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.

Racial and Social Justice in Oregon’s Master Gardener Program: How to Respond to Critical Comments

It’s been three weeks since we published our first post, calling for increased attention to racial and social justice in Oregon’s Master Gardener Program. In that time, the response has been overwhelmingly positive. For every critical comment that I have received, I have received 10-15 encouraging comments.

Thank you. Every Master Gardener who steps forward to say that they value this work makes it easier to weather the criticism. Every Master Gardener who reaches out to say ‘FINALLY! This is what I have been wanting to see from the program!’ grows our collective commitment to this work.

But what do you do, if you speak up for racial and social justice within the Master Gardener Program, and you are personally criticized? How might you respond? Where can you turn for support?

Below, we offer a suggestions for responding to colleagues or constituents who might question or criticize the relevance of incorporating racial equity work into the Master Gardener Program.

  1. Remember that one person’s comment is only one.
  2. Give yourself time to reflect and respond thoughtfully, and officially. As a Master Gardener coordinator or volunteer, your words are the voice of the program.
  3. If you are confronted, criticized, or questioned on the spot, look for allies who can help echo key talking points, if you are at a loss for words.
  4. Consistently refer to OSU’s stated responsibility to diversity, equity and inclusion, pointing specifically to OSU’s stated commiment to inclusiveness.
    • As a university community, we must join together to ensure that all members of the OSU community — students, faculty, staff and visitors — not only feel welcomed and safe, but experience our community as a place to thrive. Each and every member of our community must know they are valued, that they belong here, and that we celebrate the rich diversity that they bring to Oregon State University. We should not tolerate anything less.“ — OSU President Ed Ray, in a statement delivered May 31, 2020
  5. Make it clear that this is not a political statement or strategy. Instead, we are working to do a better job at what has long been an explicit and stated part of our job as Master Gardener Coordinators and Volunteers.
  6. As long as you feel comfortable, stay in the conversation. Do not shut down dialogue among participants, unless they fall into particular categories. I have been encouraged to find that some of the people who harshly criticized our initial statement ended up being open-minded, willing to listen and discuss concerns, and sometimes came away agreeing that racial justice work *is* important.
  7. Nonetheless, there may be times when the conversation needs to be shut down, whether it be in person, on social media, or on another medium. These inlcude:
    • Hate Speech, which is defined as abusive or threatening speech or writing that expresses prejudice against a particular group, especially on the basis of race, religion, or sexual orientation.
    • Intimidation of Threats of violence.
    • Either of these warrant immediately reporting the incident to your supervisor, the Statewide Master Gardener Program Office, OSU Extension administration, and potentially to local authories.
  8. If you do not feel comfortable responding to critical comments or questions, please reach out to Gail or LeAnn for assistance.

If you are sharing racial justice or diversity, equity, and inclusion posts locally, you may want to include a statement of the OSU Master Gardener Program’s ongoing commitment to racial equity. If relevant conversations are occurring locally, you may want to refernece those, as well.

If you’re not comfortable sharing racial justice or diversity and equity updates in your local communities, you don’t have to. If that is the case, we hope that you will continue engaging with this work in other ways.

We will continue to share learning resources that support racial and social justice within the Master Gardener Program. On an individual level, one of the easiest and most accessible things you can do is to take the time to learn more, so that when it comes time to do more, we can do so from an informed perspective.

I wanted to end this post on a positive note. The Multnomah County Master Gardener Association, on their own accord and with no formal input from the OSU Extension Master Gardener Program, developed a statement of commitment to racial justice within their own work. This statement of purpose is the first from a Master Gardener chapter. I look forward to working with them ~ and anyone who wants to join us ~ to fulfill our shared responsibility of working towards racial and social justice within the Master Gardener Program.

The Multnomah County Master Gardeners™ recognizes that silence at this time perpetuates violence and oppression.

We condemn racism and the systemic oppression of Black people created and perpetuated by white individuals and institutions in this country. We recognize that all white people and institutions are complicit in this oppression of Black people.


We stand in solidarity with our Black neighbors and all People of Color in demanding justice: for those who have been killed and harmed by police violence, and for their families and communities.

We affirm that Black Lives Matter.

Our mission calls for “Growing, Educating and Connecting Communities.”


We acknowledge that we have not been living up to our mission, especially with our Black neighbors and communities of color. We recognize that we are coming late to this critical issue and we know that we will make mistakes as we do the work we must do to catch up.

We nonetheless commit to doing the work: to engage in critical self-reflection, to make our community antiracist, and to use the resources available to us to transform our organization into one where our Black neighbors, and all People of Color feel welcome, supported, and seen.

