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.

Buy Plants = Support Gardening Education!

Photos courtesy of Incredible Edibles plant sale, Portland

We’re back! Master Gardener association plant sale season is here!

19 Master Gardener associations across Oregon are organizing plant sales, which means it’s likely you have access to some of the best plants suited for your region.

When you buy plants from Master Gardener associations, you’re helping to support gardening education of the OSU Extension Master Gardener program in your area. Veggies? We’ve got you.

Annuals? We’ve got you.

Native plants? Yep.

Find a plant sale near you with the listing on our website. See you at a plant sale soon!

Master Gardeners join 40th anniversary of OSU’s Martin Luther King, Jr. Day of Service exploring the intersection of climate change and social justice

Gardeners in Oregon saw what climate change looks like last summer: widespread leaf scorch and leaf drop from trees, bees at risk from heat stress, and plants succumbing to a record-breaking “heat dome”. Dr. Vivek Shandas saw it too, and on the hottest day of the year he set out with his son to measure air and ground temperatures in some of Portland’s most vulnerable communities. His research on climate adaptation and climate justice shows that how people fare during extreme heatwaves is in large part dictated by where they live. Halfway around the globe, Anita Chitaya lives with climate change in Malawai, as a farmer and community activist. She traveled to America to speak with farmers, growers, community organizers, and politicians about climate change and how we can work together to reduce its rapid trajectory. 

Movie and Discussion: The Ants and the Grasshopper, and a climate change discussion for gardeners with Vivek Shandas

Join us for the 40th anniversary of OSU’s Martin Luther King, Jr. Day of Service, when we will gather virtually to reflect upon environmental justice as a component to achieving social justice.  We will watch the documentary that chronicles Anita Chitaya’s story, “The Ants and the Grasshopper”. Afterward, stay for a live discussion with Dr. Vivek Shandas about climate change effects on vulnerable communities, the intersection of climate change and social justice, and what role gardeners can play to promote healthier living environments for all.


When: Monday, January 17, 2022, 6pm movie, 7:15 pm discussion
Where: Online, via Kinema


About the movie, The Ants and the Grasshopper : How do you change someone’s mind about the most important thing in the world? Anita Chitaya has a gift: she can change farmers’ minds about what to grow, she can change what people love to eat, and she can even persuade men to fight for gender equality. Now, to save her home in Malawi from extreme weather, she faces her greatest challenge: persuading Americans that climate change is real.

About Dr. Vivek Shandas: Vivek Shandas is a Professor in the College of Urban and Public Affairs at Portland State University. His work focuses on developing strategies for addressing the implications of climate change on cities. His teaching and research examine the intersection of exposure to climate-induced events, governance processes, and planning mechanisms. As the Founder and Director of the Sustaining Urban Places Research (SUPR) laboratory at PSU, he brings a policy-relevant approach to research, including the evaluation of environmental stressors on human health, developing of indicators and tools to improve decision making, and the construction of frameworks to guide the growth of urban regions. Over the past several years, research from the SUPR Lab has appeared in the Smithsonian Magazine, National Public Radio, Washington Post, Minnesota Public Broadcasting, NY Times, Qatar Times, and several other national and international media.

About this event: The OSU Extension Master Gardener program is sponsoring this event as one small part of OSU’s 40th Annual Martin Luther King, Jr. Day of Celebration. This event is open to all gardeners, including Master Gardener volunteers, and is intended to provide an opportunity to reflect on Dr. King’s legacy, and our programmatic commitments to diversity, equity, and inclusion, as well as climate change. 

How to access this event: Tickets are free but require registration. Once you register at Kinema you’ll be provided sign-in information from Kinema. You must view the movie and discussion through Kinema at the time this event is scheduled.

While this event is in the evening, Master Gardeners are encouraged to use their day of service.

Here are some ideas:

  • Make your commitments for the year to teach and reach gardeners who are underserved by our services
  • Make seed tape or mason bee houses to donate to your local community garden or school garden
  • If your Master Gardener Association hosts an annual plant sale, include plant donations to your local community garden or school garden in your propagation plans
  • For Master Gardener coordinators and local association leadership, connect to your local SNAP-Ed educator in your Extension office and ask “What can we do?” 
  • Commit to supporting your local SNAP-Ed educator in every county, as a support to our joint Food Hero and Grow This! program.
  • Commit to planning a workshop that broadens community outreach. Plan for an event with childcare in conjunction with a community partner whose work you want to support.
  • Make plans and commitments for 2022 to explore the connection of gardeners to combat climate change as a form of environmental justice. Explore the intersection of those most vulnerable to climate change and climate change, and what gardeners can do to better connect these.  

