach is that it takes away some of the awkwardness of speaking up in a Zoom meeting with many folks in attendance. An added benefit is that you will also have a chance to read how others respond. After taking a few moments to share, we’ll reconvene as a group, and reflect upon and discuss the question, with the broader knowledge of how individuals across the group responded.
  • We will end with a call to action. We will share some of the great work being done by our Master Gardener colleagues in Rhode Island, and invite you to consider how you might bring some of these efforts into your own work as a Master Gardener volunteer.

Expectations for Civil Dialogue in Community Spaces

During our discussion, we will be adhering to some basic ground rules for civil discussion. These include:

  • Sharing time equitably to ensure the participation of all.
  • Listening carefully and not interrupt.
  • Keeping an open mind and be open to learning.
  • Respond to differences respectfully.

In addition, it can be helpful to review the differences between debate and dialogue, and to truly focus on the opportunities that dialogue spaces can offer. As one of my friends has said: “Listening is a super power. Trust and relationships can make almost anything possible.” (Claire Horner-Devine).

Debate DialogueDialogue
is oppositional: two sides oppose each other
and attempt to prove each other wrong.
is collaborative: two or more sides work together towards common understanding.
has winning as the goal.has finding common ground as the goal.
lets one side listen to the other side in order to find flaws and to counter its arguments.lets one side listen to the other side to understand.
defends assumptions as the truthreveals assumptions for reevaluation.
causes critique of the other position.causes introspection of one’s own position.
defends one’s own positions as the best solution and excludes other solutions.opens the possibility of reaching a better solution than any of the original solutions.
Creates a closed-minded attitude, a determination to be right.creates an open-minded attitude, an openness to being wrong and an openness to change.
prompts a search for glaring differences.prompts a search for basic agreements.
involves a countering of other position without focusing on feelings or relationship and often belittles or deprecates the other person.involves a real concern for the other person and does not seek to alienate or offend.
Appendix A2 in the US Department of Justice Community Dialogue Guide.

I look forward to seeing some of you at our discussion on January 18th, and thank you for all of the work that you do as Master Gardener volunteers.

Happy New Year, Oregon Master Gardeners!

Dear Friends,

During these final few hours of 2020, I’ve been taking the time to organize and prepare data for the annual report of the OSU Extension Master Gardener Program (which will be published in mid-late January). Reading through all of the accomplishments and about the resiliency and creativity of Master Gardener volunteers, faculty, and staff during this difficult year makes me so proud to be affiliated with this wonderful community. Our collective work and creativity made a difference across the state, at a time when the gifts of gardening were especially needed.

Perhaps my absolute favorite part of the Master Gardener Program is that it is a community of people who are life-long learners. My entire life, I have been searching for this type of community! I was literally the kid who read the dictionary and every encyclopedia volume in the house, because I loved learning, so much. When I learned about graduate school, and that you could get paid (although not much) to go to school and learn, it seemed like a dream come true. And now, in the Master Gardener Program, I make it a point to learn one new thing, every day.

In case you were wondering, yesterday, I learned that people keep colonies of dermestid beetles to help them clean skulls ~ something which is known as a dermestarium. I also learned that mites are the mortal enemy of dermestid beetles, and can wipe out a colony in a short time period. Finally, I learned that the best ways to keep the mites at bay are to: (1) lower relative humidity to as low as 50% RH, (2) carefully check your skulls before placing them into a dermestid beetle tank to make sure that you’re not inadvertently introducing an ‘intruder’ dermestid, that might be harboring an ‘intruder’ mite under its wings.

I mean, seriously . . . what other job or volunteer program might afford me the opportunity to learn about skull-cleaning beetles?!?!

But personal learning and enrichment is only half of the equation. Sharing knowledge enriches an entire community. And in 2020, Master Gardener volunteers directly reached and taught more than 24,000 people! When COVID restrictions required us to pivot to different ways of reaching and teaching gardeners, Master Gardeners responded in really innovative ways. For example, the Lane County Master Gardeners started researching and writing a ‘Tip of the Week’ segment on Facebook. Across the year, these bits of information about gardening, birds, and houseplants reached 74,560 gardeners. In Linn County, volunteers stepped out of their comfort zone and delivered programming with a prerecorded how-to video on cocoon cleaning coupled with live Q&A sessions on Zoom. And these are just two examples of many innovations that came out of the 2020 programming year.