Now for the work of moving beyond words into new actions.

Master Gardeners’ Recommend Readings to Support Social and Racial Justice

It has been one short week since LeAnn Locher and I published a call to work for racial justice within the Master Gardener Program. In the interim, I have been touched and heartened by the many notes of support. In fact, of the 49 personal responses that I received about that post, only four were negative. The majority were overwhelmingly positive. Folks shared that they welcome the challenge, and look forward to continued efforts to make the benefits and resources of the Master Gardener Program available to all gardeners.

Many of us (including me!) are nervous about speaking out in a crowd about race. What I have learned over the past week is that there are many Master Gardener volunteers have been desperately hoping, waiting, and wanting a focus on diversity, equity, and inclusion in the Master Gardener Program. For many of us, however, the conversations are uncomfortable, and we don’t know where or how to start. The more we talk about diversity and equity work in the Master Gardener Program, the easier these conversations will become. As we practice applying an equity lens to our volunteerism, we will be able to more easily recognize the voices that are missing from our conversations and the actions we can take to build a better world ~ for everyone ~ through gardening.

I am 10,000% committed to this work, and hope that you will join me. Whether you are volunteering in the city, the suburbs, or in a rural area, there are actions big and small that we can take. Last week, we challenged you to be open to difficult conversations, to talk about social and racial justice issues in your Master Gardener groups, and to read and learn from the stories and perspectives of black people and people of color. We asked you what you were reading, and several of you shared your book and video recommendations. Your list includes a lot of non-fiction, some non-fiction, and recommendations for a TED Talk and a movie, including:

From a friend of the Wasco County Master Gardener Program

From Master Gardeners in Linn and Benton Counties

From a Master Gardener in Yamhill County

From a Clackamas County Master Gardener

In the coming weeks and months, we will continue talking about social and racial justice in the context of our Extension Master Gardener Program. We’ll also continue talking about and teaching gardening. But peppered in with talks of tomatoes, and native plants, and pollinators, and peonies, we will be developing and discussing a plan of action for diversity, equity, and inclusion work within our program.

At this moment in the time, here are my initial ideas. I welcome your feedback. What am I missing? What do YOU want to see in your Master Gardener Program?

  1. Grow the confidence and capacity of allies to diversity, equity, and inclusion work in the Master Gardener Program. Basically, I don’t want folks to be afraid to speak up about social and racial justice issues in Master Gardener meetings. Having allies in place will help all of us be more courageous.
  2. Continue our efforts to remove systemic barriers to participation in the Master Gardener Program. Our volunteer program is structured in a way that makes participation difficult, if not impossible for all but a narrow demographic. Our annual training classes are often costly (average of $182 and maximum of $495 in 2019). Our service hour requirement is high (average of 52 hours in 2019, which is a 12% decrease from recent years, but is also 30% higher than the minimum national standard). Our classes are mostly held during the workday, which would require someone to take between 80-96 hours off of work (and for someone making $11 per hour, that’s the loss of $880 to $1,056 in income). Challenging Master Gardener faculty, staff, and volunteers to ask ‘Who’s in the room? Who’s missing?’ is ultimately a challenge to identify actionable steps that we can take to make our program more accessible to all. Many Master Gardener Programs have made specific and concerted efforts to remove or reduce these barriers, and should be applauded. More work remains. Let’s keep going.
  3. Adopt an equity lens, in our work within the Master Gardener Program. There are many models for doing this, including the work of Portland Public Parks. One of the things they do is physically map all of their park assets. They use that map to decide where new community gardens should go, and where the next tree planting program should be held. The Parks Department then works in partnership with individuals and families within those communities, to help ensure the long-term success of the initiative. We have the beginnings of a map of where Master Gardener programming occurs, although it does need a few updates. When you look at the map for your neighborhood, are you able to see areas where we could or should be working? Are there opportunities to expand our work into new areas that could benefit from access to gardening and gardening education? How can we reach out to new neighborhoods and communities in ways that build trust and center the voices of those living and working in those communities?

One last note, regarding the few negative responses that I received on our first post. A few folks thought that the post was too political.

My attention to social and racial justice within the Master Gardener program is not political. It is literally part of my job. A “commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion” is included in every OSU Extension faculty member’s position description. A demonstrated “commitment to diversity and to ensuring equal opportunity for those wishing to benefit from OSU Extension programs and services” is also included in every OSU Extension Master Gardener volunteer’s position description. Thus, working towards social and racial justice within our program is our collective work and responsibility.

