Braiding Sweetgrass – a review and a request from Master Gardener Donna Leveridge-Campbell

Robin Wall Kimmerer’s Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge, and the Teachings of Plants has so much to offer.  And I believe other gardeners would especially appreciate this book, as I do.  It’s also available in an audio version read by the author, and as a beautifully illustrated adaptation, Braiding Sweetgrass for Young Adults. Both make this book, a gift to the co-inhabitants of Mother Earth, even more accessible.

Braiding Sweetgrass book cover with green braided grass horizontally across the cover

Dr. Kimmerer speaks from multiple perspectives as an Anishinabekwe, Potawatomi woman, a mother, a gardener, a philosopher, a botanist and professor of plant ecology, and from so many other aspects of herself.  She beautifully integrates mind, body, emotion, and spirit as she shares “healing stories that allow us to imagine a different relationship, in which people and land are good medicine for each other”.  This is a hugely important book for our times.  I hope the lessons and wisdom of traditional ecological knowledge (TEK) within the stories will be incorporated into all of our lives, while avoiding cultural appropriation. 

“I hold in my hand the genius of indigenous agriculture, the Three Sisters.  Together these plants––corn, beans, and squash––feed the people, feed the land, and feed our imaginations, telling us how we might live. … a visible manifestation of what a community can become when its members understand and share their gifts.”  For example, the corn stalks provide support for the beans, the bean roots house the Rhizobium bacteria that shares nitrogen with the plants, and the squash leaves keep moisture in the soil and other plants out.  And Robin reminds us they “are fully domesticated; they rely on us to create the conditions under which they can grow.  We too are part of the reciprocity.  They can’t meet their responsibilities unless we meet ours.”

As one who loves her children, and also loves her garden, Robin lists some “loving behaviors”.  And she makes the case that “The land loves us back. … She provides for us and teaches us to provide for ourselves.  That is what good mothers do.”  Robin taught her daughters to garden “so they would always have a mother to love them, long after I am gone.” 

The author writes with a heartfelt, holistic perspective and explains complex scientific and indigenous knowledge, uniting them beautifully, in an easy-to-read style.  As she says, “We see the world more fully when we use both.”  Robin is an incredible observer and listener to nature and to other teachers, as well.  She is a humble seeker and poetic sharer of knowledge and profound wisdom. 

One of her many significant reflections is on how our thoughts and feelings are so greatly influenced by our language.  She explains that English is a “noun-based language”, and that it leads to objectifying non-human life forms.  “Only 30 percent of English words are verbs, but in Potawatomi that proportion is 70 percent.”  And the language is “a mirror for seeing the animacy of the world, the life that pulses through all things”. … “So it is that in Potawatomi and most other indigenous languages, we use the same words to address the living world as we use for our family.  Because they are our family.”

In explaining the tradition of the Honorable Harvest and the “inescapable tension” of “the exchange of a life for a life”, she asks the question, “How do we consume in a way that does justice to the lives that we take?”.  In the edition for young adults, the answer is summarized as:  “Never Take the First,  Ask Permission,  Listen for the Answer,  Take Only What You Need,  Minimize Harm,  Use Everything You Take,  Share,  Be Grateful,  Reciprocate the Gift.” 

Robin addresses many of my own concerns, moral dilemmas, and feelings of guilt as a relatively ignorant and clumsy human on this Earth, trying to decide what to do –– or not do.  “Something beyond gratitude is asked of us.”  … “The most important thing each of us can know is our unique gift and how to use it in the world.”  She inspires me to discover my own gift. 

In talking about the berries and their place in ceremony she explains, “They carry the lesson, passed to us by our ancestors, that the generosity of the land comes to us as one bowl, one spoon.  We are all fed from the same bowl that Mother Earth has filled for us.  …  We need the berries and the berries need us.  Their gifts multiply by our care for them, and dwindle from our neglect.  We are bound in a covenant of reciprocity, a pact of mutual responsibility to sustain those who sustain us.  And so the empty bowl is filled.”

In each chapter the author shares metaphors and life lessons learned from plants, “our oldest teachers”, and from Indigenous interpreters.  Robin shares her journey toward greater understanding of her place in the world and the roles of humans in the web of life.  It feels like she has written to us with the informal intimacy of a caring friend.  Writing with a respectful and generous spirit, she seems to be understood and appreciated by people coming from various perspectives and levels of knowledge and awareness.

In an online conversation, Robin Wall Kimmerer spoke with Daniel Wildcat about “Indigenuity” (Indigenous Ingenuity) solutions for the Earth.  She reminds us that Indigenous people around the world “are still here” and many have the “knowledge that will bring us into the future”.  She gives me hope. 

Please read Braiding Sweetgrass and share it with others.  It’s a great read, and offers lessons and perspectives that are much-needed in these challenging times. 

—Donna Leveridge Campbell is an OSU Extension Master Gardener volunteer in Coos County and a member of the Statewide Growing & Belonging Committee

Introducing a new award: Growing & Belonging

What does it mean to grow our work inclusively? To create an environment where everyone belongs? Let’s find out, together, with our new Growing & Belonging County, and Statewide Awards.

In addition to our Master Gardener of the Year, and Behind the Scenes awards, 2023 marks the first year recognizing and celebrating the volunteers who have significantly contributed in advancing diversity, inclusion, access, and/or equity among Master Gardener volunteers and the communities we work with.

Unlike our longstanding awards of Master Gardener of the Year, and Behind the Scenes awards, these awards do not recognize the length of time served as a Master Gardener, but instead, the impact their work has made in creating a belonging environment, inclusive of diverse communities such as race, ethnicity, culture, abilities, sexual orientation, gender identity, and/or growing our volunteer work in traditionally under-invested communities. The best of these projects are co-created with the individuals being served, listening to their needs, and responding with a project that meets those needs.