Megan Wickersham does an amazing job of coordinating the Master Gardener Program in Hood River County. In her annual report of accomplishments, she shared the following note, which I think is broadly applicable across most Master Gardener Programs in the state:

Overall, this unexpected pause in traditional programming allowed for volunteers to refocus on interest areas, join committees to evaluate projects, and take time to identify future improvements needed. Though almost all volunteers indicated that they prefer in-person trainings and activities, closures provided the opportunity for Master Gardeners to learn and develop confidence in new technologies. Volunteers viewed and participated in online trainings they may not have accessed during a traditional year. There was also increased volunteer participation in plant clinics using the online model, as the system allowed Master Gardeners to more easily identify areas of personal interest as well as program needs.” (Megan Wickersham, Hood River County Master Gardener Program Coordinator)

On this final day of 2020, I wish you and all those dear to you a healthy and happy and fulfilling 2021. I hope that your own personal ‘pauses’ afforded you an opportunity to explore and learn and rest in ways that you might not have known you needed. I hope that your garden, or houseplants, and/or bird feeders have provided unexpected moments of joy, insight, peace, and beauty. Most of all, I hope that we can soon gather to learn and laugh together and I THANK YOU for all that you have done in support of gardening and your communities.

Happy New Year.

~Gail

My photo for 2020 seems to do a good job of capturing the mood: I was down for a bit, but not out. May 2021 bring better days for all.

Celebrate Oregon Master Gardener Week, Day 5: Statewide Program Update

Last night, I presented an overview of some key events within Oregon’s Statewide Master Program over the past year ~ including challenges and how we’ve responded ~ as well as a look forward to 2021.

I mention the following links or resources during the talk:

We’re wrapping up our week-long celebration of Oregon’s Master Gardeners, this evening, with beneficial insect trivia hosted by Nicole Sanchez. Details are posted within the event course page.

Celebrate Master Gardener Week, Day 3

Today, I want to shine a spotlight on and celebrate all of the great work that Master Gardener volunteers do in support to support native species conservation and address concerns regarding invasive species.

In Oregon, many of our Master Gardener volunteers focus their efforts to conserve native species on promoting ways to help native bees and other pollinators thrive in home and community landscapes. The Linn County Master Gardeners were real innovators in developing educational outreach related to native pollinator protection. They host the annual BeeVent Conference, write a newsletter for mason bee enthusiasts, and host online question and answer sessions for those wanting to learn more about how to care for native mason bees.

The Linn County Master Gardeners have hosted the BeeVent Conference, since 2015.

In Washington County, Master Gardeners have built mason bee demonstration nests at the PCC Rock Creek Education Garden. And, Master Gardener Ron Spendel dedicates extensive time to the study of mason bee nesting behavior, and effort that helps gardeners create better habitat for these beautiful bees.

Osmia lignaria, the Blue Orchard Mason Bee. Photo by Sam Droege, USGS. Accessed via Wikimedia Commons.

In addition to promoting mason bee conservation, Washington County Master Gardeners have several ‘insect domiciles’ at their PCC Rock Creek education garden. These structures add visual interest to a garden, and provide year-round habitat for a variety of insects and arthropods to nest. The idea is that beneficial predators, including carabid beetles, rove beetles, and spiders take up residence in the domicile, and help protect the plants from garden pests. I hope to eventually work with the Washington County Master Gardeners to break down the structures and document the diversity of arthropod and insect residents within.

An insect domicile at the Washington County Master Gardener PCC Rock Creek Education Garden.
A smaller insect domicile at the Washington County Master Gardener PCC Rock Creek education garden.

Master Gardeners across the state support native bee conservation and education, as community scientists who have partnered with the Oregon Bee Project to document the current status of Oregon’s bees. The Oregon Bee Atlas’ four year mission (2018-2021) is to train volunteers to explore Oregon Counties, to seek out new native bee records for the state, to boldly go where no amateur melittologist has gone before! These new specimen records will be added to newly digitized historic records from the Oregon State Arthropod Collection to build the first comprehensive account of the native bee fauna of Oregon. Master Gardeners in nearly every Oregon county participate in this statewide effort.

