Urban Agriculture
1:12 pm
Sat March 23, 2013

St. Louis County Library District Seeds Community Gardening Effort

Volunteers install a community garden at the Prairie Commons Branch of the St. Louis Public Library District on Saturday, March 23.
Credit Tim Lloyd / St. Louis Public Radio

Even though up to a foot of snow could blanket parts of the region by tomorrow night, that didn’t stop the St. Louis County Library District from launching a pilot program to put community gardens outside some of its branch locations.

This morning volunteers began assembling 20 raised beds at Prairie Commons Branch in Hazelwood that organizers hope will serve as test plot for future efforts.

“We always look for ways to expand our reach into the community,” said Barbara Brain, assistant director of adult and support services for the St. Louis County Library District.  “To reach people who don’t think of the library as being as integral to the community as other people do.  It’s a way to demonstrate that the library has grown beyond just an archive of books and material for people to check out.”

Brain said libraries, which are often surrounded by large areas of turf grass, serve as ideal spots for community gardens to take root.

“Our vision for the whole area around the library is to have very little turf grass and more and more native plantings,” Brain said.

The garden is the first of two that will be installed and maintained in partnership with Gateway Greening, a non-profit that supports more than 200 community gardens in the metro-area as well as City Seeds Urban Farm.  The second garden will be planted next spring at the Cliff Cave Branch in south St. Louis County.   

“We have all this outdoor space at libraries that’s currently used as lawn or landscape space,” said Michael Sorth, executive director of Gateway Greening.   “To put it to a productive use for growing and educating children on where their food comes from is a great idea.”

Each of the beds will be maintained by an individual gardener, who in turn pays an annual $25 fee to a volunteer group that manages the garden.  The money will go to maintain the garden, and not to the library itself or Gateway Greening, Sorth said.      

Library staff will also maintain one of the beds and donate all the produce to local food banks.   The St. Louis Audubon Society is installing a 500-square foot butterfly garden, as well.  

“I’d like to see this at every (library) location,” Brain said.  “I think that would be great.”

The project is being financially supported by a grant from the Missouri Foundation for Health

Follow Tim Lloyd on Twitter: @TimSLloyd