Some examples:

  • Launched a new Seed to Supper course at a local low-income housing community.
  • Organized a seed swap with the organizers of Juneteenth and helped on site.
  • Introduced a training for fellow volunteers around the importance of the use of pronouns and supporting our transgender community.
  • Created a partnership with a local day-hire advocacy group to provide plant identification training in Spanish to day laborers.
  • Worked with the organizers and clients of a local homeless services center for the best way Master Gardeners could help or partner together to create a community garden.
  • Identified needs for ensuring accessibility for all attendees when attending in-person, outdoor events. Developed a checklist of accessibility options to be used by Master Gardeners in planning these events.

All of these examples center work in partnership with other organizations that have trusted relationships with their communities.

What: County, and Statewide Growing and Belonging Award

Why: This award comes as a recommendation made by your Master Gardener Growing & Belonging Committee. It was approved by the OMGA Board of Directors at the November 2022 meeting.


Deadline: May 15th, 2023

What about the other awards? Same deadline, same process. Information about all of the awards is available here.

Does nominating someone for a county award automatically put them in a pool of nominees for the statewide award? No. That is a common misconception. Like our other awards, separate nominations are needed. County nominations are automatically awarded. Statewide nominations go on to a committee for review. You can enter the same person for both county and for state.

We are excited to introduce these new awards and to celebrate the good work of OSU Extension Master Gardener volunteers.

Growing & Belonging: Winter Update

Hello! This is your Winter Update from your statewide Growing & Belonging committee. Four times a year we publish on the program news blog, sharing our work, findings, and resources to help keep you informed and engaged in creating a local Master Gardener program and association experience that is one of growing and belonging.


Thank you to the 75 Master Gardener volunteers, faculty, and staff who gathered last month to view Dirt! The Movie on Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s Day of Service. Dr. Gail Langellotto shared reflections on the movie and several Master Gardeners offered their thoughts on the movie as well. I encourage you to read your fellow Master Gardeners’ words in the comments section but will share here a bit of what Donna Leveridge-Campbell wrote:

Dirt! The Movie…resonated with me in so many ways, both in my long-held beliefs and gut feelings, and that there was much synchronicity with things I have read and taken to heart. For myself, I have been considering ways I can support the dissemination of this important information and world-view in order to bring about the much-needed changes to bring health to our soils and biomes, and to our human communities.

A quote from Robin Wall Kimmerer in her phenomenal book, Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge, and the Teachings of Plants, that kind of sums up where I am at in my life these days is, “The most important thing each of us can know is our unique gift and how to use it in the world.” Another quote I love from this book is, “I taught my daughters to garden so that they would always have a mother to love them, long after I am gone.”

Read more of the thoughtful comments here.

Call for Participation

Do you or someone you know garden to connect to your culture? We would love to share your story. The Culture of Gardening storytelling site, a project of the Growing & Belonging committee, is a beautiful collection of photos and stories told in the gardener’s own words, of gardening to connect us to our heritage and foods specific to our own cooking. Please consider sharing your story or nominating a fellow gardener to be interviewed and featured. Our stories are powerful, healing, and insightful. Please email LeAnn to be connected to the project: we promise to make it an easy and fun experience!

Resources You May Find Helpful

The work of Dr. Douglas Deur, associate research professor at Portland State University, focuses on the intersection between culture, place, and environment. He works closely with Native American knowledge holders to illuminate misunderstood environmental traditions, and more. Keeping It Living: Traditions of Plant Use and Cultivation on the Northwest Coast of North America tells the story of traditional plant cultivation practices found from the Oregon coast to Southeast Alaska.

Webinar series: Culturally Inclusive Teaching in the Garden. A six-part series from February – June exploring ways to celebrate and center culture through garden-based learning. “Garden education is increasingly recognized as an interdisciplinary approach that integrates academic goals, health and wellness, place-based education, and community connections and relationships. However, a discussion of culture is often missing in garden-based education. To validate and celebrate the interests and experiences of our students, we will delve deep into the significance of culture as it relates to food and gardens and also as it relates to the diverse populations with whom we work.”

A wonderful resource for all garden educators, and that certainly includes Master Gardeners!

Exhibit at the High Desert Museum in Bend: Creations of Spirit. Six Plateau artists created works recognizing and containing the spirit of their maker and will have ongoing relationships with contemporary communities. These six pieces are meant to be borrowed and used by the community. Learn more about this innovative and thoughtful project.

“A lot of times it’s hard because baskets are cherished and put behind glass and they’re never out. That’s what I really liked about this project. The basket is going to be out there and useful. It’ll wear, it’ll get dirty, and it’ll have marks of age that define its history.”
– Joe Feddersen, member of the Confederated Tribes of Colville Reservation

Podcast Black Food: Liberation, Food Justice and Stewardship. Listen to this important conversation between Karen Washington and Bryant Terry on how Black Food culture is weaving the threads of a rich African agricultural heritage with the liberation of economics from an extractive corporate food oligarchy. The results can be health, conviviality, community wealth, and the power of self-determination.

This is Kalapuyan Land at the Pittock Mansion in Portland is an exhibition of contemporary Indigenous artworks alongside a selection of historical panels curated by Steph Littlebird (Grand Ronde, Kalapuya, Chinook). Learn more and plan a visit with your fellow Master Gardeners.  

Call to Action for Master Gardener Associations: Here is a wonderful book to pre-order for your Master Gardener resource library. A new children’s book by Warm Springs Elder Linda Meanus, is set to be published by Confluence and OSU Press in June 2023. Learn more about Native American history through a first-hand account, “My Name is LaMoosh” is also a reminder that Indigenous people continue to maintain a cultural connection to the land and river that gave them their identity. Preorder here.