Master Gardeners are also stewards of native plant across the state. In our applied research program, we have studied 23 of Oregon’s native plant species, to better understand which are most attractive to pollinators ~ as well as to gardeners! Our 3-year field study identified a number of species were highly attractive to native pollinators across all years, including the Phacelia heterophylla, Solidago candensis, and Aster subspicatus. Unfortunately, these three plants were not attractive to many gardeners. We found that Gilia capitata and Eschscholzia californica were highly attractive plant to both native pollinators and to consumers. Clarkia amoena and Anaphalis margaritacea were moderately to highly attractive to native pollinators in 2/3 years of our field study. These plants were also found to be moderately attractive to gardeners. Finally, we established that several non-native plants that are popular with consumers and touted as bee plants are highly attractive to non-native honey bees and, but not native bees.

Douglas aster, in our native plant study plots. No supplemental water for 2.5 years, and no fertilizer. A top pick for native bees.

One of the things that we’ve worked really hard to do, is to get our data out to gardeners in a variety of formats, including our Garden Ecology Blog, talks across the state (13 talks and 2 webinars in 2020, reaching more than 1,600 people), videos of our research in progress, and native plant recommendations in a new Extension publication. It has been extremely gratifying to see gardeners starting to utilize some of the native plants that we’ve been studying in ornamental garden landscapes.

Native plants, including Douglas’ Aster and Goldenrod, in an ornamental garden planting.

Master Gardeners also help to protect Oregon’s native species, by participating in research and education efforts related to invasive species detection and eradication. Earlier this year, Master Gardener volunteers in Jackson and Josephine County assisted the Oregon Department of Agriculture and OSU Extension in setting out and monitoring gypsy moth traps. Gypsy moth poses a significant environmental and economic threat to Oregon’s forests. In a normal year, the Oregon Department of Agriculture sets out more than 10,000 traps to find incipient populations, that can be effectively eradicated before moth numbers grow and expand to new areas. In 2020, COVID made it more difficult for the ODA to conduct their normal trapping and monitoring operations. However, Master Gardeners were ready and able to lend a hand.

Master Gardeners also help to monitor invasive species that pose a threat to Oregon’s forest, via the Oregon Pest Detector Program.

It should be worth noting . . . that even though Asian Giant Hornet is not yet in Oregon . . . that it was the actions of dedicated volunteers, setting out traps throughout the summer, that helped scientists locate and eradicate the first Asian Giant Hornet nest in the United States. I am hoping that our colleagues in Washington State will be fully successful at locally eradicating this new invader. However, if need be, I also have great confidence that Oregon’s Master Gardener volunteers will heed the call to help keep this and other potential invaders from wreaking environmental and economic havoc in our state.

Thank you, Master Gardeners . . . for your love and protection of the natural world. You are helping to conserve and protect the natural history and heritage of our state, for future generations. You are helping to open people’s eyes to the beautiful insects that would otherwise be overlooked. You’re pushing boundaries with garden design, by placing native plants where they had previously had no place and creating habitat for insects.

Every time you build insect or bird habitat into your garden or share information about the ecological beauty of native species, you are making a difference. Your choices matter, and are helping to create a better world for all.

Celebrate Master Gardener Week, Day Two

We continue our 2020 Celebration of Oregon’s Master Gardener volunteers, by thanking Master Gardeners for all they do to build strong local food systems across Oregon. If you haven’t already registered for the mini-film festival and discussion that accompanies Master Gardener week, you can do so by visiting THIS LINK. Tonight, we will be discussing “Land Grab: The Movie” with the film’s director, Sean O’Grady, and OSU Urban Agriculture Instructor, Mykl Nelson.

The Master Gardener Program first started in Oregon in 1976, with 31 individuals who enrolled for class in Lane County or in Clackamas County. Helping others grow their own food has always been an essential aspect of the Oregon’s Master Gardener Program. And volunteers are so diverse in their individual approaches to growing food, which offers so many examples and ideas to others who might be starting their own journey in food production. Below are just a few examples of the diverse food production methods innovated, demonstrated, and practiced by Master Gardener volunteers across the state.

