By, Maggie Hanelt, Assistant Director and Youth Services Librarian at Truro Public Library
In 2021, the Truro Public Library applied for and received a Library Services & Technology Act (LSTA) grant through the Massachusetts Board of Library Services (MBLC) titled “Dig Into Youth-grown Vegetables, Fruits, and a Healthier World for All!” With this grant money, we focused on organizing a teen co-designing, building, and planting project and aimed to broaden the reach of Sustainable CAPE’s Children’s Community Garden by including the component of teaching about soil through demonstration gardening. We focused on personal learning opportunities to foster exploration and deeper understandings of what makes healthy soil with a focus on the most current care practices. Demonstration gardening, foraging, and preparing local foods were expanded with local farmers and the Lead Children’s Gardner Farmer/Educator Sarah Naciri offering their expertise as presenters.
By creating outdoor educational spaces in the area around the garden which includes a mud kitchen for younger children and a cold frame; rain and shade areas for working in most outside conditions; and selecting appropriate educational materials including books, this project has enriched the understanding of the benefits and ways of a healthy garden and the areas serve as outdoor classrooms. The mud kitchen offers learning opportunities for young children to explore with their senses, imagination, and creative play using mud, leaves, and twigs near the Children’s Community Garden. Perennial food bearing plants are now available to harvest for years to come, and a cold frame will allow for plant starts for the Children’s Community Garden. This will defer the cost of buying them from a local nursery for future gardening sessions. The plants and trees will be maintained and harvested each year by the Lead Garden Farmer/Educator and the children participating in the garden program.
According to Sustainable CAPE’s Director Francie Randolph “the Truro Public Library’s Food Forest is a result of the library’s desire to write grants to expand Sustainable CAPE’s Children’s Community Garden on the library property, initially built in 2010. Instead of further expanding the garden itself, which would have required additional long-term maintenance, we brainstormed alternate ideas together. We then collaborated on two grants to create a perennial Food Forest, a welcoming space for the public to access free local food far into the future. The space additionally connects the Children’s Community Garden with a handicapped access entrance at the library.
The library’s staff, in conjunction with Sustainable CAPE’s Director Francie Randolph, and Children’s Garden Farmer/Educator Sarah Naciri, created a list of community contacts and convened a strong team to make our goal a reality. Led by the indomitable staff from the library and Sarah on site, AmeriCorps Cape Cod was instrumental in helping us clear the soil and prepare the ground. Cape Cod Regional Technical High School students, led by teacher Robert Capurso, designed and built a mud kitchen. Edible Landscapes of Cape Cod completed the design/build and edible perennial plantings. New England Biochar assisted with soil amendments. And artist Mimi Bois, a former Children’s Garden participant now in college, is creating a new mural. The children of the Children’s Community Garden have continued planting and harvesting and teen volunteers, most of whom were formerly children’s garden participants, volunteered their time to assist in the project’s design and completion.”
In 2022, the Truro Community Preservation Committee awarded the Truro Library grant money to expand the Food Forest Path along the area originally developed by the Truro Department of Public Works so that people of all abilities could access the basement door (that leads to an elevator). Invasive plants were removed by AmeriCorps of Cape Cod and Edible Landscapes of Cape Cod in April 2023. Shaun, from Edible Landscapes of Cape Cod, drew the layout of the Food Forest Path and contributed his expertise to writing the grants explains, “the whole point of this project is to get children and families to interact more with nature and the food they eat. Our practices are always about regeneration - regenerating the land to build healthy organic soil to increase life in the soil which sequesters more greenhouse gases, absorbs more water, helps reduce drought and erosion, and provides high quality nutrient dense food for humans and wildlife. The more we can get humans, especially children, interacting with the Earth and their food, the more they will have reverence for the Earth and all of life thus creating a very positive flow of life. These fruit and nut trees and shrubs will provide food, education, and interaction for generations. Only non-native/invasive plants will be removed. Focusing on perennials with an irrigation system will reduce the amount of labor needed to maintain, though there will need to be some maintenance involved which is a great activity for the children’s gardening group. I see this as a small community garden that will hopefully continue to grow throughout other areas of the property there, and hopefully we’ll be seeing local community gardens popping up all over the outer cape!”
Shaun later described the design of the garden as being “largely based on the already existing footprint and then working with the sun and the hills in the back. The plant selection had the ideal parameters for me…native and edible, and in some cases just native or just edible. But most of the plants are native and we got in a good diversity of beautiful native plants such as spicebush, butterfly weed, and anise goldenrod. A lot of the edible plants are geared towards children with a lot of strawberries, raspberries, blueberries, blackberries, and black raspberries; but we were also able to highlight lesser-known native fruit trees and shrubs such as American persimmons, elderberry, serviceberry, pawpaws, and mulberries. We were also able to get in a few American hazelnuts, rhubarb, asparagus, ostrich ferns, and horseradish.”
The value of many Food Forests across the world includes Localization of Food Systems such as the one in South Dakota (https://projectfoodforest.org/misson-vison-and-values/) which emphasizes:
Cecilia Hanelt, in her thesis entitled Transforming Global Food Systems states that “central to the creation of sustainable food systems is the practice of agroecology in place of industrial agricultural systems. Agroecology is not a set model because it cannot be implemented in the same way across all territories, it needs to be adapted to each area in a way that is fitting to the characteristics of that environment. The basis for understanding agroecology today as a holistic solution to aid in the transition away from industrial agriculture and towards resiliency and sustainability comes from The Declaration of the International Forum for Agroecology which was held at the Nyéléni Center in Sélingué, Mali in 2015 and incorporates scientific, political, economic, social, and cultural aspects.”
The Truro Public Library staff hopes to continue to uphold these values along with the goal from Truro’s Local Comprehensive Plan “to identify, protect, preserve, or restore wildlife and plant habitat to maintain the Town’s natural diversity.” Our next steps are to establish a shaded area for all people to enjoy the part of the Food Forest Path outside the back door of the library which is flat and easily accessible; design three educational signs about the Path with the Truro Commission on Disabilities and purchase them; and continue to maintain and enjoy these areas with assistance from all our wonderful collaborators!