To tap into the community’s agricultural roots, Get Growing in Greenville created an interactive learning experience through a library garden, utilizing conventional and innovative technology tools and building strong relationships with community partners. Now, the Greenville Library provides a community garden for community members to learn how to grow, cultivate, and harvest their own crops and hopes to inspire gardeners of all ages and experiences with new techniques that they can bring back to their own gardens, while continuing to think creatively about how they use their library’s outdoor space.
Get Growing in Greenville was designed as an interdepartmental project involving library program staff from adult and youth services, as well as library staff from other departments with gardening experience. This project was a three-month pilot running from March through June of 2018 as part of Round II of Studio Rhode, during which the Greenville Public Library developed a community garden and related programming to help participants start their own gardens. The library built and planted raised beds to cultivate flowers and vegetables on the library grounds.
In addition, the library offered programs on seed starting and garden crafts to support the creation and maintenance of the garden.
The library purchased two raised outdoor beds, an AeroGarden smart garden indoor growing system, a garden shed, soil, plants, and tools including watering cans, a wheelbarrow and hose for their own community garden. Two sets of gardening tools including a rake and hoe were purchased—one for use in the garden and one to lend to patrons. Finally, they also bought supplemental technology materials to enhance their project, including soil testers, heat mats, a Wi-Fi camera for taking time lapse photos/videos, and a digital camera and tripod for photographing plants. Three tablets were purchased to loan to patrons with pre-loaded purchased gardening apps as well as twelve Craftsy classes on a variety of garden-related topics from garden design to vegetable gardening to bonsai wiring.
The library offered a total of sixteen programs throughout the project, including six children’s programs, four teen programs, and six adult programs. Children’s programs included creating mosaic stepping stones, garden themed art, and floral arranging while teens 3D-printed a birdhouse. Adult programs were on gardening technology by library staff, while community partners offered expert workshops. Popular topics included Inviting Bees to your Garden with the RI Beekeepers Association and Seed Starting with the University of Rhode Island Master Gardeners. The project benefited significantly from donations and cost savings that were not anticipated—the town’s Department of Public Works donated their labor to construct the raised beds, and some materials, especially soil, came in under budget.
With the community garden, Greenville Library has extended its space beyond the walls of the building into their outdoor space, which has presented both challenges and rewards.
The ever-unpredictable New England weather saw snow into the month of April, so the delivery and construction of the garden’s raised beds were quite delayed. Beds were not constructed until May, which affected the overall timeline for the project. The library had plotted a best-case scenario timeline, which was completely disrupted.
The use of outdoor space has expanded opportunities for volunteers. A whole new area of the library needed upkeep that the library could not handle alone because of physical restrictions, staffing shortages, and restrictive library hours. As a result, the library recruited recruited two new volunteers—both experienced gardeners who had never volunteered with the library before—to water plants and help with the garden maintenance.
Craft programs with children and teens provided opportunities for young community members to personalize the garden. From 3D-printed birdhouses to mosaic tiles to hand-painted garden labels, young community members have put a personal touch on the space. The community has also gotten to personally reap the benefits of the new project as the greater-than-expected vegetable yield was made available to library patrons at no cost.
Community-generated ideas for using the outdoor space have also flourished along with the garden. Suggestions for future projects include rainwater run-off collection, community composting, a garden picnic area, and a plant sale. Though these ideas could not be incorporated into this year’s round of programming because of the compressed schedule, the library is looking forward to exploring these projects in the coming months and years as they get more experience under their belt.
Greenville Public Library partnered with the University of Rhode Island Master Gardeners, RI Beekeepers Association, Girl Scout Troops 548 and 323, the Smithfield Department of Public Works, and the Rhode Island Wild Plant Society. They also have plans to work with the PTO of neighboring elementary school. This project brought in new volunteer opportunities for community members and gave them an opportunity to share their harvest with a nearby senior center.
Community partnerships allowed the library to provide significantly more programs than they would have been able to provide on their own. Library staff ran some programs, but for topics requiring deeper expertise, community partnerships were invaluable. Surveys conducted at adult programs showed that the level of expertise community partners brought was appreciated, and those surveyed had a desire for more expert lectures on a variety of suggested gardening topics.
Partnerships also helped extend the reach of the project. Greenville learned through surveying program attendees in Project Outcome that cross-advertising by community partners brought new folks to the library for programs. Partners who co-advertised programs reached audiences outside of the usual library network. At the same time, working with contractors and volunteers meant that the library had to give up some flexibility and control. Scheduling with some partners was quite difficult and prevented the library from publishing a full calendar of events spanning the project. Instead, they printed monthly bookmarks to promote events as they were scheduled.
The goal of this project was to create an interactive learning experience for the community that incorporated traditional and innovative tools, rethought library space, and strengthened and expanded community partnerships. From late March to June, over 160 community members of all ages came to a total of sixteen programs planned around the community garden. Tablets and gardening tools for loan have been constantly checked out with enthusiasm since they were made available; other tools, such as the camera made available for garden photography, have not been as popular. Surveys of program attendees showed that a majority of those surveyed strongly agreed that programs had increased their knowledge of the topic, confidence using the tools and techniques, gardening skills, and awareness of library resources. Library patrons also took a keen interest in the garden, stopping library staff out in the community to ask about the progress from the garden, offering ideas for future projects, and expressing interest in seeing the garden programming continue.
Greenville Library staff working on the project also reflected about the project and its behind-the-scenes impact. Certainly, they learned some lessons: giving themselves a more relaxed timeline that accounts for potential disruptions like weather, building in milestone dates to help hasten the process of cataloging items for circulation, and not planting too many zucchini plants in close quarters. Most importantly, they also learned that they enjoyed working on an interdepartmental project with a common goal; their unified approach generated programs for all ages and made a positive change in the library.
Greenville achieved their projected activities by hosting a wide variety of programs, building community connections and maintaining a thriving garden. They regret that they could not incorporate all the new ideas that were generated during the pilot period, and so look forward to having the experience and flexible plan to better incorporate technology tools, provide even more hands-on experiences, recruit still more new volunteers and meet the frequent patron request for this to become an “every year thing.”