The other negative feedback that I heard was from one person who noted that they had tried to participate in the Master Gardener Program in the past, but did not feel welcomed. They felt that the Program was focused on older folks and housewives, and that they did not belong. I appreciated them sharing their experience, which further challenges me . . . . further challenges all of us . . . to continue working towards an Extension Master Gardener Program where everyone feels welcomed and is able to thrive.

Racial Justice + Master Gardeners: Biodiversity in the garden means the people too

By Gail Langellotto and LeAnn Locher

We are in the middle of a major shift and many changes in our country. For some, it’s incredibly painful. For some, it’s incredibly needed. But what we know for sure: what’s worked in the past – old systems, limitations, and hierarchies won’t work in the future. This is the same for Oregon’s Extension Master Gardener Program.

Right now, we have a great opportunity to look at who we are and why we exist. In this shifting landscape, if we hold tight to what once was we risk losing relevance and credibility with our communities. But we can flex. We can dig deep. We can shine a light on our core values and realign ourselves to meeting the needs of our communities. We need to stand for racial justice in all corners of our lives, including gardening. We know this work. Decades of ecological research tell us that gardens are stronger with more biodiversity.

We’re going to ask a lot of questions—and do a lot of listening. Who deeply needs our services that we’re not reaching? Where can we make a bigger impact on growing future gardeners in Oregon? Who are the faces among us that are missing and who do we need to make sure we’re standing shoulder to shoulder with as we dig into this great work?

The fact is, our program is predominantly white, older, and female. But gardening, itself, is such a multi-faceted activity that affords opportunities for participation from many angles. Gardening and garden plants provide food, beauty, and shade. Gardens can engage bird watchers, insect enthusiasts and other wildlife caretakers. Perhaps you love gardening because you are drawn to the sweet smell of healthy soil or the magic that occurs during composting. Gardening offers an opportunity to grow, and touch, and smell, and taste the foods that were part of our youth, but that can be hard to find in the stores: heirloom varieties or cultural favorites. A garden can be the common ground that brings diverse perspectives, experiences, hopes, and desires together in one place.

There are many ways and many reasons for people to engage with gardening. If our goal is to reach all budding Oregon gardeners, are we only in conversation with each other? What is the need and what resources do we have to give and share? Who’s not in our garden and at our tables?

Why does this matter?

As Oregon State University President Ed Ray recently wrote:

As a university community, we must join together to ensure that all members of the OSU community — students, faculty, staff and visitors — not only feel welcomed and safe, but experience our community as a place to thrive. Each and every member of our community must know they are valued, that they belong here, and that we celebrate the rich diversity that they bring to Oregon State University. We should not tolerate anything less. “

Working for racial justice and equity is not only part of OSU’s core values. For Gail, it’s also personal.

From Gail:

As a mixed-race person (Filipino and White), I developed the ability to blend in with the dominant culture at an early age, and it has benefited me throughout my career. This is a form of privilege that black and brown people do not have.

Even so, I was once pulled over for making a wide left turn. It was summer, and I was tan after months of working in New Jersey salt marshes for my M.S. thesis. On a break, I was helping a friend move to Arizona, driving a moving truck with trailer hitched to the back. I was not used to driving something so big and I made a wide turn. I was pulled over by the police, told my license was suspended (it was not), handcuffed and sat on hot asphalt, while the officer (and backup) went through the moving truck. It was painfully hot and humiliating, and thinking about that incident, today, makes me tear up. Still, I have only experienced something like this, once in my entire life. I am able to shed my tan. It is a form of privilege that racial profiling is not part of my daily life.

Everyone belongs here as Master Gardeners: it’s imperative we acknowledge and hold space for fellow gardeners of color.

What can we do now? Be open even if it feels scary. Get comfortable with discomfort. Talk about issues in your neighborhood, community, and Master Gardener meetings. Listen to the hard conversations. And read! We’re reading a lot. Here are some suggestions:

Let us know what you’re reading and what podcasts you’re listening to. What questions are you asking? What have you heard that resonates with and challenges you?

I know that some Master Gardener groups and individual Master Gardener volunteers have worked hard to fulfill our mission of serving all Oregonians. You have shared your successes, and we have learned from them. You have shared your disappointments when the best of plans and intentions did not work out as you had hoped. Even if you carry concern that a focus on racial justice and equity has not worked, or will not work within our program ~ this is not the time to stop. This is exactly the time we need to step up our game, listen, learn, and grow our work to be more equitable and inclusive of our many communities, particularly our communities of color. We look forward to growing together, and to working towards racial justice and equity in the Master Gardener Program.

Gail Langellotto is a Professor of Horticulture and an Urban and Community Horticulture Extension Specialist with Oregon State University.

LeAnn Locher is the Outreach Program Coordinator for Oregon State University’s Extension Master Gardener Program.