2020 Master Gardener Impact Report

I am beyond proud to share with you the 2020 Impact Report of the OSU Extension Master Gardener Program. Working on the report, and reading about the real difference that Master Gardeners made in their communities during a difficult year made my heart swell with hope and happiness. I hope that you will feel a measure of pride, reading about the great work of your Master Gardener colleagues across the state.

Photo Description. A Master Gardener hauls weeds in a pull cart, at a Master Gardener demonstration garden in the Portland Metro region. The Master Gardener is wearing a face covering, which were required for in person volunteerism during the COVID restrictions of 2020. Photo courtesy of John Jordan.

Perhaps more than any other year in recent history, gardens provided food, solace, and hope. Even more than that, gardens truly became tools of economic security and resilience, and it will be our challenge in 2021 and beyond to ensure that ALL gardeners and potential gardeners have access to the gifts of gardening.

To put things in a broader perspective, in 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic and summer wildfires exerted stress on multiple pressure points related to the economic and food security of U.S. households: more people reported being in need of food aid and more people (including, but beyond those in need of food aid) reported being concerned about food access. In April of 2020, the unemployment rate jumped 10.3 percentage points to 14.7%, in what represented the single largest monthly increase since the employment statistics have been tracked (US Bureau of Labor Statistics 2020). Local and national news media reported surges in demand for food aid from food banks and food pantries across the United States. In addition, reports of disruptions to global food production and distribution chains, compelled the FDA (2020) and the USDA (Johansson 2020) to respond to public concern and fear related to food shortages.

The United States has a long history of turning to gardening in times of national emergency, starting with the Victory Garden movements of WW I (Hayden-Smith 2014) and WWI II (Lawson 2014). ‘Recession gardens’ followed the great recession of 2008, with more than 43 million households reporting an intention to grow their own food in 2009, which was a 19% increase from the previous year (NGA 2009). In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, University Extension Services across the nation saw large increases in the number of people who are seeking information on growing their own food.

This is exactly what OSU Extension saw in 2020. We saw a 67% increase in the number of people submitting questions on OSU’s Ask an Expert Service. We saw a 125% increase in the number of people who ‘liked’ us on Facebook. We saw a 2,806% increase in the number of people signing up for online gardening courses!

In 2020, Master Gardener volunteers were needed more than ever ~ and you rose to the challenge in many different innovative and profoundly moving ways. Thank you.

Special thanks to everyone who contributed photos, stories, and statistics for the impact report, and extra special thanks to LeAnn Locher for helping the stories come to life with such a beautiful design.

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.

Tips for 2019 Master Gardener Program Reporting

2019 MG Annual Report

It is once again time to submit your 2019 Annual Report for your local Master Gardener Program. Reports are due by December 22, 2019.

If you would like to preview the 2019 reporting fields, please check your email for October 29, 2019 (10:57am) for the more instructions, and for a pdf entitled ‘2019 MG Annual Reporting Questions Preview’.

Each year, I ask Master Gardener Program Coordinators to provide 1-2 paragraphs describing the accomplishments of your Master Gardener Program and 1-2 paragraphs describing the challenges your program faced in 2019. Here are a few tips for submitting a compelling report that will help to showcase the positive impacts of the Extension Master Gardener Program around the state.

  • This year, I would like you to pay particular attention to calling out any accomplishments or challenges associated with broadening the participation of under-represented groups in your local Master Gardener Program. The last time that we took a census of Master Gardener volunteer demographics (Langellotto-Rhodaback and MIller 2012), the majority of our volunteers were Caucasian (95.2%), female (73%), and between the ages of 56 and 85 (74%). Thus, groups that have historically been under-represented in our program include other racial or ethnic groups, men, and younger participants.
  • When completing these sections of your report (accomplishments and challenges), please focus on the OSU Extension Master Gardener Program in your area, and not on the Master Gardener Association that supports your efforts. You can highlight notable collaborations that have helped to broaden your Extension Program’s outreach and impact. But, try not to focus on activities and accomplishments that are entirely (or nearly so) an Association activity, such as a Master Gardener Plant sale.
  • Do not spend time reporting the number of new Master Gardeners that were trained or the number of perennial Master Gardeners that recertified. You report these numbers in other parts of the Program report survey. There is no need to report them again, when you are detailing your program accomplishments and challenges.
  • If you evaluated program impacts over the past year, to assess potential changes in knowledge, perspectives, or behavior, as a result of your Master Gardener training, or another educational program, make sure to include this important data.
  • Other items that you might want to consider reporting include:
    • a new approach to Master Gardener training or educational programs, to make the offerings more dynamic and hands-on
    • novel or advanced training opportunities that were offered in your area
    • key partnerships with community organizations in your region

Key challenges don’t always make it into the report, but they are helpful for long-term strategies to improve the Extension Master Gardener Program in Oregon.

If you would like to see how your data has been used in past reports, you can visit the Quick Stats Page on the OSU Extension Master Gardener website.

2018 Master Gardener Program Reporting

The link for 2018 Master Gardener Program Reporting is now live. Please visit the link, and submit your local data, by Friday, December 21st.

REPORTING LINK: https://oregonstate.qualtrics.com/jfe/form/SV_bk3rLoeDe9337Yp

For your planning and reference, A paper copy of the reporting survey can be found HERE. However, please do not submit a hard-copy of your local data. Doing so requires me to type in everything, by hand. Please use the REPORTING LINK, above.