Northern Onondaga Public Library Grows a Greener Community with its LibraryFarm Program

While perusing the offerings in an outdoor little free library, a hand passes over a number of books titled ‘Hydroponics,’ ‘Pest Maintenance’ and ‘Water Efficiency.’ After a slight pause, the hand finds its target: A petite onion still crusted with a layer of soil.

Jill Youngs, Library Manager of the Cicero branch of Northern Onondaga Public Library (NOPL), presents the bulb with a grin.

While an onion would seem peculiar in the hands of most librarians, Youngs also manages LibraryFarm, a collection of 58 4-by-8-foot plots of land and three 4-by-75-foot pantry gardens situated on the library grounds. It is open to use by library members interested in organic agricultural practices, affectionately referred to as ‘plotters.’

“The plotters are all varieties of gardeners,” said Youngs. “Some people have never planted before. So there is a lot of knowledge sharing out there.”.

Formed five years ago as the result of a community survey to determine potential uses for the patch of land in front of the Cicero Public Library, LibraryFarm has consistently found its sources of growth from members of the community.

“It’s very organic, in both senses of the word,” said Youngs. “We do organic practices but it’s also very- ‘oh, we need a plot here, here’s a square right there.’” As part of that organic development, other projects have emerged on the LibraryFarm. A patio area was created as an Eagle Scout project. An ‘insect hotel’ was constructed and its many-legged guests were attended to by the Junior Gardener’s Club. An herb garden plot provides gardeners a wide variety of cooking herbs for anyone who wants them.

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A ‘plotter’ working one of the pantry gardens. (image courtesy of NOPL)

The other section of LibraryFarm, 900 square feet of pantry gardens, grows fresh, organic produce that is donated to local food pantries. Last year, the gardens grew over 270 pounds of food. Youngs works closely with the food pantries to make sure the gardens are in tune with their needs.

The Library Farm received national news coverage from the New York Times and the Christian Science Monitor, labeled as a unique ‘makerspace’ in the outdoors and a creative ‘laboratory’ for food literacy.

“[News coverage] has drawn much positive attention to NOPL at Cicero, and any time we can get someone’s attention, we’re able to promote a whole range of library services…It’s caused us to focus our attention on related programming for children and for adults, which has been very exciting for us,” NOPL Director Kate McCaffrey said.

Over time, the farm’s popularity grew and with it demands for water and accessibility increased. Plotters either had to port their own water to their gardens or use a hose running from the library across the street. With a grant from the Community Foundation, Library was able to install a spigot on-site, reducing the strain involved with watering each plot while increasing ADA compliance.

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The Community Foundation provided a grant towards installing an on-site spigot. (image courtesy of NOPL)

NOPL trustee Robert Lalley has had a LibraryFarm plot since the very beginning. He notes the drastic improvement the spigot has on the LibraryFarm:

“It’s especially beneficial for those with less physical ability. I used to see people dragging five gallon containers of water. The water spigot allows easier access, and is a great benefit for those with plots furthest out,” said Lalley.

Above all else, LibraryFarm has fostered a community of eager learners, dedicated to expanding and connecting with others while creating a shared gardening space. Plotters and staff members alike speak of the benefits, ranging from mental and physical fulfillment to charitable giving to the local food pantry.

“There’s the atmosphere of the garden that creates a small community willing to learn, work together, and have a gorgeous garden by the end of the season,” said former LibraryFarm Manager Adrienne Canino. “There is the satisfaction of hard work turned into tangible profit, and the opportunity to connect to a bigger movement. I really like that about the LibraryFarm.”

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