Originally Published in Demco Ideas & Inspiration
Written By: Amanda Struckmeyer
Libraries have long hosted community gardens. They appear to have roots in World War I and World War II victory, and library gardens continue to be popular today. Libraries’ public green areas function as teaching gardens, community spaces, and a part of the solution to food insecurity.
Across the country, community members of all ages learn about gardening by — literally — getting their hands dirty. Planning the garden, planting seeds, watering, pulling weeds, and harvesting vegetables are experiences library gardens offer. Potential related programs and activities are endless, such as:
- Math-focused children’s programs, focusing on measuring and plotting the growth of the plants
- Book clubs (some of which center around plant-themed literature) that meet in or near the garden
- Art activities, including making leaf rubbings of different plants
- Guest speakers on topics including worms, fertilizers, nutrition, and native plants
- Cooking programs with dishes featuring produce grown in the garden
- In addition, some libraries donate the produce grown in their gardens to food pantries or other community organizations.
Should you incorporate a library garden into your programming?
Gardening is a perfect fit for libraries, thanks to its broad appeal, versatility, and novelty. Additional therapeutic benefits of gardening are not to be overlooked. Did you know?
- Studies suggest that gardening may decrease the risk of dementia by up to 36 percent
- People with ADD and learning disabilities who garden regularly have shown improved focus, improved academic performance, an increased sense of confidence and success, better social interactions, and better sleep
- Gardening may lead to decreased anxiety and depression symptoms
- Gardening can provide a sense of empowerment, particularly as individuals who may not have had access to fresh produce in the past grow it themselves
- Community gardens foster connections between people, which is especially needed after the isolation experienced by many during COVID
The benefits of library gardens are many, but can be limited due to local growing seasons, availability of green space, staff and volunteer time, and overall efficiency. The Flex Farm Hydroponic Growing System offers a practical, easy-to-use solution to these barriers.
A Library Garden Option — Flex Farm Hydroponic Growing System What is the Flex Farm Hydroponic Growing System?
Unlike conventional gardens or raised beds, Flex Farm is a vertical growing system, taking advantage of space in a whole new way. Rather than growing horizontally on the ground, plants grow up and down the indoor unit. The system is self-contained, portable, hygienic, and cost-effective.
Hydroponic gardening relies on a mineral solution rather than soil for growing plants. Combining such a mineral solution with pH-balanced water and the appropriate amount and type of light leads to increased yields and decreased costs.
Flex Farm is incredibly easy to use; it can be assembled in under 15 minutes. Everything you need to get started, such as a self-contained water system, an energy-efficient LED light tower, a submersible pump, a Grower Toolkit, and a starter Supply Kit is included.
Once the Flex Farm is set up, just add water, nutrients, and seeds. Plants grow quickly with little maintenance or attention.
Flex Farm: The solution to your library garden program challenges?
Many libraries cite common obstacles to hosting gardens. Flex Farm offers solutions to many of these:
- No gardening expert on staff: Flex Farm controls everything so plants can thrive with minimum input.
- Limited space: Flex Farm requires less than 10 square feet of space —and it’s mobile.
- Limited staff time: Flex Farm requires under three hours of maintenance each month.
- Short growing season: Grow year-round with Flex Farm!
The system is exceptionally energy-efficient and cost-effective. Because it uses new technology, it is 40% more efficient than other hydroponic growing systems. Flex Farm produces up to 3,400 plants each year and more than 20 pounds of leafy greens in each 28-day growing cycle. The total cost is less than $1 per pound of produce grown.
Boost engagement with programming around your library garden
Libraries and schools are finding that Flex Farm opens new, unique programming options, including:
- Nutrition or cooking programs based on the produce being grown
- Incorporating crops into school food programs
- Micro-enterprise or fundraising projects
- STEAM activities and learning opportunities, as plants grow all year long in a highly controlled environment
- Programming focused on the social and economic benefits of hydroponic gardening (Flex Farm uses 98% less water than traditional agriculture)
- Harvesting nutritious fresh produce for food pantries and community organizations in all seasons
- Food Miles challenge (create a meal in which all the ingredients originated close to your community, tallying the total miles traveled; Flex Farm provides ingredients with zero food miles)
- Experiments in hydroponic growing; Flex Farm can be used to grow leafy greens and herbs, and Flex Farm gardeners have had success with cucumbers, strawberries, tomatoes, peppers, and pumpkins
The short turnaround between planting and harvesting makes Flex Farm engaging and fun for all ages. In addition, a professionally written curriculum is available, including ready-to-use lesson plans for a variety of ages.
Enhancing library accessibility through hydroponic gardening
Libraries strive to serve all community members; we ensure that our buildings are wheelchair-accessible, and we offer materials and services in multiple formats and languages. While we recognize the benefits of gardening activities and programs, gardens are not always accessible to individuals with physical limitations. For example, an individual who uses a wheelchair or an individual for whom crouching or kneeling is uncomfortable may not have physical access to library gardens.
Flex Farm provides a more accessible option. Because it is located in the building, Flex Farm takes advantage of all accessibility features built into the library. Additionally, the plants can be reached easily while standing or seated in a chair or wheelchair, putting the garden within reach of an increased number of patrons.
Flex Farm allows libraries to open new worlds of possibilities with minimal commitment. Whether a library currently hosts a community garden or not, hydroponics is a natural next step toward incorporating gardening and growing for patrons of all ages.