By Jane Keller Gordon, Contributing Writer
Grafton – Following lots of talk about planting a vegetable garden at the Grafton Public Library – at board meetings, and by a librarian who wanted to circulate seeds like books – part-time employee and library enthusiast Beth Patch made it happen.
Patch, who has lived in Grafton for 30 years, works at the library as an assistant to director Beth Gallaway. She also works full-time as an administrative assistant to the director of case management at the Massachusetts Department of Mental Health in Fitchburg.
Growing up, Patch lived in lots of places. She said, “My father was in the Air Force. We lived in Taiwan, the Netherlands, and all over the U.S. Wherever we lived, we always had a vegetable garden, pigs and chickens.”
The garden originated two years ago when Patch went to Home Depot one day, bought some wood and then built two raised beds near the back door to the library.
Gallaway then asked Patch what she next needed.
“Friends of the Library paid for the first batch of soil and mulch,” said Gallaway, fulfilling Patch’s request.
Thanks to a trustee whose son was a Boy Scout, a troop of boys helped load the beds.
The first year, Patch said that they grew tomatoes, cucumbers, carrots, corn, blueberries, strawberries, sunflowers, and pumpkins. Sometimes volunteers would help weed, either having planned ahead or on the spur of the moment. At the end of the season, Patch built two more beds.
“A lot of people came through the door of the library, having seen progress in the garden,” she said. “It was a huge conversation piece.”
She then expanded the conversation to online by using Survey Monkey to gather input about what to plant in year two.
The second year, a troop of Girl Scouts helped to plant the beds. And an especially dedicated, knowledgeable volunteer planted iris bulbs, which happens to be Patch’s favorite flower.
This past season the beds yielded multi-color carrots, zucchini, and peppers, lots of tomatoes, blueberries, strawberries, fennel, herbs, pumpkins, and watermelons.
What happens to the produce is just as important as the communal effort of gardening. The harvested vegetables are offered to library patrons, in baskets that are placed near the library’s adult and children’s circulation desks.
“Some kids see vegetables that they’ve only seen come out of a can,” Gallaway said. She also mentioned that some produce is donated to the Grafton Food Pantry.
Last year, some children picked their own cherry tomatoes from the garden’s bumper crop.
The front of the library has also benefited from Patch’s green thumb. Volunteers have planted flowers and an herb garden in the beds along the front of the library. The steps are often lined with big baskets of seasonal potted plants.
Gallaway noted that the library has been awarded a STEAM (science, technology, engineering, art, and math) grant from the Massachusetts Board of Library Commissioners. As part of the effort, there will be fifth bed built in the garden for the purpose of measurement. Next year children will track the growth of sunflowers, and pole beans.
As for the future, Patch wants to add more beds to the garden, and continue to experiment with crops. She said, “It’s a work in progress.”
Someday she hopes that library patrons can check out seeds harvested from the garden, take them home, grow the plants, collect and dry the seeds, and return the next generation to the circulation desk at the library.
Volunteers are always welcomed and appreciated. Weeding is normally done on Saturdays. If you are interested, contact Patch at [email protected].