In 2008, Lincoln County Master Gardener Bill Biernacki his garden-scale method to extend the growing season on the Oregon coast, via a Raised Bed Cloche. Biernacki collaborated with Extension Sam Angima (now an Associate Dean in the College of Agriculture) to write a publication teaching others how to build their own raised bed cloche. Their method has been adopted by gardeners in challenging climates, across the state.

n 8×4-foot cloche used for growing vegetables, Newport, OR.
A raised bed cloche in the high desert of Redmond, Oregon.

In Marion County, Master Gardener Jim Liskey designed and refined a drip irrigation system for the Marion County demonstration garden, as a way to show others how to increase production, decrease weed pressure, and conserve water in raised beds.

A raised bed with drip irrigation at the Marion Garden in Salem, OR.

In Multnomah County, Master Gardener volunteers built out trellises to show how to grow vining vegetables that would otherwise take up a lot of space in small urban lots. Over the years, the group has also experimented with dry farming vegetables in raised beds, and has recorded and shared the results of their trials.

A square foot garden bed in Portland, OR, with supporting trellis.
In the background, to the left in this image, you can see the larger array of the raised-bed/trellis system that the Multnomah County Master Gardeners have set up in their demonstration garden.

In Lane County, Master Gardeners have built raised beds, pulley systems, and lowering trellises, to make gardening more accesible to everyone. Their motto is ‘Garden Smarter ~ Not Harder’. And, one of their volunteers is the living embodiment of this motto. Pat Patterson was a member of the very first Master Gardener class, in 1976 in Lane County. Pat continues to grow and share food in her community, and is also just as generous with her wealth of knowledge related to vegetable gardening and adaptive gardening.

An overview of the Lane County Master Gardener adaptive garden.
Lane County Master Gardener raised bed with lowering trellis.

Master Gardeners have tested and trialed grafted tomatoes, to see if their increased production merits their increased cost. One of the biggest advocates of grafted vegetables is Harry Olsen, who has developed the ‘Harry Prune Method’ for maximizing tomato production. Harry gardens on a small lot in Salem, Oregon (perhaps less than 0.15 acres?). Even though this is his private home, he operates it like a public demonstration garden, eager to teach anyone who wants to learn how to maximize food production on a small urban lot. In fact, when Mykl Nelson and I were building out the very first accredited Urban Agriculture certificate program in the United States, I had Mykl visit Harry to see his production system and to learn more about his approach.

Harry Olsen uses red plastic, raised beds, finely tuned soils, grafted tomatoes, and custom-made tomato cages to maximize production on small urban lot in Salem, OR.

There are so many more examples of great gardening techniques that I could provide. If you want to visit the demonstration garden in your neighborhood, check out the map of where Master Gardeners work in your community. You may want to contact your local Extension office, first, to make sure that the gardens are open and accessible during COVID Restrictions.

In addition to demonstrating effective growing techniques, Master Gardeners are also supporting food security in their communities. This has been particularly important in 2020, as concerns about disruptions to global food chains and economic hardship have renewed interest in food gardening.

Over 40,000 people signed up for OSU’s free, online vegetable gardening course ~ a level of interest that literally crashed the online registration system for a period of time. Master Gardeners across the state turned failed plant sales into an opportunity to support food security in their community. Clatsop County Master Gardeners turned a cancelled beginning vegetable gardening course into a beautiful series of blog posts on food security and growing your own food on the north coast. The Benton County community education team turned their cancelled vegetable gardening courses into ‘Seed to Supper at Home’, which they recorded and made available to all. They expanded their support for local gardeners by hosting live gardening question and answer sessions, online, which they have since turned into a series of podcasts. Curry County Master Gardeners used these recordings to deliver beginning vegetable gardening classes on the south coast.