We encourage Master Gardener volunteers to share the information and resources in this winter update with others, including your fellow volunteers. Read and together discuss these resources, consider organizing a listening session of the podcast or a group trip to an exhibit, or purchasing these publications for your Master Gardener resource library. Thank you for contributing to a growing and belonging environment in your Master Gardener program.  

Dirt! The Movie: Gail’s Answers to Questions for Reflection

Yesterday, Oregon State University (OSU) kicked off their 41st annual Martin Luther King, Jr. commemoration event. For the fourth consecutive year, the OSU Extension Master Gardener program hosted a commemoration event. A total of 174 people, from Oregon to Brooklyn, NYC attended a screening of Dirt! The Movie. For the second year in a row, the College of Agricultural Sciences Dean, Dr. Staci Simonich, attended the event.

In advance of the movie, we shared three questions that we asked attendees to reflect upon during the movie. In an effort to spur discussion, I wanted to share my answers to these three questions. I invite you to share your answers, in the comments section of this blog post.

Question #1: Dirt! The Movie demonstrates some of the unjust systems surrounding agriculture and how our most impoverished communities are most greatly impacted. How is this seen in your region of Oregon? Who are some of these communities being impacted?

Gail’s Answer to Question #1: In the movie, we saw the stories of farmers who moved from regenerative agricultural practices to a resource-extractive approach to agriculture. The switch left soils depleted, and in extreme cases resulted in desertification, or the degradation of soil properties such that they can no longer sustain life. With soils depleted, farming families moved to urban areas in search of work. However, a lack of jobs and opportunities often resulted in many families from this urban to rural migration ending up in slums.

In truth, I had a hard time connecting this aspect of the movie to what I have seen in Oregon. I could connect it to events of the past, such as the Dust Bowl, which was catalyzed by a decade long drought in the 1930s, farming submarginal lands, and economic conditions that caused farmers to abandon soil conservation practices to reduce costs. The loss of livelihoods, caused millions of people to migrate west in search of work. The hopelessness of the situation was deftly and artfully captured by John Steinbeck in The Grapes of Wrath.

But then I started thinking about the prolonged drought across vast regions of the west. There’s also drought and an increased frequency of dust storms in the Midwest, which have caused some to suggest that we need to brace for Dust Bowl 2.0. Impoverished communities are known to be at highest risk when extreme weather or natural disaster strikes, which we have seen again and again.

In truth, I think of access to greenspace as a fundamental human right. In the Biophilia hypothesis, E. O. Wilson argues that humans have an innate connection to nature. This idea was expanded upon by Richard Louv, when coined the term ‘Nature Deficit Disorder’, and warned us of the harm that can come when children lose a connection to nature.

The idea that we all benefit from contact with soil and the natural world was touched upon in the movie. Whether it was the ‘GreenTeam’ planting trees in New York City, or gardeners growing vegetables in correctional facilities, many of those interviewed described the healing they felt through gardening.

So I have two major thoughts to this first question. First, we know that plants in the ground can help moderate climate change and extreme weather events. As vegetation mapping is possible, at finer spatial scales, we’re learning that greenery in even the most urbanized of cities can be a powerful tool for moderating carbon emissions. In addition, we know that gardens are powerful tools for moderating stormwater surges, in even the most urbanized of cities. Urban planning for sustainable futures must prioritize green infrastructure.

Second, if access to greenspace is a fundamental human right, as I believe it is, we must continually challenge ourselves within the Extension Master Gardener Program to answer these questions:

  • Where are we working?
  • Who benefits from our work?
  • Who may not have easy access to land, where they can garden?
  • How can we expand or re-envision our work, so that everyone can get their hands in the dirt?

Question #2: The King Center’s 2023 observance is titled “It starts with me.” Master Gardener volunteers are community educators: what responsibility do we have, as individuals and as a collective, to ensure our work strives to remove the inequities of Oregon’s different communities.

Gail’s Answer to Question #2: Many of the folks who attended last night’s movie screening typed ‘I want to be a hummingbird’ (or something similar) into the chat. If you missed last night’s screening, you can view the excerpt where Wangari Maathi tells the story of the hummingbird and the fire, below.

Over the past three years, in particular, I’ve tried to advance equity in the Extension Master Gardener program and equity in the communities that we serve. Perhaps my biggest regret, now that I know that I will be leaving the program, is that I will not be able to do this work as I had previously envisioned. But I’m also eager to do this work in ways I might not have ever imagined, in the past. I’m active on our College’s Culture, Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion committee. I’m co-leading the first Strategic Action Plan for Inclusive Excellence for our College. Through these committees, I’ve learned a lot about the hardships that college students face today. I am eager to continue to grow my knowledge and skills as a teacher, in ways that promote successful and fun learning environments for all.

Question #3: The relationship between dirt and conflict is centered in the movie. Martin Luther King Jr. used the power of words and acts of nonviolent resistance to achieve seemingly-impossible goals. What can gardeners be inspired by knowing this?

Gail’s Answer to Question #3: As an introverted scientist, I long discounted the power of words and imagery to make a difference. Afterall, shouldn’t the outcomes of my statistical tests be all that you need to see? (Joking.)

Having the immense good fortune of working with LeAnn Locher for the past 2 and a half years changed my mind on this matter. Words matter. Over the past few years, we have worked to grow our comfort in conversation around difficult issues. We have embedded equity and inclusion in our programmatic vision and values. We have prioritized cultural connection as an important are of work in the garden. [You can read more about our mission, vision, values, and priorities, here.]

But even the most moving of words are meaningless, without effective follow through. And this is where I challenge you, dear gardeners. Think about what dirt means to you. Think about how you can grow a love for gardening, wildlife, soils, and the natural world in others ~ not by heavy-handed instruction, but by actively listening and meeting people where they are. From the garden-curious, to those ready to hit the ground running but without easy access to a garden plot or materials, to those who have gardened for many years and in many places ~ the biggest and greatest calling of Extension Master Gardener Programs (in my opinion) is to make this world a better place by growing more gardeners.

