Last month I learned that, as of October 1, I would no longer be a Colorado Master Gardener. Due to extreme budget deficits, our county can no longer fund their portion of the “cooperative” extension program, and the Master Gardener program is being put on furlough. The long-term prospects remain unclear, but for the present, I’m going to have some extra time on my hands.
On one hand, I’m sad. Volunteering as a master gardener for the past nine years has benefited me in many ways. I’ve improved my writing and photography skills, gained confidence as a public speaker, and learned a huge amount about horticulture. I also had a lot of fun. After focusing primarily on raising our kids for so many years, it was good to get back into the bigger world out there.
I hope the community has also benefited from the thousand-plus hours I’ve contributed as a volunteer Master Gardener. I’ve written a long list of articles for our local newspaper, developed and presented classes on topics ranging from Gardening for Wildlife to High Altitude Veggie Gardening (see the whole list), taken thousands of photos for use in master gardener articles and presentations, helped with the county fair, and fielded untold numbers of questions at our two extension help desks.
On the other hand, I can sympathize with the county’s dilemma. There truly is not enough money. Revenues come from sales taxes, and people are spending less. Every area of government service felt the axe, including critical departments such as fire and police. Not a good thing.
While I can (and do) argue that gaining over 150 volunteers for the cost of a couple of paid staff positions is a good deal, the county will continue to function without providing free advice on how to grow a high altitude veggie garden, have a perfect lawn, or save water by creating a xeriscape.
I retain the title “Certified Colorado Gardener”—the same designation given to those who undergo the initial intensive training, but choose not to volunteer. Since we all learned much more from volunteering, especially at the help desk, than we did in class, no one was very happy with what felt like a demotion. I think I prefer “former Master Gardener,” although again, that doesn’t convey the fact that we didn’t choose to quit the program. It was forced upon us.
While I’ll no longer have access to the latest updates coming out of Colorado State University’s horticultural department, I’ll continue to do my best to provide you with accurate, research-based information.