Proposed cuts to Baltimore City's budget would put the second season of the famed City Hall vegetable garden, which produced more than a ton of food for the homeless last year, in danger of an early frost.
Cuts to the University of Maryland Extension Service in the City would likely eliminate the service altogether, and with it the Master Gardeners Program, which provided most of the labor and expertise during the garden's first year last year.
Bill Vondrasek, chief horticulturist for the City Department of Parks and Recreation, which is in charge of the city gardens, said he would still try to plant a vegetable garden around War Memorial Plaza, "but it probably wouldn't be done as well."
Vondrasek has to maintain the city gardens anyway, he said. "I used to plant flowers. I might still try to plant vegetables. But it would be a lot more difficult without the Master Gardeners."
Angela Treadwell-Palmer, who designed the vegetable garden last year and this year, said the spring crops have been planted and the seedlings started for the summer vegetables. But without the Master Gardeners, maintaining the 1,100-square foot garden would be difficult.
"The Master Gardeners are a lifesaver," she said.
Citizens will gather Wednesday night at 7 p.m. at, coincidentally, the War Memorial Plaza, to express their opinions on the proposed city budget cuts. Representatives of the extension service will be there, said director Manami Brown.
The University of Maryland Extension Service in Baltimore City is funded by the city, the University of Maryland and the federal government through the USDA.
If the city withdraws its $204,000 contribution, as currently proposed, the University and the federal money would go away, too, explained Brown, leaving the city without an extension service for the first time since 1942.
The service provides more than the Master Gardeners program which helps to manage the City Hall vegetable garden. It also includes 4-H programs for young people, nutrition education, financial education and support for the 32 community gardens in the city.
"Last year we served 10,000 city residents," said Brown. "And all these services are free."
Dorothy Wells, president of the Baltimore City Master Gardeners, was dismayed.
"This has me very flustered," she said. "Last year, our 157 members provided 5,500 volunteer hours in the city." That represents about $116,000 in value. She guessed that perhaps only 300 of those hours were spent at the City Hall vegetable garden. The rest of the volunteer hours were spent in classes, workshops, lectures and teaching all around the city.
Would the Master Gardeners tend the City Hall garden anyway? After all, they are volunteers.
Wells explained that though nobody is paying the Master Gardeners a salary or health care benefits, they are covered by insurance and other support from the University of Maryland. Without that support and protection, it isn't likely that would be out there weeding, watering and harvesting for three months.