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Reaching out to underserved communities

By October 8, 2020Beet October 2020

We were delighted to have Gail Langellotto, Master Gardener Coordinator for the state of Oregon, join us for the JCMGA Board of Directors meeting on Sept. 11. Gail updated us on two initiatives for 2021: 1) expanding diversity within the Master Gardener program; 2) online training for current volunteers and 2020 students.

People need gardens more than ever for recreation, physical and emotional therapy, and better control of their food and nutrition, she noted. But the demographics of those who are currently involved with the Master Gardener program are out of step with those of the state as a whole, being overwhelmingly older, white, affluent, and female. We have a collective responsibility to “open the doors wider and build a longer table.”

But there are systemic barriers to participation: time, cost, and language. Those who are employed, or caring for children or the elderly, or with limited incomes, or whose first language is not English, usually cannot participate in the ways we’ve expected in the past: by paying tuition, sitting in classes at Extension taught in English, and volunteering during daytime and weekday hours.

In Jackson County, the biggest demographic disparity is with our Hispanic population. How to get them involved? Gail suggests finding partners who are already working with them. She mentioned “Food Heroes,” new to me. It’s offered online by OSU Extension, in both English and Spanish, to help low-income Oregonians improve their health by eating more fruits and vegetables. (The recipes look yummy!)
One of our members said that not only should our educational programs be translated into Spanish, but should feature persons who look like those we want to reach. I noticed that “Food Heroes” does this.

Other options to reduce barriers are lowering the number of hours required for certification (Oregon’s standards exceed nationwide minimums), and offering more classes online or evenings and Saturdays. Plant Clinics likewise may be offered virtually by small groups with a mentor, at hours that fit their individual schedules.
But we recognize that for many Master Gardeners the opportunity to work in person with others towards a common goal, e.g. in the Demonstration Gardens, is a big draw, and a reason to volunteer year after year. Gail said there is “no silver bullet solution.” We will want to adapt to the needs and desires of each individual, rather than expecting everyone to conform to a single model.

Another suggestion was to “cross-fertilize” with other Extension programs, most obviously with Master Food Preservers (so we learn how to can what we grow and vice versa).

There will be no new MG class in 2021. Instead, the focus from January – March will be on reengaging with both our 2020 trainees (“short-changed” due to COVID-19 restrictions) and long-time Master Gardeners, via a new online training program. Gail calls it “Build Your Own Adventure.”

Classes will aim to build skills in teaching and technologies; best practices in adult, informal education; growing leadership; and broadening outreach to underserved communities. Gail hopes that these short online courses will lead to capstone projects that demonstrate the skills learned. Expect to receive surveys asking what specific classes you’d like to see.

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