The Case for Funding Extension Services


A GardenRant shout-out to Adrian Higgins at the Washington Post for his stirring endorsement of Extension Services and related Master Gardener programs.  Sadly, what makes it newsworthy are the recent cuts the Virginia legislature made in state funding, which effectively guts some very successful programs in Northern Virginia.

Higgins lauds the Virginia and nearby Maryland programs but doesn't mention D.C.'s Cooperative Extension Service or Master Gardener program.  Ironically, it's DC's Extension Service that snagged a whupping big $5 million jolt of funding as part of the last federal farm bill, which goes to show that nutrition and growing food have some political support, at least in Congress, partly thanks to work by Mrs. Obama and the USDA.

Too bad the public won't see much for that extra $5 mil.  DC's Master Gardeners have no organization, no projects (the usual and laudable teaching of the public, helping with school gardens, etc). They're not even allowed to have an email group to help them make things happen. Their lack of even a web presence speaks volumes. (A few of us started a website but were forced to shut it down).  Bad reviews of other parts of the agency are commonly heard, so the problems are no secret, at least among activists and others in government.

Yes, I've ranted about this before and City Council members have been complained to, but Extension Services and Master Gardener programs aren't on anyone's radar.  The public doesn't even know what they're supposed to be getting, so nobody complains.  We can all hope Higgins's article gets people excited about what these programs actually can and are doing.


  1. I’m a master gardener through Clemson extension in South Carolina. The hundreds of agents that have been lost through cuts is pitiful. They’ve also pretty much sent the ones that remain begging to individual county agencies for funding. Sad situation.

  2. Ah, ha. This is why I couldn’t find out anything about soil testing at my DC cooperative extension. I was extremely frustrated trying to find out anything and ended up going to VA to get my soil tested. They were great, and quite helpful. Too bad the office I talked to is scheduled to be one of the one’s shut down. I vote for trying another rogue DC site.

  3. I’m a Master Gardener in King County, Washington, where the MG Program started. Our extension funding was slashed to the bone, with nothing going to MG this year. Extension remains only in the form of 4H. Fortunately, we have a strong foundation which is allowing for continuation of our program in the county, in cooperation with Washington State University.

    It’s sad…

  4. Illinois’ Extension is currently undergoing cutbacks, job losses and reorganization (combining multi-counties into one office). Financial, the Master Gardeners in my county our self-sufficient, but we would hate to lose the office.

    BTW. I believe the well organized, well funded farm lobby is probably why the farm bills get passed, but having food stamps lumped in with it guarantees passage.

  5. When I graduated I wanted to work for State or University Extension. What a cool job! You get to work with 4-H and Master Gardeners and talk with home gardeners, apply research, teach and help people.

    Now I don’t want that job. The extension agents I’ve met are underfunded, overworked and are afraid their job might be the next one cut.

    If extension goes, what will replace it?

  6. I feel your pain. The University of Rhode Island is a land grant college which used to have a large Cooperative Extension Department to deal with the agricultural businesses in the state. These were, in large part, potato farms (gone) and turf fields, and there are also many nursery growers. URI was on the cutting edge of research in the past but it has failed to replace the professors as they retire. As such, the programs start to lose their edge and the growers look elsewhere for answers to their problems. The MG Program is entirely separate and comprised of volunteers. The MG’s are quite active in providing their own funding. They deal primarily with the home gardening population. It is sad to see funding cut on the Professional Cooperative Extension level but the times have changed for professional growers and information is more readily available from the larger universities. Gardening and growing is regional though and it is sad to see the local sources removed from the collective.

  7. The County Extension offices are suffering the same fate in Ohio. The state has slashed funding to them and the Soil and Water Conservation Districts. They depended on a 50% match from the county. County budgets are in the toilet, these two agencies are not a mandated service (like public defence, child support, for example). Counties are not funding anything that is not mandated. Can’t afford to.

  8. Illinois reporting in. UofI is also cutting back its Extension offices. They promise no cuts in staff or programs, but they’re consolidating the offices into just a handful of “county” offices.

  9. We have a very active Master Gardener program in Orange County, New York-60 miles no. of NYC.
    It’s has grown very large, with about 50 members.
    Though I’m no longer active I did learn much while working as Master Gardener.
    One of the realities is that these programs, which are partly supported by Federal funds, are very little known, nor understood. Properly used they would tackle the problem of overuse of water and fertilizer on lawns, and for me, give home owners better ideas for land use around their house. The awful mistakes you see – my favorite is planting big shrubs right next to house walls – could be easily prevented, but there’s no community center, no central place to put out the information, and people are afraid to group. We would be asked to make presentations at the library, but here again, how many people use the library?

    I believe the problem is plain old ignorance…too many people still think of gardening as having pretty flowers.
    Maybe garden centers are a place to start. I am starting to see classes being offered at one nearby.

    We must continue to try to educate, educate, educate!

  10. “A few of us started a website but were forced to shut it down” —

    Why? The story seems to take a sinister turn here. Why not a web page?

  11. Wow.

    DC Master Gardener class of 1988(?I think?), here.

    Same as it ever was. Same as it ever was.

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