CORVALLIS, Ore. – The Oregon State University Extension Master Gardener Program and nonprofit Oregon Master Gardener Association have recognized five Oregon gardeners with statewide awards that reflect their dedication and commitment to the practice.
Lynn Kunstman of Jackson County and Marilyn Berti of Washington County shared the 2023 Statewide Master Gardener of the Year award. Dennis Brown of Multnomah County was honored with the inaugural Growing and Belonging Award. The statewide Behind the Scenes awards went to both Deb Schmidt of Lane County and Linda Coakley of Yamhill County.
The honorees received their awards at the Joy of Gardening conference, an annual event sponsored by the Oregon Master Gardener Association, at the CH2M Hill Alumni Center on the OSU campus in Corvallis. There are nearly 2,800 Master Gardeners who work with Extension to share their knowledge of sustainable gardening practices across 27 Oregon counties and 103 educational gardens. In 2022, volunteers put in over 108,000 hours.
Kunstman’s passion lies with native plants. Through presentations and one-on-one encounters, she’s dedicated to introducing people to the benefits of natives in the garden. She propagates in the native plant nursery she operates at the OSU Extension office at the Southern Oregon Research and Extension Center in Central Point. Kunstman uses the plants for her educational classes, and they make their way into the community through the Spring Garden Fair plant sale.
On her weekly radio series on Jefferson Exchange, Kuntstman fields gardening questions from her audience of up to 8,000 listeners. She contributes regularly to the Jackson County Master Gardener Association Garden Beet newsletter and teaches gardening classes at the Winter Dreams Summer Gardens Symposium and the OMGA Joy of Gardening conference.
Berti’s service over the past 15 years has been focused on sharing sustainable gardening knowledge. From early on Berti has been a committed volunteer answering questions on the Master Gardener helpline and at community events. She gives education outreach programs at the Jenkins Estate Learning Garden and the in-person In the Garden Series. In her leadership roles, she has been an integral part in expanding OSU Master Gardener volunteers’ reach and impact throughout Washington County and beyond.
Through careful listening to community needs, Brown has shown how the Metro Master Gardener program serves the community, significantly advancing diversity, equity and inclusion. He coordinated a network of volunteers and community service providers to renovate old vegetable beds at June Key Delta Community Center in North Portland. The center is operated by Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, a historically African American sorority dedicated to public service with an emphasis on programs that assist the African American community.
Brown led a group in securing a grant from the East Multnomah Soil and Water Conservation District to remove the old garden bed structure and replace it with new raised beds. Over two days, sorority members, community volunteers and Master Gardener volunteers learned raised bed construction techniques and replaced the aging structures.
At the same time, Brown was teaching a six-week Seed to Supper series to veterans and houseless community members of the Voz Workers’ Rights Education Project, which is a worker-led organization that empowers diverse day laborers and immigrants to improve their working conditions and protect civil rights. Brown combined the two projects, teaching the final Voz Seed to Supper class at the June Key Delta Community Center with class participants planting in the June Key Delta Community Center Garden. In 2020, Voz received a $51,000 Partners in Conservation grant to improve worker knowledge in sustainable landscaping and gardening techniques and to develop a green workforce.
Schmidt supports the educational mission of the Master Gardener program through weekly shifts in the plant clinic, mentoring new trainees, working mobile plant clinic events and teaching and organizing public workshops. She co-chairs the Compost Specialists, which is a partnership between the Extension Master Gardener Program and the city of Eugene.
She organizes an annual training for new compost specialists to provide updated research information on building and using compost to increase soil health and fertility. She helps plan and organize 12 public compost classes, two worm bin classes and multiple public activities in schools and community venues. She answered the call to help build community connections in the outer reaches of the county, setting up classes and volunteer support in Florence and Oakridge, greatly extending Master Gardener outreach
Since 2014, Coakley has acted as chairperson for the Yamhill County Master Gardener Association greenhouse where the vegetable starts and annual flower seedlings for the plant sale are grown. In addition, for several years she was the chairperson of YCMGA’s only fundraiser, the annual plant sale that generates more than $20,000 a year. Both of these projects require sub-committees which she organizes and coordinates. She is a regular at clinic events and has served as secretary for the Oregon Master Gardener Association, as well as alternate representative and historian. In addition, Schmidt has been a remarkable presence at the YCMGA greenhouse and has an active role with the plant sale