Friday, July 25, 2014

Oregon Adopts National Extension Master Gardener Program Standards

The Oregon State University (OSU) Extension Home Horticulture Working Group includes any OSU faculty or staff member who has responsibilities to the Master Gardener program as part of their assigned position description.  Across Oregon, there are ~27 faculty and staff who are officially part of the working group.  For some folks, the Master Gardener program represents a significant portion of their job.  For others, the Master Gardener program is a relatively small part of their overall responsibilities.

On July 11, 2014, *17 faculty and staff representing 19 county Master Gardener programs met for an all day work session in Corvallis, Oregon.  While Master Gardener Volunteers were attending Leadership Day classes, we were meeting next door to discuss issues, brainstorm solutions, preview tools, share ideas and network.  It was an incredibly productive session, where key decisions were made that impact the Master Gardener Program and the volunteers that we train and serve.

A Brief History of Extension Master Gardener Programs in the United States

The Master Gardener program was launched by Washington State University in 1973. By 1996, the Master Gardener program had spread and established in all 50 states. Today, Master Gardener programs are active in 9 Canadian provinces, as well as in South Korea.

Even though the Extension Master Gardener Program was created in the 1970s, and firmly established by the 1990s, it was not until 2006 that the Extension Master Gardener Program National Committee (EMGNC) was formed. The EMGNC facilitates national cooperation, communication and collaboration among Extension Master Gardener programs.

The endurance and expansion of the Extension Master Gardener (EMG) model is a testament to the program’s impact and success. However, the independent adoption of the Master Gardener Program model by individual states, territories and regions has occurred in the absence of a unifying mission or set of program standards. Although there is great value in providing for flexible programming, many EMG Coordinators at the state and local level have called for greater guidance on program policies.
In 2012, a special task force was appointed by the EMGNC, in response to outcomes of the 2012 National EMG Coordinators’ Conference that was held in Spokane, WA. The task force was charged with developing resources and national standards for Extension Master Gardener Programs.

The task force worked throughout 2013 to draft a list of program standards, seeking input from Master Gardener faculty, staff and volunteers throughout the process. These standards were forwarded to the Extension Master Gardener National Committee in late 2013. The Committee approved the standards (with minor edits) in January 2014.

The national standards for Extension Master Gardener Programs in the United States are:

Our National Standards: Extension Master Gardener programs are networks of land-grant university-trained volunteers, distinguished by the standards listed below. To achieve greater consistency in program management and the volunteer experience across the Cooperative Extension system nationally, state Extension Master Gardener programs will strive to meet these standards and ensure they are reflected in the statewide program.

Program Structure and Expectation Standards

  • has an established statewide organizational system
  • establishes state program goals that align to achieve the EMG program mission
  • engages in Extension-approved projects and programs designed to educate the public about horticulture and gardening
  • is accountable to state Extension leadership and local stakeholders
  • shows documented educational impact in local communities that demonstrates behavior change and public value
  • follows the Equal Opportunity Guidelines for their state and/or university
Volunteer Management and Preparedness Standards
  • uses recognized volunteer management practices
  • incorporates a system for volunteer leadership and development
  • uses an established state training curriculum (A suggested core curriculum includes Botany, Physiology, Soils, Basic Pathology, Entomology, Weeds, IPM, Vegetables, Fruits, Turf, Woody Ornamentals, Herbaceous Ornamentals, Composting, Diagnostics and Troubleshooting, Planting and Maintenance, Introduction to Extension Master Gardener Program, and Record Keeping and Reporting)
  • requires a measurement of volunteer competency following completion of state training program
  • requires volunteer service hours; 40-hour volunteer service minimum in the initial training year and 20-hour volunteer service minimum in subsequent years
  • requires annual continuing education and professional development hours; 10 hours minimum annually in years following initial training
  • uses an annual recertification criteria and process

National Extension Master Gardener Program Standards Adopted

A major focus of our July 11th working group agenda was to consider whether or not Oregon would adopt these new national standards.

Many of the national standards are things that we already do (or try to do) in Oregon.  The key parts of the standards that impact Oregon's Master Gardener Programs are:
  • requires volunteer service hours; 40-hour volunteer service minimum in the initial training year and 20-hour volunteer service minimum in subsequent years, and
  • requires annual continuing education and professional development hours; 10 hours minimum annually in years following initial training
There was some concern on the part of the representatives from the southern Oregon counties (Jackson, Josephine, Douglas, Curry) that the re certification requirements might: cause them to lose volunteers, require them to 'debadge' volunteers, cause dismay with their local MG Association.

Others thought that adopting the standards would: provide much-needed structure and guidance on recertification at the local level, ensure the quality of volunteer education and of the program.

The national standards were eventually adopted, by consensus decision.

What Does This Mean for Current Volunteers and County Programs?

What does this mean? Does it mean that programs will be 'decertified' or that individuals will be kicked out of the Master Gardener Program if they have not met the minimum re certification standards (10 hours of continuing education and 20 hours of volunteer service)? No! But it does mean that programs now have specific guidance on and guidelines for Master Gardener re certification.

Over the next 3-5 years, the Oregon Master Gardener Program (at state and county levels) will work to implement the new standards by:

1) informing Master Gardener volunteers that the national standards have been adopted in Oregon, as well as the reasons for the development of national standards, and the reasons that Oregon has moved to adopt these standards.  I've tried to provide information on the logic behind the development and adoption of the standards, above.

2) adjusting recertification requirements at the local level, as needed, setting a 3-5 year timeline as a goal to reach compliance with the standards.

3) training new Master Gardener volunteers (e.g. 'trainees') about the recertification requirements. Over time, as more volunteers are trained under the 'new' standards, it will increasingly become the norm.

4)  working to offer flexible options for recertification education hours (e.g. a take home test, online modules, etc.).  We currently have a few online options available for recertification hours, and will work to develop more in the coming years.  We will also work to develop assessment-based recertification options.

5) understand that life happens, and sometimes, a volunteer may need to put their MG status 'on hold'.  Be flexible, where needed.

Over the past 7 years that I've worked in the Master Gardener Program, I've realized that change rarely comes quickly or easily.  I'm excited about the adoption of the national standards and am hopeful that they will indeed provide much-needed structure and guidance on recertification at the local level and that they will help ensure the quality of volunteer education and of the program.  But, I recognize that there may be some 'growing pains' ~ particularly where recertification is concerned.  Our intention is to roll out the new standards in a way that is gradual (over 3-5 years) and well supported (e.g. offering more options for recertification credit hours) ~ in an effort to continue to offer high quality educational programs to our volunteers and advice that is reliable (science based), relevant (can be customized to anyone's gardening situation) and reachable (find us online, in the office, on the phone, in your community).
*Faculty and Staff in Attendance
Benton, Linn, Lane Counties
Brooke Edmunds

Central Oregon
AmyJo Detweiler
Tony Stephan

Curry County
Scott Thiemann

Steve Renquist

Hood River County
Steve Castagnioli
Rachel Suits

Jackson County
Bob Reynolds

Josephine County
Karen Pleasant

Lane County
Linda Renslow

Lincoln County
Liz Olsen

Marion / Polk Counties
Neil Bell

Portland Metro
Weston Miller
Jordis Yost
Margaret Bayne
Pukhraj Deol

Yamhill County
Heather Stoven