Master Gardener volunteers really stepped up their efforts to support their communities’ local food systems in 2020. But, *every* year, Master Gardener volunteers do so much to support local food across the state. For example, in 2019, Master Gardener volunteers donated 52.5 TONS of fresh food to local food banks and food pantries, and supported the efforts of gardeners in 29 school gardens, 46 community gardens, and 23 teaching/demonstration gardens. That’s something to be proud of, and something that all Oregonians can applaud!

Celebrate Master Gardener Week, Day One

In a year when we were needed more than ever, Oregon’s Master Gardeners rose to the multiple challenges of 2020 in simply amazing ways. Oregon State University Master Gardener coordinators ~ as well as the Dean of Agriculture and Director of OSU’s Extension Service ~ got together to say a heartfelt ‘Thank You’ to all of the Master Gardeners across the state.

Thank You, Oregon Master Gardener Volunteers!

This week, we hope that you can join us, to take a bit of time out of your day to reflect upon all of the good that you’ve brought to your community, via your volunteerism and support of gardeners across the state. Join us online for a mini-film festival, statewide address, and beneficial insect trivia, and connect with other Master Gardeners across the state during this weeklong celebration and recognition event.

Because of social distancing limits, we are using Thinkific.com to deliver this online event. When you register for the event, you will get access to all three films. There are also opportunities to register for facilitated conversations (Monday-Wednesday) with the films’ directors, as well as content experts in entomology, urban agriculture, and landscaping. You can also register for annual state of Oregon’s Master Gardener Program address (Thursday), or the beneficial insect trivia event (Friday).

We are really looking forward to the time that we can all gather together to learn, celebrate, and have fun in the Master Gardener program. In the meantime, we hope that you might enjoy this virtual celebration.

2020 3rd Quarter Report

This past Friday, the Oregon Master Gardener Association (or OMGA) Board of Directors met via Zoom, for the 3rd quarter meeting of 2020. As the OSU Extension Master Gardener Statewide Coordinator, I sit on the OMGA board as an ex-officio and non-voting member and present a report on behalf of OSU.

Normally, OMGA meetings run from 10am – 2:00pm (or longer). However, now that we are meeting via Zoom, meetings are kept to 90 minutes. I thus tried to be extremely brief in this quarterly report, which can be found, below.

  • Wildfires and the Extension Master Gardener (EMG) Program: Like the rest of OSU Extension, the Master Gardener Program has both been affected by and has been kept busy by the wildfires. Many EMGs were evacuated from their homes for a period of time. There are three EMGS who have lost their homes and/or have experienced substantial property damage: one each in Lincoln, Jackson, and Marion counties. (Please note, that in my original report to the OMGA Board, I incorrectly stated that an EMG in Lane County had lost their property to wildfire. This was incorrect, and I apologize for my mistake.) Please be ready to lend support, when these folks are in a position to take stock of their needs, and how the EMG Program can help. At the same time, EMG faculty and volunteers have been asked a lot of questions about the hazards of ash to edible and ornamental plants in the landscapes. Brooke Edmunds was particularly timely in pushing out messaging and materials related to questions about ash and vegetables, garden plants, and bees. But most (all?) of us have been kept busy by the questions coming in through email, phone, Zoom, and Ask an Expert. I see and appreciate the messaging going out through local EMG social media channels. You were a great source of support for your communities, during a very difficult time.
  • Staffing and Hires: Andrea Stith will begin working as the Extension Master Gardener Coordinator in Wasco County, beginning sometime in October. She comes to us from the University of Kentucky, and has an extensive background in horticulture and in University Outreach and Extension. The announcement of her hire, can be found below.

OSU Wasco County Extension extends a warm welcome to Andrea Stith

We are excited to announce that Andrea Stith will be joining our OSU Extension team in Wasco County as a Master Gardener and Community Horticulture Outreach Program Coordinator. Prior to joining us Andrea served as a Master Gardener Coordinator with University of Kentucky Extension for 5 years. Andrea has a Bachelor of Science in Agriculture from Western Kentucky University with a concentration in horticulture and a minor in studio art, and a Master of Science from Murray State University in Agriculture Education. Andrea loves flower and vegetable gardening and is excited to learn from everyone at Oregon State University. We look forward to seeing how Andrea’s applies her diverse skillset to meeting the educational needs of home horticulturists and small acreage landowners in Wasco County.

