County News

County Grows Community Spirit with Tower Gardens

Library patrons stop to check out a tower garden at a Gwinnett County, Ga. library. Photo courtesy of Gwinnett County

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Problem: Providing stimulating learning opportunities to library patrons and teaching them about nutrition in Gwinnett County, Ga.

Solution: Grow tower gardens in each library.

Library employees in Gwinnett County, Ga. are growing learning opportunities and cultivating community spirit with a program that adds “tower gardens” to their libraries.

The library applied for and received funding, approximately $20,000, through the Institute for Museum and Library Services (IMLS) to purchase tower gardens. The IMLS is a federal agency that administers grant funds to libraries and museums. A tower garden is an indoor aeroponic growing system using water and minerals, artificial light and no soil.

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Contact Barbara Spruill 

Why did Gwinnett County decide to bring tower gardens to their libraries? In addition to learning opportunities, “there’s a lack of nutrition education and a lack of knowledge, frankly, about where food comes from,” said Charles Pace, library director. “There is some food insecurity in our community — we have transportation issues — and pockets of some pretty significant poverty in parts of the county.”

The county library system placed tower gardens in each of the library’s 15 branches, growing mainly swiss chard, chive, parsley, cilantro and butter lettuce. The tower gardens were displayed “front and center” at each library. They attract a lot of attention from patrons because they are brightly lit with bubbling sounds from the water.

“We wanted them to be very visible to get a lot of notice,” said Meg Wilson, project manager. Each library branch created signs for the gardens describing the project, what was being grown and an events calendar centered on garden activities.

The libraries created programming for every student age group; activities ran the gamut from making botanical drawings to making salads. The libraries even held impromptu learning lessons about the pH level of the water while testing it. Other programs involved nutrition and proper eating. “We would use the greens to make salads,” Pace said. “We also distributed a lot of the greens.”

The tower gardens also helped the library develop community partnerships to address food insecurity such as donating fresh greens to local food pantries and senior lunch programs.

Community groups that connected with the library included master gardeners, chefs, culinary experts, Girl Scout troops, and groups from assisted living homes, said Barbara Spruill, director of community partnerships and grants.

“One of our partners was a non-profit group called the Path Project, working with Latin American youth,” she said. “We were able to provide two huge coolers of fresh greens to feed 250 summer campers with a fresh salad during their lunchtime.”

The gardens are also useful “as a gateway to talk to library patrons about all the other services and programs the library offers that people may not be aware of,” Pace noted.  “It’s kind of a wholistic approach to caring for the whole person.”

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