What are your ideas as gardeners for being of service to community on MLK Day?  We’d love to hear them. 

CDC Issues New Guidance that Affects MG Outreach, Plant Sales, and Events, through May 10th

On March 15th, the CDC issued new guidance for large events and mass gatherings. This guidance recommends that, for the next eight weeks (which would take us to May 10th, or Mother’s Day) that events which can draw 50 or more people, in person, be cancelled or postponed.

This recommendation takes us out further on the calendar than the state of Oregon’s March 7th Executive Order banning face-to-face gatherings of 250 or more people for 60 days (which would take us to May 6th). It also takes us further on the calendar that Oregon State University’s policy banning face-to-face gatherings of 50 or more people, through April 30th.

Given the updated CDC guidance, I am updating the previous guidance given to Master Gardener groups (on 3/12), to adhere to CDC guidelines. Through at least May 10th, any face-to-face Master Gardener classes, meetings, outreach activities, and events, including Master Gardener Conferences and plant sales that can draw 50 or more people, should be cancelled or postponed.

All face-to-face Master Gardener activities, events, meetings ~ no matter how many people may attend ~ are suspended pending further notice. This suspension aligns with the guidance given by OSU Extension on March 13th.

As someone who has planned several large events, I know that this is heartbreaking news that will have negative impact on affected Master Gardener chapters. I truly feel bad for the many Master Gardeners who have tirelessly and enthusiastically worked for a year or more, only to have their event cancelled or postponed. But, the health of our volunteers, faculty, staff, and community is paramount, and should be put ahead of other concerns.

Wiley Thompson, the Regional Director for the OSU Extension on the coast, has said something like: ‘this is the year that a lot of things won’t happen: NCAA basketball tournaments, PAC-12 Spring Sports, and so much more’.

But, I’m also seeing many instances of ingenuity, in the face of these challenges.

Master Gardeners are holding meetings via Zoom. If you are able, and if your Master Gardeners are wanting and needing to meet, please help them by setting up a Zoom meeting.

The Benton County Master Gardeners are planning to offer Seed to Supper via Zoom!

Don’t forget that the Advanced Training Master Gardener webinars start tomorrow (3/17). Once again, they will be offered via Zoom! It’s not too late to sign up for one or more classes.

Hang in there! We will get through this!

2019 International Master Gardener Conference Updates

The 2019 International Master Gardener Conference (IMGC) will be held June 16-21, in Valley Forge, Pennsylvania. Unlike the Extension Master Gardener (EMG) Coordinators Conference (held even years), the IMGC is targeted more towards EMG volunteers, rather than EMG coordinators. However, it is still a wonderful way to learn from and visit with EMG coordinators from the across the United States.

Room blocks are now open for reservations, and the speaker lineup and class sessions have been announced.

Visit the conference website for the latest information, and to make your room reservation: https://www.internationalmastergardener.com/

Also, please note that I (Gail) will be away on vacation, September 20th-October 3rd.

August 2018 Statewide MG Program Update and Helpful Hints

Developing Best Management Practices for Master Gardener Plant Sales

The Master Gardener Best management practices task force met via conference call, last week. Our task force include Master Gardener volunteers who coordinate their Master Gardener Association plant sale, and have also operated a commercial nursery. The task force also includes the Oregon Department of Agriculture’s invasive species response coordinator, myself (as statewide Master Gardener Program coordinator), and Brooke Edmunds (as county MG faculty). Prior to working for OSU, Brooke worked with the Oregon Department Plant Health group, where part of her work involved certification of nursery plants. Thus, we have a lot of expertise in the group.

We will soon be surveying plant sale coordinators, to find out:

  • do you apply for an ODA temporary nursery license?
  • where do you get your plants for MG plant sales?
  • how and where are they propagated?
  • what are your concerns regarding changes to plant sale guidelines?