Andrea Stith will be leading the Extension Master Gardener Program in Wasco County, beginning October 2020.
  • More Staffing News: We are in the process of interviewing candidates for the EMG coordinator position for the North Coast (Clatsop and Tillamook Counties). During the OSU hiring freeze, it is notable that the Wasco County hire and the North Coast search have moved forward. It represents a very strong endorsement of the value that the Extension Master Gardener Program brings to OSU, during a time when OSU is experiencing serious financial strains due to COVID. This leaves us with one vacancy in Master Gardener Program coverage in the state: Eastern Oregon.
  • Master Gardener week will be October 26-30,2020. The event will include a Mini-Film Festival (October 26-28), the state of the Statewide Master Gardener Program report (October 29th), and a trivia contest focused on pollinators and beneficial insects (October 30th). An official announcement and link to register will go out, as soon as we finalize the registration page.
  • The Master Gardener Program has been working on a branding and identity plan that recognizes the individual personalities of county- and region-based Master Gardener program, but also unites us as a statewide program that is a vital part of Oregon State University. As part of this effort, we recently updated our program mission and vision, and have circulated a survey about the program priorities and values. Thank you to all who contributed.
  • The 2021 Master Gardener annual training program will be open to all current Master Gardener volunteers and all of the trainees from the 2020 training class. The 2021 training will focus on elevating the skills of Master Gardener faculty and staff in four domains: Teaching and Technologies in the Master Gardener Program; Best Practices in Adult, Informal Education; Growing Leadership; Broadening Outreach to Underserved Communities. A survey will be going out to Master Gardener volunteers, to get input on the types of classes that folks would like to see. The training will be delivered online, using a combination of Canvas (OSU’s ECampus learning management system), Zoom, and other methods.

The Known-Unknown Framework of Discovery

The known-unknown framework for discovering and generating new knowledge is a time-tested approach, first attributed to the Greek Philosopher Socrates, and later refined by the 13th century Persian-Tajik poet and philosopher, Ibn Yami.

Briefly, this framework asks four questions:

  • What do we know already (known knowns)?
  • What are the surprises that we are completely unaware of (unknown unknowns)?
  • What biases and unconscious thoughts might be influencing our understanding (unknown knowns)?
  • Do our assumptions have validity, or are they off-target  (known unknowns)?
The known-unkowns framework of knowledge discovery considers the role of current knowledge, assumptions, biases, and surprises in our understanding of a situation.

As the Master Gardener Program continues to operate in the unique era of COVID-19, we want to take a deep dive into benefits, barriers, opportunities, and impacts that are experienced by Master Gardener volunteers and the communities that we serve. Thus, in true Master Gardener style, we’re going to ask a lot of questions ~ of ourselves, of you, and others ~ and we want to actively listen with open ears, open minds, and open hearts.

As the Statewide Master Gardener Program Cooridnator, I have lived and work in this program for 13 years. I spend a lot of time thinking about the Master Gardener Program (just ask my husband). I want to help the program grow in ways that lets the public know, without a doubt, that we are a trusted source of local gardening information. I want to swing the doors of our program open in such a way that makes Master Gardener trainings and volunteerism available to as many people as possible. I want to bring the benefits of gardening to every single Oregonian who wants to grow a houseplant, try their hand at composting, grow flowering plants for bees or birds, or grow their own food in 5-gallon buckets or in a 1/4 kitchen garden . . . and any or every other aspect of gardening.

Over the years, I’ve had instances where ~ even with the best of intentions ~ I could see that I was wearing blinders that prevented me from seeing the program from all perspectives. While it was painful to realize that I was wearing blinders, at the time, I was able to better serve the Master Gardener Program once I recognized my own assumptions and biases, and once I become more comfortable with surprises.