If access to greenspace is a fundamental human right . . . everyone who has the desire to do so should be able to access and grow a garden.

If you’ve made it this far in the post, I would love to hear your thoughts on the three questions that were posed, or on the movie screening. Please feel free to leave a comment on this post. Note that we moderate comments, to keep spam posts off of this blog. Once we have a chance to review a comment and ensure it is not spam (even if it is a negative comment!) we approve posting.

A call to action for gardeners: Dirt! The Movie screening

As part of OSU’s 41st Annual Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Commemoration 2023, the OSU Extension Master Gardener program is proud to host an online movie screening of Dirt! The Movie.

When: Monday, January 16th at 3:00 pm

Where: online at

We’ll be screening the movie online with an opportunity to chat with other attendees throughout the movie. No registration required. Free.
About Dirt! The Movie
Made from the same elements as the stars, plants and animals, and us, “dirt is very much alive.” Though, in modern industrial pursuits and clamor for both profit and natural resources, our human connection to and respect for soil has been disrupted. “Drought, climate change, even war are all directly related to the way we are treating dirt.”
DIRT! the Movie—directed and produced by Bill Benenson and Gene Rosow and narrated by Jaime Lee Curtis—brings to life the environmental, economic, social and political impact that the soil has. It shares the stories of experts from all over the world who study and are able to harness the beauty and power of a respectful and mutually beneficial relationship with soil.
DIRT! the Movie is simply a movie about dirt. The real change lies in our notion of what dirt is. The movie teaches us: “When humans arrived 2 million years ago, everything changed for dirt. And from that moment on, the fate of dirt and humans has been intimately linked.” But more than the film and the lessons that it teaches, DIRT the Movie is a call to action.

Three questions for attendees to reflect upon prior to the movie:

  1. Dirt! The Movie demonstrates some of the unjust systems surrounding agriculture and how our most impoverished communities are most greatly impacted. How is this seen in your region of Oregon? Who are some of these communities being impacted?
  2. The King Center’s 2023 observance is titled “It starts with me.” Master Gardener volunteers are community educators: what responsibility do we have, as individuals and as a collective, to ensure our work strives to remove the inequities of Oregon’s different communities.
  3. The relationship between dirt and conflict is centered in the movie. Martin Luther King Jr. used the power of words and acts of nonviolent resistance to achieve seemingly-impossible goals. What can gardeners be inspired by knowing this?

About OSU’s 41st Annual Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Commemoration 2023

The annual Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Commemoration is the longest-running annual event at Oregon State University focused on social justice and transformative change. The commemoration objectives are:

  • Learn about and reflect on the life and legacy of Dr. King and collaboratively envision ways to carry forward his work;
  • Participate in an impactful, inclusive and engaging celebration of the life and legacy of Dr. King; and
  • Collaboratively learn about and reflect on the legacy of Dr. King in a way that is relevant in today’s context.

Growing & Belonging: Fall Update

Autumnal greetings from your fellow Master Gardener volunteers, staff and faculty, participating in the statewide Growing and Belonging committee (formerly known as the Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Taskforce). This is the first of four updates a year we will publish, sharing our work, findings, and resources to help keep you informed—and hopefully engaged— in creating a local Master Gardener program and association experience that is one of growing and belonging. 

About that new name…
Growing and belonging is essential to achieving the mission and vision of the OSU Master Gardener Program. We need to grow who we are and who we serve in order to cultivate resilient and healthy communities and expand the reach of science-based gardening practices across Oregon.  

For resilient and healthy communities, Oregon needs informed gardeners, and more of them. And just as a healthy garden is biodiverse, so too is a healthy gardening program. This means we seek to attract Oregon gardeners from all counties, backgrounds, ages, races, ethnicities, nationalities, genders, abilities, income levels, renters/homeowners, gardening experience levels, and more. 

To attract gardeners of all backgrounds, Master Gardener programs and practices must create an experience of belonging for all participants and potential participants. 

Read more about the committee, our name, and why we exist. 

What we’re doing in this year’s committee

We are a learning and working community. This means we both participate in trainings and work on projects through our small groups. 

The four groups and work focus are:

This group is gathering the different materials used by associations/programs across the state regarding accessibility and DEI, and then creating access to them for others to use or replicate. Also, we’re developing a toolkit for using the new bilingual Grow Your Own publication for outreach and building partnerships with community organizations. 

Survey of Master Gardener volunteers
There hasn’t been a demographic survey in over 10 years. This is to provide us with a tool of measurement and set a baseline for gauging our work in growing the MG program. 

Seed to Supper
This group plans to develop a partnership toolkit that includes organizations in each county who interact with traditionally underserved and food insecure people. The goals include growing and providing support for the Seed to Supper program taught by MG volunteers, and to provide recommendations in facilitator training (including trauma-informed).

This group is focusing on sharing the work of the group, coordinating events, helping to update the Master Gardener handbook to include messages of growing and belonging, and further building the stories at The Culture of Gardening

What we’re learning

This summer we participated in a workshop “Dialogue Skills for Conflict and Cooperation.” Facilitated by Jeff Kenney of the Office of Institutional Diversity at OSU, we learned and practiced how to respond in difficult situations, including de-escalation. We explored care strategies of prepare, respond, and restore, and how establishing group norms allows for true dialogue. 