The goal of the survey is to get a general sense of what Master Gardener Associations are currently doing, to identify key areas of risk for invasive species introduction, and to provide guidance on how to transition to lower risk activities. Please keep an eye out for the survey, and share with your plant sale coordinators, when available.

We are also developing a draft list of best management practices for Master Gardener Plant sales, in cooperation with our Extension colleagues, volunteers, and nursery industry professionals. In the next 4-6 weeks, we expect to share this list of practices, as well as case studies of Master Gardener Associations that have successfully transitioned from higher risk to lower risk plant sale activities.

Please stay tuned!

Food Safety for Master Gardener Tasting Events (i.e. Tomato Tasting)

A question recently came in about how to approach an event such as a tomato tasting, to ensure safe food handling and food safety. I consulted with Jeanne Brandt, statewide coordinator of the OSU Extension Master Food Preserver Program, to get her feedback. Below is her response (edited for brevity).

My understanding is that sharing samples is part of educational programming, not food service, so that site or event licenses and food handler’s permits are not required.  Those come into play when any products are sold.  Providing samples for educational purposes is included in liability coverage offered by OSU, as long as best practices are used to prepare them. We put out a sign that says  “Products made/prepared by volunteers in our classroom or home kitchens.”  This makes booth visitors aware of where the products came from and that they are not commercial, so they can choose to sample or not.  

This resource has guidance for handling produce samples at public events:

https://www.fcs.uga.edu/docs/13_Keeping_Food_Safe_at_Market.pdf

Page 3 has some good guidelines for preparing samples.

Best practices are good hygiene, clean produce, and protection from contamination by the customers. That’s not as easy as it sounds,  since we are often places without handwashing stations.  Setting up individual samples so that customers can’t handle more than their own sample is ideal. 

Clients with Biting Bug Infestations, Without an Apparent Cause

Every now and then, a client comes into the Extension office, wanting advice for how to deal with insects that are biting them, or that have infested their house. After some conversation, or time to examine the sample that the client has brought into the office, you may determine that the client might be feeling a sensation on their skin, but that it is not due to an insect or mite issue. How do you help these clients? The cases are often heartbreaking: a client desperate for relief, with no apparent cause or solution in sight. Colleagues in extension published an excellent article on this topic, a few years ago, that includes a long list of recommendations for working with clients who believe their body and/or environment is infested with insects or mites, despite evidence to the contrary. Please read, and share with your Master Gardener volunteers, as needed.

Kerr et al. 2014. Recommendations for extension professionals and volunteers regarding individuals with delusional infestation. Journal of the NACAA 7(2).

Guidance for Master Gardener Plant Sales

As we head into Master Gardener plant sale season, it is a good time to remind Master Gardener Associations of the requirements to host a Master Gardener Plant Sale.

1) Master Gardener Associations need to fill out and file the temporary nursery license with the ODA. This will provide the ODA an opportunity to contact plant sale organizers (if needed), for sales in areas of concern.

2) Master Gardener plant sales can not include sale or distribution of (click on the link for more details):

3) Best practices dictate that Master Gardeners DO NOT MOVE SOIL. If plant sale plants are coming from personal gardens, remove the soil, wash the roots, and repot in commercial potting mix. We recognize this may be inconvenient but there are several exotic horticulture pests (snake worm, European chafer ~ see page 18) that currently have limited distribution in Oregon, and that can be moved through soil.

The Master Gardener teaches sustainable gardening. Modeling best practices in invasive species prevention is part of our work.

Add Your Events to the Master Gardener Calendar

Did you know that the Master Gardener Calendar on the OSU website is one of the top-viewed calendars at OSU?

Add your Master Gardener events, classes, workshops, plant clinics, and more to the calendar, to help spread the word about your events.

Adding your events to the Master Gardener Calendar is easy. To submit an event to the OSU Extension Master Gardener calendar:

  1. you must first log in to your ONID account.
  2. Next, head to this link:  http://calendar.oregonstate.edu/osu/submit/
  3. Add in the description of your event (date, time, location, price, etc.).
  4. Make sure choose the ‘Master Gardener Program‘ as one of the calendars, where your event will be featured. This is different than the ‘Master Gardener Workshops’ calendar. That is a county-based calendar, whereas ‘Master Gardener Program’ is a statewide calendar.

Need More Hlp? Supporting Resources are below