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Northern VA Extension Offices Could Be Victims Of Tight Budget

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Master Gardeners classes at the Fairlington Community Center could be eliminated.
Jonathan Wilson
Master Gardeners classes at the Fairlington Community Center could be eliminated.

By Jonathan Wilson

Virginia's Cooperative Extension, an offshoot of the states research university system with offices in nearly every county, could see some major cuts in this year's budget including the closure of three county offices in Northern Virginia.

A Master Gardener's class meets at the Fairlington Community Center where small groups of students are working on an exercise about pesticides.

Master Gardening classes are the most popular classes offered by Arlington's Cooperative Extension office. Most people here are hobbyists, but Judy Funderburk, who's already graduated from the Master Gardener's program, says losing classes like these would do more than deprive lawn and garden enthusiasts of a pastime.

"We're losing a sense of the ecology," says Funderburk. "I think this is something master gardeners present because they have the whole picture, whereas most people only have 'What is this plant?.'"

VCE staff and volunteers also provide educational support to low-income neighborhoods and local schools.

"It looks like a red firefly it looks like he was painted," one fifth grader says while examining a red beetle on the grounds of Tuckahoe Elementary.

She's part of a group of fifth graders at Tuckahoe that meets once a week during recess to explore the environment around the school and learn about gardening. Mary McLean, the school district's outdoor education specialist, leads the group. She received some of her training through VCE classes.

"VCE is able to give kids in an urban environment access to something that they might not have otherwise," says McLean.

Proponents of the cuts to Virginia's Cooperative Extension offices say it will save the state $4.5 million.

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