Some additional resources you may find helpful:

How can I strengthen my skills in speaking of diversity, equity and inclusion? 
How can I help set expectations for civil dialogue in our group? 
What did the first year of this committee do? 
A guide to Indigenous land acknowledgements
Increasing inclusion in the school garden

Ways for Master Gardener volunteers to help do this work:

• Come to events and share them with others in your group;

• Make the creation of a local project for Martin Luther King’s Day of Service on January 16th. Promote it and engage your fellow volunteers, and the broader community, in participation;

• Participate and encourage participation in surveys you may receive from us;

• Share the information and resources in these updates with others in your group. Talk about them at chapter meetings, including how your local group can learn and adopt the work being done. Let us know what you come up with!

How’s the diversity, equity, and inclusion work going? Introducing the Growing & Belonging Committee

This is an update in our ongoing series of the work being done in the OSU Master Gardener program of growing who we are and serve and creating a community where everyone belongs. Formerly known as the OSU Extension Master Gardener Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Taskforce, the group has a new name. Read on to learn more.  

What is the Statewide Growing & Belonging Committee?

The Statewide Growing & Belonging Committee of the OSU Master Gardener Program is a group of Master Gardener volunteers and faculty from across the state dedicated to growing who we are and who we serve, and to cultivating an experience of belonging in our programs for all Oregonians. 

Why does Growing & Belonging matter?

Growing & Belonging is essential to achieving the mission and vision of the OSU Master Gardener Program. We need to grow who we are and who we serve in order to cultivate resilient and healthy communities and expand the reach of science-based gardening practices across Oregon.  

For resilient and healthy communities, Oregon needs informed gardeners, and more of them. And just as a healthy garden is biodiverse, so too is a healthy gardening program. This means we seek to attract Oregon gardeners from all counties, backgrounds, ages, races, ethnicities, nationalities, genders, abilities, income levels, renters/homeowners, gardening experience levels, and more. 

To attract gardeners of all backgrounds, Master Gardener programs and practices must create an experience of belonging for all participants and potential participants. 

Why is a Growing & Belonging Committee needed?

When we look at who the current Master Gardener volunteers are, we see that the make-up (age, gender, race, ethnicity, income, etc.) doesn’t match the makeup of Oregonians interested in gardening. Master Gardener volunteers skew retired, landowning, female, and white. Yet we know Oregonians from many different backgrounds are interested in gardening.  

Whenever a group’s make-up is skewed, there are reasons why that happened. Usually, structural reasons, meaning policies and practices rather than individual behaviors—although those play a role too. Policies and practices that, by design, benefited some and excluded others. Often, the biggest reason for a group’s skewed makeup has to do with the impact of these compounded over several decades. 

Policies and practices of the past—and many still today—intentionally left some people out, based on their race, ethnicity, gender, citizenship status, and more. OSU’s Master Gardener Program exists to serve the public, and that means everybody. It is our responsibility to make sure no one is left out. That requires new intentional policies and practices, and that’s why the Statewide Growing & Belonging Committee is needed.  

Is the focus on Growing & Belonging new?

This focus has actually been a part of OSU and federal work for some time. A demonstrated “commitment to diversity and to ensuring equal opportunity for those wishing to benefit from OSU Extension programs and services” is included in every OSU Extension Master Gardener volunteer’s position description.  A commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion is also written into the position description of every OSU Extension faculty member. This work is also an expectation of any program that receives assistance from the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). 

The work of the Statewide Growing & Belonging Committee will help the OSU Master Gardener Program do a better job of what has long been a stated part of our roles as Master Gardener coordinators and volunteers. 

What are the values of the Statewide Growing & Belonging Committee of the OSU Master Gardener Program?

Our values are the OSU Extension Master Gardener Program Guiding Values:

We are connected to Oregon State University, and use both science and local knowledge to inform our community engagement, educational outreach, and horticultural expertise. We strive to make the resources of Oregon State University accessible to all and inspire and encourage lifelong curiosity and learning through continued scientific exploration and discovery.

We are connected to our local communities, and their needs drive the work of our program. We are inclusive, where everyone is welcome, respected, valued and supported. We know that collaboration and partnership with our communities, community organizations, and neighbors make us stronger and that together, we create positive change.

We are connected to our earth and strive for stewardship and sustainability through horticultural best practices and a conscientious approach to volunteer work in alignment with our program priorities. We aim to improve not only the lives of the people within our communities, but also the land which sustains us, and future generations.

We are driven by a sense of fun, wonder, and curiosity for the natural world and a commitment of service to our local communities. 

The Statewide Growing & Belonging Committee seeks to live these values by growing who Master Gardener volunteers are and who we serve, and by cultivating an experience of belonging in our programs for all Oregonians. 

What is belonging? What does it have to do with gardening?

Everyone has had a moment when they felt like they didn’t belong. It’s not a feeling you forget.  

Belonging is a universal human need. In part, it’s a felt sense—either you experience it or you don’t, based on how you’re being treated. For example, if you enter a room and everyone stops talking and looks at you, you may feel like you don’t belong there. But if everyone smiles at you and waves you in, if you smell a favorite food, if the music playing is familiar—you would likely feel belonging. 

Belonging is also structural, or about how things are set up. For example, if you need a ramp to get into a building and there are only stairs, then how the building is set up is sending a signal that you don’t belong there. But if you need an interpreter at an event and one is already provided, that’s (part of) structural belonging. 

Everyone has also had moments when they felt like they did belong. Belonging is getting to show up as your real self and be accepted by those around you. It’s also getting to be a part of making decisions. All this has to do with the culture that a group chooses to cultivate. The thoughtful adjustments a group makes so everyone experiences belonging, both interpersonal and structural.  

The vision of the OSU Master Gardener Program is to “provide accessible and equitable education programs that nurture life-long learners and volunteers who can expand the reach and impact of science-based sustainable gardening practices to benefit all Oregonians.” For our programs to be truly accessible, participants need to know they will experience belonging. Otherwise, they may not decide to participate at all. 

