The ‘world’s first library farm’

Some great things just go together, even if sometimes it takes a while before someone has the idea of trying the combination. That’s what Meg Backus, at the time Northern Onondaga Public Library’s (NOPL) adult programming director and public relations coordinator, proved. Backus saw empty land across the street from the library and pitched the idea of setting up a garden on the library’s land. Soon enough, 40 members were bringing “their own water, seeds, seedlings, and other growing provisions to investigate whether that land could produce.”

Rising food prices have now made the project even more vital and since community gardens are often away from high-profile lots or not easily accessible, the library farm draws attention and makes possible multiple library programs on gardening and related topics.

As the farm grew, the supplies brought by members weren’t enough, they needed more space, more seeds, and the growth of the teaching programs also required some help. Partnerships were needed.

[T]he Library Farm began forming partnerships with organizations in and around Onondaga County. They partnered with Syracuse Grows, a local non-profit that supports urban food production, to receive seeds and seedlings, and the Onondaga County Resource Recovery Agency which began donating compost and mulch.

Eventually, thanks to the volunteer gardeners, donations, and grants, the group managed to grow more crops, offering some for sale and donations. The donations, in particular, allow the Library Farm to perform a community service throughout Onondaga County.

Donations of supplies allow the Cicero Branch of NOPL to annually provide over 200 pounds of fresh produce for the food insecure in Cicero, as well as the other two branches in Brewerton and North Syracuse.

The plants are not the only things growing at the farm, so are the expertise and number of gardeners, and thanks to the education programs and ad hoc sharing between gardeners, newly arrived participants can learn quickly.

Members also benefited directly from the fact that Library Farm is situated in proximity to a public library. Rosenstein recalled that when she first started she “checked out a ton of books on gardening”. Reading these books as she began her gardening journey equipped her to take agricultural theory and “put it into action.”

Today, not only is the library farm useful to its members, and to the communities who benefit from the donation, but it’s also a place to incubate gardening expertise, making it a vital resource for the Onondaga County community and other garden projects around the region.

Photo: Courtesy of the Northern Onondaga Public Library.