Celebrate Master Gardener Week Day 4: What does climate and climate change have to do with being a Master Gardener?

Climate Trackers

I like to think of gardeners as the original storm chasers. We can spot a change in humidity, temperature, scent and know if something is coming, and whether we should cover those tender seedlings, bring in the pots of zonal denial tropicals, or if we need to do an extra watering of the new plantings before tomorrow’s anticipated record high temperatures. A gardener is witness to the climate first hand, and many Master Gardener volunteers use these great skills as front row reporters on climate and climate change as part of the OSU Extension Oregon Season Tracker (OST) citizen science program reporting precipitation with national partner CoCoRaHS (Community Collaborative Rain, Hail and Snow Network).

Through CoCoRaHS, volunteers of all ages and background in all fifty states participate by measuring and mapping precipitation (rain, hail and snow). They share their precipitation measurements, providing important data for natural resource, education and research applications. Here in Oregon we’ve had over 70 Master Gardener volunteers join Oregon Season Tracker, active and engaged with reporting their precipitation, counting towards their hours of service in the Master Gardener program. 

Rain gauge used by Oregon Season Tracker participants

Shari Bosler, a Master Gardener in the Central Gorge region, collects precipitation data throughout the year. She shares her information with her local Master Gardener chapter, and with more participants sharing their data through the CoCoRaHS network, she’s able to see what’s happening throughout the region. Shari says “It’s been fun to total the amount of snow we receive (though it’s a bit less than fun to be the mad scientist at 7am to melt snow, then measure) using a white board.” But she knows she’s part of a larger network all contributing to capturing good local data for scientists and researchers across the country, and that’s exciting. This summer she learned she had totaled 2,614 observations to the network. 

Master Gardener volunteers make great partners in capturing this data according to Jody Einerson of Oregon Season Tracker (OST) at OSU extension. “OST citizen science volunteers are collecting precipitation and plant phenology data from home that is contributed to databases operated by our national partners,” she says. “MG’s have been a great fit with the OST program, as we share a common interest in plants and weather connections.”  

Gardening Water-Wise

Amy Jo Detweiler, OSU Extension horticulturist and associate professor, also coordinates the Master Gardener Program in Central Oregon. Her publication, Water-wise Gardening in Central Oregon (revised this past June) is a vital resource for successful gardening with little water and includes the seven steps of water-wise gardening, along with planting recommendations from trees to shrubs to ornamental grasses.

“As we continue to see a consistent pattern of drought in the western United States, we need to balance what our home and commercial landscapes can and should look like with a focus on water conservation and water quality. Landscapes add value, beauty, and livability to our homes and communities, and keeping them water-wise is a critical part of being a good steward in our region.”

Water-wise Gardening in Central Oregon

Central Oregon Master Gardener volunteers helped to design, install and now maintain Hollinshead Waterwise Garden in Bend.  They do cross programming with the City of Bend Water Conservation program to deliver classes related to water-wise gardening (in normal years).  Master Gardeners also maintain  water-wise plants at the OSU Demonstration Garden in Redmond.  Both gardens have educational signs that depict water use fire-resistance, irrigation types, etc.  The water-wise materials serve as materials for classes taught by Master Gardener volunteers. 

Wildfires

Almost all of our Master Gardener volunteers felt the effects of wildfires this year, and we know that means our gardens, too. Master Gardener networks fielded queries and responded with science-backed information thanks to materials produced by Brooke Edmunds, OSU Extension Community Horticulturist (and Master Gardener Coordinator) in Linn and Benton Counties and assistant professor (practice) in the OSU Department of Horticulture.  What should I do about the wildfire ash covering my garden? addressed exactly that question, and along with social media materials in English and Spanish, Master Gardener volunteers made sure the information was passed on into communities right when they were needed the most.

Today is Day 4 of Celebrate Master Gardener Week, and we hope you can make it to this evening’s “State of the Statewide Master Gardener Program” talk being given by Gail Langellotto. The presentation will review recent accomplishments and points of pride, current challenges and opportunities, and an overview of what is to come in 2021. And study up for tomorrow night’s Insect Trivia using both Zoom and some technology called Slido. Register here!

2019 Annual Report

I am proud to share the 2019 Annual Report of the Oregon State University Extension Master Gardener Program.