What explains the current Master Gardener volunteer demographics?

Mostly, structural barriers. One of the biggest is access to land, which is necessary in order to garden. Let’s take a look at a brief history of land/home ownership in Oregon:

  • Since time immemorial, Native people have lived on—and in relationship with—the land we now call Oregon. There was no such thing as land ownership.
  • In the mid-1800s, the U.S. military violently forced Native people off their homelands and onto reservations. The U.S. federal government passed the Donation Land Claim Act, which granted white men in the Oregon Territory up to 320 acres each. The U.S. government deliberately excluded men of other races and unmarried women. 
  • The U.S. government also used stolen Indigenous land as the foundation of the land-grant university system, of which OSU is a part.  
  • In 1844, Oregon’s Provisional Government passed its first black exclusion law. Black people who tried to settle in Oregon would be publicly whipped—39 lashes, repeated every six months—until they left Oregon.
  • From a 1919 Portland Realty Board rule declaring it “unethical for an agent to sell property to either Negro or Chinese people in a White neighborhood” to subprime lenders targeting Black and Hispanic families at twice the rate of white families in 2006, the compounded impact of racist housing policies means lower rates of home—and land—ownership for people of color in Oregon today.

That’s just a small slice of history that helps explain the state of home/land ownership. Of course, many renters can and do garden, but it’s harder to put in the up-front costs and labor that go into a garden if you know you’re going to have to move someday.  

On top of the crucial piece around land ownership/access, we recognize that the current Master Gardener make-up is the way it is also due to barriers in the way the program was originally set up. 

  • Cost: Varies across counties from $150 – $450 (with scholarships available on a county-by-county basis) is out of reach for many people. 
  • Timing: When classes are held during the workday, those who work full-time can’t participate. 
  • Hours required: With 45+ hours of volunteer service required, it’s hard for parents raising kids or with full-time employment to take part. 
  • Language: With instruction only available in English, folks more comfortable learning in another language cannot yet go through the program.

The Statewide Growing & Belonging Committee of the OSU Master Gardener Program is working to break down these and other barriers.  

What is the history of the Growing & Belonging Committee?

In 2017, based on recommendations that emerged from an annual meeting of OSU Extension Master Gardener Coordinators, a subgroup formed to answer this question:  

“How can we re-envision Master Gardener volunteer training to make annual trainings a) more broadly accessible, b) more active and interactive, and c) more fun?” 

Research confirmed what had long been suspected: 3-hour lectures do NOT represent research-based best practices for adult learners. Several of the recommendations focused on removing systemic barriers to participation in the program, such as:

  • Reducing the cost of classes
  • Reducing the volunteer service hour commitment
  • Providing flexible options for engaging with the program such as a hybrid online/in-person training option

 In 2020, a statewide committee of Master Gardener volunteers was formed to inform changes and growth of the program. Initially known as the Diversity Equity and Inclusion Task Force, or JEDI group, today this is the Statewide Growing & Belonging Committee of the OSU Master Gardener Program. 

The 2022 Master Gardener training season adopted a hybrid training approach that enabled people who otherwise would have been locked out to participate in the program. Response from new Master Gardeners in 2022 has been overwhelmingly positive.  

“Having the Master Gardener Program available online has helped me easily fit the coursework into my other obligations, like working full-time. I’ve loved being able to nurture my gardening knowledge in my own time, getting myself prepared for in-person volunteering this spring!” —Mary P., 2022 Master Gardener Trainee 

The Statewide Growing & Belonging Committee continues to identify ways to grow who OSU Master Gardeners are and who we serve and to cultivate an experience of belonging in our programs for all Oregonians. 

Learn more about the history of this work. If you have suggestions for ways we can make our programs more accessible, please contact Statewide Master Gardener Outreach Coordinator LeAnn Locher at  

Next up: an update on the work of this year’s Cohort

What does it mean to garden in community?

Photo courtesy Centro Latino Americano

For the Latinx and immigrant community in Lane county, gardening in community means connecting in the 7 community gardens and growing organic produce together. At an upcoming webinar by the Lane County Master Gardener Association, learn how Centro Latino Americano (formerly Huerto de la Familia) provides services and support for this great initiative, and how gardeners are teaching new gardeners in the garden. Leaders from the organization will share insight into community building through gardening, lessons learned, and examples of community engagement.

Come learn how the Lane County Master Gardener Association has fostered this important community relationship and helped to take a behind-the-scenes role in supporting Centro Latino Americano’s work.

Tuesday, September 20th, 6:30-7:30 pm. Online webinar.

Master Gardener volunteers and program coordinators across the state are invited and encouraged to attend. Read more about the event, and register for the webinar.

“Inclusive curriculum” working group

This is the fifth and final in a series of posts sharing the work of the first cohort of the Master Gardener Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Taskforce. See overview for general information and background.

In cohort I of the Master Gardener Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion task force, the curriculum subcommittee was tasked with “growing the breadth of the Master Gardener curriculum to incorporate cultural practices and multicultural competencies within the program.” This was a huge endeavor and one that will obviously take more time and resources to fully address than was available to the small group of ~15 people that were part of the curriculum workgroup. Nonetheless, this small but mighty group made amazing process across their year of work and study.

The accomplishments of the curriculum subgroup can be broken down into four categories:

  1. Suggestions related to the redesign of specific classes that are part of the Master Gardener curriculum to include a focus on equity, inclusion, and cultural appreciation. 
  2. Assembling a list of educators who might be invited guest speakers for Master Gardener classes, conferences, or seminar series.
  3. Assembling a library of resources that can inform culturally-specific gardening instruction and education.
  4. Developing a community agreement that enables us to do our best work, achieve our common vision, and serve our community well.

