Thursday, September 26, 2013

What's in a Name?

Below is a reprint of the article I wrote for the September 2013 issue of The Gardeners Pen (the newsletter of the Oregon Master Gardener Association). 

What is a Master GardenerTM?
By Gail Langellotto
Statewide Coordinator, OSU Extension Master Gardener Program

When someone asks you ‘What is a Master Gardener?’, how do you respond?

Do you say that you’re a volunteer?  Do you say that it’s an Extension Program, or an Oregon State University Program?  Do you say that it’s an educational program?

The way we describe ourselves has a critical impact on how the public views our program.  And, quite honestly, the term ‘Master Gardener’ can be confusing. 

Take, for example, the March 1, 2013 blog post entitled ‘So What Do We Think of “Master Gardeners”?’.

To paraphrase the post, the word ‘Master’ in ‘Master Gardener’ can lead to problems, such as:

  • People thinking it’s similar to “Master Carpenter,” or “Master Electrician”.
  • Some volunteers taking the title a little too seriously, and letting it go to their heads.
  • People assuming that ‘Master Gardeners’ have received a higher level of training than folks with a university degree in horticulture.
Passionate opinions were expressed, from garden writers and other professionals who believe that Master Gardener volunteers are taking work from them, to folks who have had a bad experience with Master Gardener ‘cliques’ and generalize across all.  Of course, where humans gather, there is always going to be the potential for friction. However, I have found (and many of the commenters on the blog post agree) that Master Gardeners are by and large among the most generous, fun-loving, creative and welcoming folks I have met. 

Master Gardeners (and me) enjoying Mini-College, and annual educational event of the OSU Extension Master Gardener Program and the Oregon Master Gardener Association.
What can you say when someone asks you, ‘What is a Master Gardener?’  Luckily, ‘Building public understanding of the Master Gardener Program’ was identified as a high priority in the 2010 OMGA strategic planning process, and developing a common message was one specific recommendation made.  A communications committee, consisting of myself, Sherry S. (Clackamas County), Mary Jane B. (Lincoln County), Bonnie C. (Douglas County), Jan E. (Central Oregon) and advised by Eric B. (Central Gorge), Toni S. (Central Oregon), Lee Ann L. (Multnomah County), Carol O. (Jackson County) and Alan W. (Yamhill County) was tasked with developing this common message.

We came up with three messages, which can be found on page 5 of the OMGA Chapter Toolkit for Communications Toolkit. One of these messages now appears on the Master Gardener website.

“Master Gardeners are trained volunteers, educated through OSU Extension Service to offer the local community Reliable, Relevant and Reachable gardening information and education opportunities."
  • We are reliable, because our gardening advice and education is science-based.
  • We are relevant, because unlike information found online, our advice can be customized for each unique gardening situation.
  • We are reachable, because you can call us on the phone, email us a question, or visit with us at markets or gardens in your community.
We hope that this phrase will be useful, when you’re telling friends, trainees, clients and others about the Master Gardener Program.  And remember, that their interaction with you will really influence what they think about the Program, in general.

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