*****You can access the entire report HERE. ****

It has been a stellar year of accomplishments across the state, due to the hard work and dedication of the volunteers, faculty, and staff associated with the program. I am particularly proud of the work we have done over the past year, focused on equity and accessibility, as well as food justice. In 2019, Master Gardeners donated 52.5 tons of fresh, healthy produce to local food banks and food pantries across the state. Much of this food was grown in the 121 gardens where Master Gardeners volunteer as garden mentors, coaches, and educators. But, a lot of this food came from the personal gardens of Master Gardeners who participate in the Plant a Row for the Hungry program that was started by the Garden Writers of America (now Garden Communicators International).

In terms of our work to advance equity and accessibility in the program there are four items I would like to highlight:

  • The Oregon Master Gardener Association dedicated the first leadership day of 2019 to advancing diversity and cross-cultural understanding. They hosted a full day training, led by Gilda Montenegro-Fix of ‘Celebrate Diversity’. The training was attended b about 40 volunteers from across the state, and was extremely well-received.
  • The Portland Metro Master Gardener Program hosted a half day training on diversity, at their annual Fall Recertification event. The training, entitled ‘A Diverse Garden is a Healthy Garden – Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion in your role as an OSU Master Gardener volunteer’, was led by the City of Portland Office of Equity and Human Rights. More than 300 volunteers participated in the training, which elicited strong feelings (mostly positive) from many in attendance. I was lucky enough to attend, and look forward to sharing my experience in a future blog post.
  • In 2019, many Master Gardener coordinators made the decision to reduce the minimum number of volunteer service hours needed to become a Master Gardener volunteer, in an effort to remove structural barriers to participation in our program. The national minimum for required service hours is 40 hours. However, Oregon’s average requirement for volunteer service hours was between 60-65 hours. With the reduction in required hours, we now have an average requirement of 50-55 hours.
  • Since 2009, we have collaborated with Lettuce Grow (now a program of Growing Gardens) to offer sustainable gardening programs in 14 adult and two youth correctional facilities across Oregon. Over 780 students have graduated from this program. Of those who have been released, the recidivism (return to prison) rate is around 4%. This is substantially less than the statewide average recidivism of 31%.

There have also been challenges in 2019, particularly in terms of faculty and staff turnover and coverage in three regions of the state. At the end of 2019, the program lacked faculty coverage in the North Coast (Clatsop and Tillamook), Central Gorge (Hood River and Wasco), and Eastern Oregon (Union and Baker) regions. However, I am happy to report that the staffing outlook has improved at the start of 2020. We have receive approval to hire a Professor of Practice for the North Coast Counties. And, there are plans to hire a Professional Faculty to oversee the Master Gardener Program in Wasco County. This still leaves Hood River, Union, and Baker Counties without faculty leadership. But, one step at a time, and I am grateful to pause and celebrate the victories with staffing in three counties with more than 200 active volunteers.

I am also thrilled to share that I have received permission and financial support to hire a 0.60 FTE Outreach Program Coordinator to support work in the Statewide Master Gardener Program. This person will work in three main areas to support Master Gardener Program Coordinators in Oregon:

  • OSU Extension Community Horticulture Web Content Development and Maintenance
  • Statewide Master Gardener Program Administration
  • University Compliance for Master Gardener Coordinators and Volunteers

So, after a long drought, in terms of University support for the Master Gardener Program, we are starting to see real and meaningful investments in the Program, at the county and state levels. Over the past year, there have also been investments to increase the FTE of three Master Gardener Program coordinators across the state. These investments have helped to better align the position descriptions and compensation of these coordinators, with the work that they actually do. Ultimately, I am hoping that these investments help to promote long-term stability in staffing within the Master Gardener Program, in ways that will ultimately benefit the volunteers and general public that we serve.

If you are a Master Gardener faculty or staff member, and have questions about your position description, position expectations, workload, or other factors, please feel free to reach out to me. I do not control budgets, and can not immediately fix an issue, should it exist. But, I can be an advocate on your behalf, or can be a sounding board for options that might help to prioritize or manage workload. There are also many senior Master Gardener coordinators who you might want to reach out to for their input and perspective. I know that we all want to see each other succeed. Do not be afraid to reach out and ask for help.