Seeding Community and Hope | From the Editor

This month, I’m sharing some personal research combining two great passions: gardening and ­libraries. The culmination of my Master Gardener training, my capstone project explores how public libraries make ideal partners in promoting gardening and sustainable, organic practices.

A seed sorting party at Middle Country Library, Centereach, NY.  Photo courtesy of Amber Gagliardi.

June is bustin’ out all over, as the old show tune goes. I wasn’t so versed in the Rodgers and Hammerstein song from Carousel or else I would have known, and delightedly so, that among the abundances of summer cited in the ­lyrics are weeds. “…The young Virginia creepers have been huggin’ the bejeepers outta all the mornin’ glories on the fence!”

This month, I’m sharing some personal research combining two great passions: gardening and ­libraries. The culmination of my Master Gardener training, my capstone project explores how public libraries make ideal partners in promoting gardening and sustainable, organic practices.

While that may strike you, dear reader, as a low-bar argument, having to case make for libraries is a good exercise. I know it was for me.

Amber Gagliardi, librarian and founder, Seed Libraries of Long Island

So, too, was learning about the benefits garden programming can bring to libraries. “The patrons get it,” says Amber Gagliardi, a librarian at Middle Country Public Library in Centereach, NY, and founder of Seed Libraries of Long Island. “They understand that it’s good for the environment, and it’s good to grow your own food.” Seed libraries in particular “create a unique opportunity to create that sense of community, and for patrons to participate and really feel like they’re a part of the library in this endeavor, and they can truly make a change,” she says. (See “Seed Libraries: Grow a relationship with your community and help save the world”.)

It’s a remedy for this moment, when libraries, if not the world, could use an infusion of joy—Gagliardi’s word, which she uses liberally in describing gardening’s effect, both personally and in libraries. “There’s no reason not to do this,” she says.

The numbers speak for themselves. Middle Country, among other libraries in the area, is doing land-office business in garden-related offerings. A “Pollinator ­Pathways” session has 40-plus patrons registered with very little promotion, reports Gagliardi. Following a rule of thumb that people want to either eat or make something in library programs, she hosted a session on growing herbs in which participants decorated a ­terracotta pot to hold starter plants. It ended up ­requiring three sessions to ­accommodate demand. “The programs are successful because it’s what the public wants,” states Gagliardi.

Gardening continues on a wave of popularity borne of the pandemic. People stuck at home tried their hand at growing things and have apparently stayed with it. The benefits of growing healthy, organic food and rising costs at the supermarket have helped fuel the trend. In food deserts, where fresh produce is scarce, growing your own is an act of equity and self-empowerment.

Libraries reflect the trend. My survey of Suffolk County, NY, institutions shows robust engagement with garden-related programs, from workshops to related grab-and-go kits. And they’re eager for more. Programs in Spanish; gardening basics for teens; rethinking your lawn; and “healthy eating from a home garden of any size” were on libraries’ wish list.

To a high degree, library garden programs integrate organic and sustainable methods. And many libraries take advantage of college extension services, which offer free workshops and volunteer Master Gardeners. Still, more outreach is needed between libraries and extension programs to connect these rich public resources, which serve just about every community.


Pro tips on making your library garden program a success

Gauge the interests of your community. "Maybe most of your patrons have smaller yards, maybe they don't have room to grow pumpkins. Then, you'll want to gear it for the demographic," says Gagliardi "I think it's really just knowing your audience and talking to those established gardeners in your community to see what they want," she says.

Offer garden programming year round.  If you have a seed library, for example, host a seed-starting class in the spring. And summer is a good time to address pest control. Maintain interest through the winter and host a film showing at the library or run a session on garden design, says Gagliardi. 

Combine cooking and gardening and they will come. Meeting multiple interests makes for especially rich, not to mention popular, library programming. Gagliardi worked with the nutrition arm of Cornell Extension and developed a Local Eats series. Held at Middle Country Library, the events combined healthy eating and gardening tips, with a cooking demonstration. Each monthly session would feature an in-season fruit or vegetable, strawberries in June, then tomatoes, and so on, encouraging people to consume healthy produce at their nutritional peak.

College and university extension services are the best kept secret of accurate horticultural information and practical, local advice. (See "Garden Nation: Extension services are an excellent, free resource for gardeners"). And extension experts come trained to teach, with insurance, adds Gagliardi.

“When I think about the library’s place in the community, it’s a community center at the end of the day, so it’s like, how else can we function for the community?“ Rebecca Voisich of the East Hampton Public Library told Newsday. East Hampton is among 55 Long Island libraries which offer seeds. "It’s been hugely popular. People want to garden, people want to grow their own food, and it’s an itch that we’re scratching for them.”

Middle Country's seed program has spread by word of mouth, neighbor telling neighbor, which makes it a particularly effective community builder. "It makes sense for the environment, too," says Gagliardi. "It gives me hope."


My presentation slides below.




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Kathy Ishizuka

Kathy Ishizuka is editor in chief of School Library Journal.

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