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County cuts funding for master gardeners

Tough times call for tough decisions and the Dakota County Board of Commissioners has had to make plenty of those this year. One of those decisions was to cut funding for the popular Dakota County Master Gardner program.

On Dec. 14 the Dakota County Commissioners approved their 2011 budget. Part of that process was cutting funding to the University of Minnesota Extension, which pays for a staff person, Barbara Stendahl, to coordinate the master gardener program.

"We're sad this happened, but we understand it. These were really hard decisions the county had to make," said Jayne Hager Dee, the regional director of University of Minnesota Extension.

Hager Dee said the program will receive half of its funds in 2011 and then none for 2012. The cut will save the county $60,000. Board members have justified the cut because the master gardener program, while popular, is not necessary. Additionally, the program can fund-raise or seek other funding sources.

While the cut will mean some changes for the master gardeners, Hager Dee said it won't be the end for the group of 135 volunteers.

"This is a smart, talented group of people and they will figure out a way to keep going," said Hager Dee.

The Dakota County Master Gardeners have put together a task force to decide how the group will proceed. John Zweber, an active member of the master gardeners, said the task force will look at whether the group wants to fund-raise to pay for a coordinator or eliminate the position entirely and function as an all volunteer group. Zweber said the task force will review the programming it offers and what should be cut.

"We are going to look at our options and how we can go about serving the county with less resources," said Zweber.

The Dakota County Master Gardeners is one of the largest such groups in the state. Its mission is to provide education to the community and the group does so in a number of ways. Events the group puts on throughout the year include a spring seminar called Lets Get Growing, a plant sale in the spring at the University of Minnesota's UMore Park, which draws thousands of people to Empire Township, open classes on Tuesday nights throughout the summer, the junior master gardener program and research at the UMore gardens.

The group sets up at garden centers and farmer's markets throughout the summer to offer tips to people and provides education to groups including classrooms and community organizations.

"We do a lot for the community," said Zweber.

To be a master gardener the state requires each person to serve 25 volunteer hours each year. Many of the Dakota County members exceed that numbers. All together the group logs nearly 10,000 volunteer hours a year.

While the group offers programming throughout the county, Empire more than any other community will probably feel the impact to the Dakota County Master Gardener program because many of the programs take place within its borders at the UMore Display and Research Gardens.

While the future is up in the air Zweber and Hager Dee both said they believe the program will thrive despite the setback.

"While we are really sad this happened this group has put in thousands of hours and they will continue," said Hager Dee.

Emily Zimmer
Emily Zimmer has worked as a staff writer for the Rosemount Town Pages since 2007. She has a degree in journalism from Minnesota State University, Mankato. Outside of work, Emily enjoys running, reading and gardening. You can follow Emily's gardening adventures at the Areavoices blog East of Weedin'
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