  • In 2009, I co-organized Mini-College, which is the name for the statewide Master Gardener conference. I was so proud of the program of workshops that we put together for conference participants, including a workshop on how to prepare healthy meals from the garden that was hosted by a Master Gardener who was a culinary institute instructor. I arranged to use a classroom in a building I was not familiar with. The classroom had a full demonstration kitchen, with mirrors that allowed the audience to see what was being prepared. I was sure that it would be a hit. Fast forward to the day of the workshop. The classroom was on the third floor. The elevators were broken (which was, apparently common for this building). One of the workshop participants was in a wheelchair. Participants carried the participant up the stairs ~ and my heart broke at how my oversight ~ my blinders ~ created a difficult situation for all. Since that day, every single conference or event that I plan, I move through the space thinking about how someone with a wheelchair or walker might navigate; how someone with hearing aids or a hearing impairment might experience the space. And, I still get it wrong! I once organized an event and realized that I had not allowed for space for service dogs. Another blinder, but another chance to improve.
  • Speaking of accessibility, I once had a potential Master Gardener volunteer lay out the true cost of Master Gardener training classes. I knew that the classes were costly (from $150 to $495). What I didn’t realize was that a person who would need to take off work to participate in classes was losing an additional $1,440 in income (8 hour workday * 12 Master Gardener course weeks * $15/hour wage = $1,440). And, in some counties, individuals are asked to pay a penalty of $100-$200 if they complete the classes, but don’t complete their volunteer service hours. Taken together, the true cost of taking the Master Gardener training course is somewhere between $1,590 to $2,135 for individuals who are employed, full time. Once these costs were laid bare to me, we worked with our Master Gardener chapters to provide more scholarships, moved more classes to evenings and weekends, provided more hybrid (online and in person) opportunities to complete training, lowered the service hour requirement to become a Master Gardener volunteer, and removed the financial penalty for not completing volunteer service. Yet, there is more work to do to remove these and other systemic barriers to program participation.
  • Not only should our spaces be accessible, but they also need to be welcoming. Master Gardener training classes are often three hours long, which is a dreadfully long time to sit in one place. On my instructor evaluations, I’ve received feedback that says something like ‘great class, but these chairs are awful.’. This was another ‘blinders’ moment for me. I’m standing up and teaching for three hours. what would it feel like if I had to sit in those seats for three hours? Over time, I’ve reduced the length of my training classes (quantity of content presented doesn’t translate into learning). And, I’ve tried to move away from passive lectures to more active and hands-on learning (which has been a fun challenge). I wish I had the budget to buy comfortable and accessible chairs for every Master Gardener training venue! Alas, that is not the case.
  • Another factor that may influence how welcoming a Master Gardener Program is to others ~ particularly to newcomers ~ is where we choose to hold classes and meetings. Many Master Gardener Programs partner with local churches to host trainings. Could imagery or words on that space make someone who is holds a different set of beliefs feel uncomfortable? Take a look at your training spaces with fresh eyes, to make sure that you are not inadvertently excluding folks by hosting trainings in a space that signals ‘you’re not welcome here’. Related to this, think about where Master Gardener chapter meetings are held. In an effort to build community and fun into Master Gardener chapter meetings, some have been held at local restaurants or local casinos. Does this exclude others, who don’t have expendable income to put towards a restaurant or buffet meal? Could it exclude folks who can’t tolerate cigarette smoke in a casino?

Identifying and understanding the blinders that are limiting our work . . . the assumptions, biases, and suprises (in the known-unknown framework of knowledge discovery). . . is so important to build a strong, accessible, and welcoming Master Gardener Program.

Towards this end, we are initiating surveys for Master Gardener volunteer feedback on the program, experiences and offerings.

  1. The development of a statewide, yearly survey for every active Master Gardener. Opportunity to share your experiences, impact and ideas. We anticipate these to begin in 2021 and just become a regular ongoing tool.
  2. Within the next week we are issuing a survey for feedback and response on program priorities, and the underlying values of the program. Having clearly communicated program priorities will help decision making for the important work we do, and underlying values will help guide us in doing this work.
  3. Within the coming month we’ll be soliciting your feedback on courses for the 2021 training year, what the year may look like, and areas of interest to focus coursework for Master Gardeners.

To keep spammers from flooding the surveys (which happens when we share a public link), we will distribute the survey invitations through your Master Gardener Program coordinators. If you were a Master Gardener, in past years, and would like to share your experiences with us, please let me know. We will make sure to share the survey link with you, directly.

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.