Currently, the resources that the curriculum subgroup developed and assembled are not publically accessible. As we are starting to think about where cohort II of this task force will spend time and energy, one opportunity might be to format and annotate these curricular resources, and posting them on a publicly accessible website, with instructions or suggestions for how to best adopt, adapt, and integrate these resources into Master Gardener classes. In the meantime, we can provide a glimpse into the type of work that the curriculum subgroup completed, across each of the four categories.

Suggestions related to the redesign of specific classes that are part of the Master Gardener curriculum, to include a focus on equity, inclusion and cultural appreciation. 

Group members selected a Master Gardener class topic that they remember, from their own time as a Master Gardener trainee. They made suggestions about different ways that a multi-cultural perspective could be incorporated into the class, and also offered ideas for relevant hands-on activities or field trips.

For example, one task force member suggested that Climate Change should be an integral part of Master Gardener training and that this class could include information that grows an appreciation for how land and resources were managed, before activities of a more populous civilization contributed to global warming. Another opportunity for incorporating concepts of equity into a climate change class would be to include information on the disproportionate impacts that climate change has on marginalized communities, and the role that landscaping plays in reducing risk and harm.

Another task force member suggested re-envisioning the Master Gardener ‘container gardening’ class to instead focus on Gardening in Small Spaces. The class would specifically address the broader group of people who may not think of themselves as gardeners, but nonetheless appreciate and engage with plants. This course would also dispel the myth about needing land to garden.

A third task force member suggested we incorporate excerpts from Robin Wall Kimmerer’s ‘Braiding Sweetgrass’ into a class on Native Plants. Field trips or work parties could focus on native plant conservation and an understanding of the importance of native plants that are gathered during seasonal rounds, to the Northern Paiute people that are now part of the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs. Other ideas included broadening the Vegetable Gardening class to include instruction on cultural growing practices that may be outside of the peer-reviewed literature.

How Cohort II Could Continue This Work:
One potential task for Cohort II task force members would be to select one or two of these ideas, and formulate them into a lesson plan, that could be adopted and adapted by local counties.

Assembling a list of educators, who might be invited guest speakers for Master Gardener classes, conferences, or seminar series.

Task force members created a list of speakers that are recognized experts in their field, who could broaden our understanding of indigenous seed and food sovereignty, issues and challenges faced by black farmers and naturalists, and the history of plant biology and horticulture through a socio-cultural lens. This is part of an overall effort to diversify the voices and perspectives that we learn from, and that can inform sustainable gardening practices. This effort has been taken up by members of the 2022 Growing Oregon Gardeners: Level Up Webinar Series. For example, Todd Anderson  will be part of the series later this year, and will be teaching us about specialty and culturally relevant vegetables, fruits, and herbs, and how to grow them in Oregon.

How Cohort II Could Continue This Work: Cohort II task force members might continue to grow this list of potential speakers. Also needed are specific guidelines and recommendations related to fair compensation for speakers’ time, knowledge, and talents.

Assembling a library of resources to inform culturally-specific gardening instruction and education.

Cohort I task force members created a repository to archive resources that could help to inform our work to advance culturally-specific gardening instruction and education. Thus far, the most populated resource list is for Indigenous and Native American culture. Resources include a story on Indigenous Crops and Food Traditions, the Confluence Project Library (which contains an amazing richness of resources about Oregon’s Tribes and Tribal Members), a story and interview about Pueblo Farming Methods, and a Michigan State University Extension resource on Native American Vegetables. There is also one article that features Russian vegetable gardening methods.

How Cohort II Could Continue This Work: Cohort II task force members might continue to grow and annotate this list of resources, with an eye on how to make them publically accessible to the other Master Gardener coordinators and volunteers.

Developing a community agreement that enables us to do our best work, achieve our common vision, and serve our community well.

Finally, the curriculum subcommittee developed a community agreement that was an important first step in moving forward with their work. A community agreement is what every person in a group needs from each other and commits to each other in order to feel safe, supported, open, productive and trusting, so that all can do their best work, achieve a common vision, and serve the community well. When thinking about a community agreement, it is important to contrast agreements with the norms and rules that also influence our work.

  • Agreements are an aspiration, or collective vision, for how we want to be in relationship with one another. They are explicitly developed and enforced by the group, not by an external authority, and as such must represent a consensus.
  • Norms are the ways in which we behave and are currently in relationship to each other, whether consciously and explicitly or not.
  • Rules are mandated and enforced by an authority, and do not necessarily reflect the will or buy-in of the group.

Here are the community agreements developed by a working group of the DEI Taskforce in cohort 1. They suggest that we adopt these agreements for our work in cohort 2 of the taskforce.  By participating in this work group, all members agree to the following:

  • I speak for myself: use “I” statements, and do not assume others in the group ascribe to your identity or experience.
  • Intent vs impact: before sharing, consider how what you say will affect others in the group.
  • One speaker at a time: when one person talks, everyone listens. Let people know when you are finished talking.
  • Community wisdom: nobody knows everything, but together we know a lot.
  • Take space and give space: be mindful of how much you’re participating. If you have been quiet, speak up. If you have dominated the conversation, make space for others to participate.
  • Confidentiality: details shared in this space stay here, but what’s learned goes with you.
  • Active participation: it’s better to be open and imperfect than to not participate.
  • Embrace discomfort and expect non-closure. Learning and growth are stressful: hold space for those feelings. 

The community agreement crafted by cohort I task force members aligns with the OSU College of Agricultural Sciences principles and practices for community engagement. One of the benefits of the task force community agreement is that it specifically addresses the unique needs, goals, and working conditions of our group.

How Cohort II Could Continue This Work: Cohort II task force members have an opportunity to officially consider and adopt the community agreement crafted by our colleagues.

