As a Master Gardener in MN, and a member of the Ramsey County Extension Committee(advisory board to the County Commissioners), I can tell you a bit about Ramsey County, and also the U. of Minn. Extension.
The University of Minnesota Extension Service has gone through a long and tortuous process of reorganization over the last several years. County Extensions have been eliminated and replaced by regional Extension Centers. The state went from 87 county extension offices two years ago, to 18 regional extension offices today. There were many layoffs, and the former County Extension Leaders( the old title of County Extension Agent disappeared many years ago in a former reorganization) became Regional Extension Educators. A HUGE shakeup...no one knew what was going to happen from day to day for nearly two years!! County boards took a hard look at this and decided that if they couldn't have their own Extension Offices, they would sharply curtail, and even stop funding for Extension from the County tax levies. This meant that state taxes would now be paying most of the freight for Extension, through the U of M.
So, most free pubs(anything over one double-sided page has had a price here in MN for a number of years) have been repaced by pubs for sale: here is a link to the Extension pubs: www.extension.umn.edu/units/dc/
Master Gardeners in MN help to provide a Yard and Garden Line Service, which is free, except in certain circumstances. Links: http://www.extension.umn.edu/projects/yardandgarden/
There used to be a direct Extension service called the Yard and Garden Clinic, where an individual could send a sample to, or ask a question of a University instructor, usually a professor. There was a $5 fee payable by credit card to the U. This has been discontinued, and the questions go to Master Gardeners, who can consult with those professors(one of the perks of being an MG), but the U. prof is not directly involved with the lay client. If the problem cannot be solved in this way, then a fee is charged(payable by check to the U of M--five bucks), and the MG is responsible for conveying the pertinent sample or question to the U. prof. Seems pretty convoluted to me, but hey, I'm only a volunteer, not an employee.
In Ramsey County, the ONLY Extension Program which at this time gets any county funds at all is the Master Gardener Program, and the funds come from the Environmental Health division of the Country Health Department. We have $60,000, which pays for a half-time project co-ordinator's salary and benefits. In exchange for that, the MG program must provide education on composting, sustainable gardening practices, proper disposal of yard waste, proper use and disposal of chemicals, best practices for lawn care, etc. For the first time ever(YES!), the MG's are charged with serving underserved(read poor, inner city, ethnic minorites) people in the county. And in order to continue to be funded, the MG program must demonstrate that there is a verifiable improvement both in numbers of people served, and inincreased environmental quality.
You will notice that I have said NOTHING up till now about community gardening. A few months ago, Jim call quoted me on that subject, and it raised a tempest in a teapot on the listserv. There are a number of MGs in my county, and I count myself among them, who work to promote community gardening for all the obvious good reasons. Many times, we do this wearing another hat, and don't take MG hours--because we are not serving directly as "purveyors of official university research-based information". It can be quite frustrating at times, but that's life.
Well, I probably gave you more information than you wanted, Bill, but hopefully I've answered your question.
Diane Dodge, Ramsey County (MN) MG