OSU Extension microgreens gardening course reaches thousands of Oregonians

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According to the latest National Gardening Association survey, about 55% of U.S. households had a garden in 2021. That number continues to grow with more than 18 million Americans starting the popular activity during the COVID-19 pandemic. But more and more people live on small lots or have only a balcony or patio, which narrows down their options of what to grow.

The Oregon State University Extension Service Master Gardener program refreshed its programming in recent years to include small-scale gardening. To meet the exploding demand for educational content, Master Gardeners began to deliver information and events digitally. Immediately, they noticed a substantial spike in participants compared to in-person presentations. People from all over Oregon and beyond and others who are housebound or unable to attend in person were able to join.

Microgreens – young vegetable greens that are about 1-3 inches tall and pack a nutritional punch – resolve the small-space dilemma. Growing these tiny plants is an accessible gardening technique even for beginners. They’re also inexpensive to grow and can be grown indoors year-round, a trifecta of reasons why a class taught by Brooke Edmunds, OSU Extension horticulturist, became so popular.

Edmunds, who is the Master Gardener coordinator in Marion, Polk, Linn and Benton counties, gave two in-person classes on growing microgreens but transitioned to online in 2021 and 2022. The prior in-person events were given lecture style, but Edmunds wanted to try something new. She experimented with a two-week, interactive workshop. Existing class material was used as the basis to create short, step-by-step instructional videos in simple language to guide beginning gardeners.

In the workshop, Edmunds walks participants through a simple growing method suitable for beginners, who are also given related food safety and nutrition information, meal ideas and additional OSU Extension resources. Text for the workshop was translated into Spanish and videos were dubbed by OSU Extension’s Food Hero team, which promotes healthy eating for low-income Oregonians by increasing their consumption of fruits and vegetables. Through Food Hero’s Grow This! Oregon Garden Challenge statewide seed giveaway, kits for growing microgreens were included in 1,100 seed-starting kits sent to classrooms around the state.

Through Edmunds’ efforts, more than 2,700 people enjoyed two workshops in 2021 compared to 40 who were able to attend the in-person courses. Most were from Oregon, but every state in the country was represented. Even some international participants joined in. Another 2,400 viewed the online lessons in 2022. The step-by-step videos continue online and have been viewed 1,100 times since the last virtual workshop in March 2022. More online classes are planned.

Those who took the microgreens course expressed enthusiasm. One wrote, “The daily messages motivated me to … just do it! Plus, I liked the links to short videos. The timing of the course was perfect for dreary, cold days of winter. Thank you, OSU!” Another wrote, “It felt much more interactive than just reading a blog post or website. I would not have tried growing these babies without the guidance from the class and really appreciate the work it took.”

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