“Who we are” working group

This is the fourth in a series of posts sharing the work of the first cohort of the Master Gardener Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Taskforce. See overview for general information and background.

This subgroup was tasked with understanding who becomes a Master Gardener volunteer, and what is the demographic makeup of the Master Gardener community. To do this, they leveraged available data, from surveys that had been completed in Oregon and other states. The largest and most recent survey results were published by Dorn and colleagues (2018), with nearly 7,500 volunteers and more than 300 program coordinators responding from 35 U.S. states. This survey showed a remarkably consistent lack of racial diversity across the program: 94% of state coordinators, local coordinators, and Master Gardener volunteers identified as white. Most coordinators and volunteers (>70%) identified as female, and 64% of volunteers were retired.

The group also utilized a survey of Oregon’s Master Gardener volunteers that was conducted in 2008 by Weston Miller and Gail Langellotto (Langellotto-Rhodaback and Miller, 2012). This survey also referenced demographic data of the Oregon Master Gardener program, collected by McNeilan (1992, unpublished) and Kirsch and VanderZanden (2001). Interestingly, across all survey years (1992, 2001, and 2008), the racial makeup of Oregon’s Master Gardener volunteers was 95% white. However, there was a shift towards older and away from young Master Gardener volunteers across the three surveys. For example, individuals aged 50 and older represented 65%, 71%, and 74% of respondents in 1992, 2001, and 2007, respectively. Similarly, individuals aged 40 and under represented 16%, 7% and 3% of respondents in 1992, 2001 and 2007, respectively. In 1992, male volunteers made up 42% of Oregon’s Extension Master Gardener volunteer base. In 2001 and 2007, the proportion of male volunteers was 26%.

Contemporary Demographic Data is Needed

Although it was useful for the Cohort I members of the ‘Who Becomes a Master Gardener’ working group to review historical data, they clearly recommended that Cohort II consider doing a new, statewide survey to better understand the current makeup of our Master Gardener community. They suggested that the statewide Master Gardener Program provide assistance with this effort, by paying students to help with survey creation and data analysis. The group suggested that it was important to learn about people’s experiences in the programs, and to conduct exit interviews with volunteers, to understand why people leave.

Ultimately, the subgroup noted that survey data (historical and contemporary) will help us to better drive actions on how to proceed to best support an inclusive and welcoming Master Gardener Program.  Data gathered should include quantitative numbers, but also qualitative text that lets folks describe their experiences and perspectives. 

Bias Incident Training Exercise

In an effort to utilize the OSU College of Agricultural Sciences CARE document (Community Agreements), this subgroup also created a series of bias incidence scenarios that were piloted in two Master Gardener training programs. The intention of the learning exercise is to foster and support a welcoming place for Master Gardener volunteers and the community in which Master Gardeners interact. Feedback was extremely positive from the two counties that piloted the learning exercise in 2022.

Moving forward, this subgroup recommended that we broadly distribute the learning exercise and develop a Tool Kit to help local program coordinators and Master Gardener Associations understand how to incorporate the learning exercise into annual Master Gardener training and Master Gardener Association Board meetings or retreats. The tool kit would be filled with the bias incidence learning scenarios, and additional resources and suggestions for supporting diversity, equity, and inclusion in all levels of the Master Gardener Program.

Creating an Inclusive and Welcoming Community

In addition to the great work that the ‘Who Becomes a Master Gardener’ subgroup accomplished, they also left a series of suggestions for Cohort II of the Master Gardener Diversity Equity, and Inclusion Task Force. These include:

  • Communicate to program leaders, local association leadership, and the OMGA to read and share the posts from this blog.  Spread the word that anyone can subscribe to the blog.
  • Establish direct lines of communication with consistent messaging, related to the Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion efforts and expectations in the Master Gardener Program.
  • Task Force subgroups should share their work with each other, more regularly, to avoid duplication of efforts, and to better support each group’s efforts. We should take and share meeting minutes.
  • Find and support change agents in local communities. These individuals can help ensure the focus of diversity, equity, and inclusion is integrated into various events/programming.  Apply this lens to all aspects of a local county programs and/or associations. Have designated individuals to act as a change agent at meetings, fundraisers, special events/projects, demonstration garden planning, and more.
  • Support a culture of caring, by reserving  time at Master Gardener gatherings or meetings to celebrate diversity, equity and inclusion. Ideas include developing and sharing a land acknowledgement, discussing pronoun use, sharing plants and recipes of cultural significance, sharing information about important upcoming DEI events, or highlighting relevant resources that support an inclusive environment. 
  • The State-wide Master Gardener program, local programs, and/or associations should create a book club focused on topics of diversity, equity and inclusion. This could create a safe space for learning more and discussing literature in a thoughtful manner and considering how this can be applied to MG work. Discussion could be beyond books/literature, such as  a post on the Culture of Gardening blog.
  • Establish and nourish community partnerships that support equity, inclusion and diversity within the Master Gardener Program and the community. Reach out to other community groups to partner and learn from. Learn from their experience and learn the gritty details needed to establish trust and true partnership. Cohort II could consider adding to the ‘tool kit’ guidance on how to reach out to community organizations, questions to ask, things to consider for mutually supportive relationships. 
  • Recognize good diversity, equity, and inclusion work within the Master Gardener Program. Perhaps the state Master Gardener program or the OMGA could incorporate this type of recognition in their annual awards.
  • Develop resources to support Master Gardener associations in making such changes.  

And the final advice from this Cohort I subcommittee, as Cohort II begins their work:

Stay committed

“There is much work to be done. Maintain dialog. Keep at it. Even when things are uncomfortable, continue forward. Being able to talk about uncomfortable things is important. The experience of doing this work and being part of the cohort is valuable, and we are grateful that you are taking up the charge.”

Master Gardener DEI Taskforce Cohort 1 to Cohort 2