My goal is to provide the best information possible. My experience may or may not be the best information depending on where the asker lives. That is why I recommend a relationship with your County Agent.
Sorry for the rant - I just rreally believe in using the professional resouces available. You may live in an area that is under staffed. You can still avail yourself to their knoweldge if you make regular visits to the extension office and get to know the people working there. Yes it does come down to favoritism but who cares if it works.
Get information where ever it is available.
I agree, and I hope that the following will explain why The Helpful Gardener is that "available" place for so many.
I'll present the facts as they pertain to the county in which I've lived since 1997, a mixed urban/agricultural county. I think the numbers show that, for almost everyone here--as well as commercial growers, almost none of whom are here--the idea of a relationship with a County Agent, at least in California as currently run and for the foreseeable future, is an out-of-reach fantasy.
Setting aside the questions of "What do we get back from paying our taxes?" or "Where does the money go, anyway?" or "Whatever happened to California schools, which were once the envy of the nation and are now 48th or so?" I'll confine this discussion to County Extension (Agricultural) Agents and the hard-and-fast reality, not the what-ifs....
Once upon a time, there was a County Extension Office off of I-80 on an exit maybe 5 miles from my house. I'd be en route
to another location, take that exit, and see the sign: "blah blah County Extension Office." It was a small, humble sign and a small, humble office building, but by God it was there
Sadly, though, it's been a long time--at least three years--since I've seen that sign. Which, given how slowly things seem to move, probably means that the office was closed four or even five years ago. (Property management companies don't always move quickly to announce vacancies in that particular neighborhood.)
I checked the county website this evening (beginning about 2 hours ago--this post has taken quite a bit of research to develop). Although telephone access to Master Gardeners has
improved (they're now available by phone Monday-Thursday 9:00 to noon, which is a vast improvement over the previous Friday only, approx. 9:00 to 2:00 or so situation), the paid staff for the entire county Extension service is:
--1.2 Farm Advisors (the County Extension Director, plus 0.2FTE of a second Farm Advisor)
--four Family Nutrition Educators/Advisors (not gardening/orchard/farm knowledge people)
--one CalFresh/(food-stamp) Administrative Assistant
--and 0.2FTE of an IPM advisor
The Urban IPM Advisor and the non-Director Farm Advisor are each shared among five counties:
1) The Urban Integrated Pest Management Advisor is shared among Alameda, Contra Costa, San Francisco, San Mateo, and Santa Clara counties; total population = approx. 6.2 million.
2) The Delta Crops advisor, the only non-Director farm advisor, is shared among a different set of five counties: San Joaquin, Sacramento, Yolo, Solano, and Contra Costa; total population = approx. 3.9 million, and the heart of California's rice-growing lands.
The population of this county alone, est. January 2011, is approx. 1.1 million, of whom 650 are active farmers/ranchers, according to the Extension's [url=https://cecontracosta.ucanr.edu/Commercial_Agriculture/]"Commercial Agriculture"[/url] webpage.
It's unrealistic, in my view, to expect gardeners--and even, sadly, commercial growers--to develop a relationship with a department so manifestly understaffed and thinly stretched.
Seeing how the paid Extension staff were assigned, I then checked the [url=https://ccmg.ucdavis.edu/Find_Us/]in-person,
[/url] as opposed to telephone, availability of Master Gardeners.
--Master Gardeners are available for consultation at eight
selected farmers' markets once a week for 2 to 4 hours during part of the year in Central County (notice all those qualifiers).
--They are available on the same basis at one
farmers' market in East County (the agricultural, or Delta region).
--Master Gardeners are not available in person
at any time of the year at any of the farmers' markets in West County, where I live and where a large percent of the population could really use help on how to grow veggies/fresh food in apartment and urban situations, esp. in Richmond, a socio-economically depressed city. I'm a member of a Community Garden task force here in El Cerrito, but really, that will affect a very small number of people, even after it becomes a functioning garden and not just a demonstration project.
I'm glad that there are states--or at least one state--where it's possible to develop a relationship with the county Extension service, but I hope that presenting the specifics of the county I'm most familiar with here in California has helped demonstrate the "uphill and against the wind" situation of those of us without such resources.
Please continue to share knowledge on this forum; obviously, many of us can use the input.