November 16, 2017

Lending a Green Thumb | Maker Movement

It wasn’t your average ribbon-cutting ceremony. In place of the traditional ribbon, a length of ivy. Instead of an oversized pair of golden scissors, pruning shears, hedge trimmers, and garden loppers. And on September 26, 2014 (Johnny Appleseed Day), with a quick snip of the shears, The Shed at Arlington Public Library’s (APL) Central Branch, VA, packed with tools for planting and digging, weeding and cutting, raking and watering, was open for business.

The business of borrowing, that is.

While the library has grown gardens on its own grounds since 2009, it wasn’t until 2013 that APL began partnering with Arlington County’s Urban Agriculture Task Force (UATF) and Arlington Food Assistance Center (AFAC) to convert green spaces into thriving vegetable gardens. AFAC pitches in with classes that teach things like how to build little box gardens for small, urban spaces. Volunteers plant, water, and distribute food produced by the gardens to those in need within the community.

“Sustainability is a very big topic,” says APL director Diane Kresh, “so we decided to focus on food sustainability.”

The new tool lending program, Kresh is happy to say, has also been heavily used, and people are respectful of returning items on time. In fact, the garden programs overall have been a great success.

“We have enjoyed the fun of the garden as a conversation topic. It seems there’s something magical about the soil because the vegetables are so hardy,” Kresh says. “And then we have the reward of reaping the fruit. It’s wonderful. It’s a constant giving back to the community.”

GROWING ON US Arlington PL, VA (top), offers informative “Garden Talks”; St. Louis County Library (bottom) installed its first garden in 2013. Top photo courtesy of Arlington PL; bottom photo courtesy of St. Louis County Library

GROWING ON US Arlington PL, VA (top), offers informative “Garden Talks”; St. Louis County Library (bottom) installed its first garden in 2013. Top photo courtesy of Arlington PL; bottom photo courtesy of St. Louis County Library

Outdoor Maker space

Like all the spaces highlighted in this feature, library-hosted community gardens offer their neighborhood members a place to gather, share expertise, work collaboratively, and produce something new.

“Community gardens are really just an older version of Maker spaces, dedicated to making food and a sustainable food system. The garden also ‘makes’ a community willing to learn, to work together,” says Adrienne Canino, a librarian assistant and manager for the LibraryFarm Project at Cicero Library, a member of the Northern Onondaga Public Library (NOPL) system near Syracuse, NY.

Managed by Canino along with director Kate McCaffrey, librarian and NOPL at Cicero manager Jill Youngs, and board members Bob Lalley and Tom Brooks, as well as countless individuals and groups, LibraryFarm began converting library lawns to organic gardens in response to a 2010 survey.

At the LibraryFarm, patrons “check out” small plots for free. Day-to-day operations are overseen by assigned volunteer work teams with titles like compost guardians, water barrel stewards, and food pantry gardeners.

“In part, the LibraryFarm is operated like a traditional library program for engaging the public while increasing learning and use of library resources,” Canino says. “We host local experts and educational workshops in classroom settings to encourage gardeners new and old to learn and improve their skills.”

These classes, such as Organic Pest Control, Beekeeping 101, and microfarming hops, along with Maker-style classes such as “Building Your Own Hoop House” and “Try Hypertufa,” are all open to the public.

The garden is a gathering space, too, with a welcoming picnic area and a Little Free Library, reinforcing that the ­LibraryFarm is an extension of the main campus.

“It gives us some unique tools to use,” Canino says. “The children’s Maker club created an insect hotel that found a home next to our Certified Wildlife Habitat plot, and the Birding 101 class used the garden during its show-and-tell session.”

Sustainable partnerships

St. Louis County Library’s (SLCL) community garden program started in 2012 through a partnership with Gateway Greening, a St. Louis nonprofit focused on sustainable, urban agriculture. SLCL was looking to activate outdoor space at their branches, and Gateway Greening wanted to expand its community garden program outside the city limits. The first community garden was installed at the Prairie Commons Branch in March 2013, proving so popular that a second location was added at the Cliff Cave Branch in 2014. A third community garden will be installed at the new Grant’s View Branch, scheduled for completion in late 2015.

Garden beds, including Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)–accessible beds, are made available for a small fee each growing season at Prairie Commons and Cliff Cave. SLCL and Gateway Greening share a community outreach specialist who works with library staff to schedule garden-related programs and events. The two community gardens host around 40 programs annually for all age groups, including workshops on rainwater harvesting, a ladybug release party, story time, and a nature drawing program for children. Additionally, the community outreach specialist participates in the Book-a-Gardener program, which allows library patrons to schedule a 30-minute session to troubleshoot garden-related issues.

“Community gardens and libraries are a natural fit,” says Kristen Sorth, St. Louis County Library’s director. “Both provide safe spaces for learning and community building. The gardens are a key feature of SLCL’s sustainability projects. It has been a thrill to watch how popular these spaces have become with our patrons.”

Community outreach specialist Matt Even says that it’s rewarding to see library patrons using the green space to relax.

“I have heard overwhelming support from the community about what [the green space] not only provides aesthetically but what statement it makes for SLCL branches. Providing access to outdoor learning spaces is a priority, [with] education, healthy food, and learning through…library gardens.”

For more on the Maker movement, see “Meet Your Maker.”

Denice Rovira Hazlett (denicehazlett.com; @charmgirl onTwitter) is a feature, profile, and fiction writer and a Reference Associate at Holmes County District Public Library, Millersburg, OH

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