By Doug Ireland
---- — Community gardens are becoming so popular in Southern New Hampshire, they’re even taking root at public libraries.
Staff members at Kelley Library in Salem and Pelham Public Library are planting gardens this spring to teach young readers about the importance of growing healthy food.
At the Pelham library, children also are learning about feeding the less fortunate. They will donate the vegetables they grow to the Pelham Food Pantry.
It’s all being done in conjunction with the libraries’ summer reading programs, promoted by the state and national library associations. The national themes are “Dig into Reading” for young children and “Beneath the Surface” for those age 12 and older. They will be reading books and enjoying activities based on those themes.
“I think it’s a great way for the kids to learn about starting a garden and producing food,” said Brittany Tuttle, Kelley Library’s youth services librarian.
Eight children participated in the library’s Veggie Garden Basics workshop Monday. Tuttle and librarian Anne Pepin showed them how to plant and care for gardens.
At one point, Pepin showed Debbie Brightman, 12, Jocilyn Maloney, 11, and Vinny Desharnais, 12, how to plant seeds.
“They were pretty enthusiastic,” Tuttle said of the group. “I was pleased.”
In two weeks, they will be digging into the salsa garden that will be planted in front of the library. But more help from more people will be needed this summer to weed and water the growing tomato, cilantro and onion plants, Tuttle said.
“We’re encouraging everyone from the community to pitch in and help,” she said.
The community has already pitched in in another way. Lake Street Garden Center donated the seeds, Dodge Grain provided fertilizer and topsoil, and the town’s Conservation Commission also lent assistance, Tuttle said.
Finding enough young gardeners isn’t expected to be a problem at Pelham Public Library. Thirty children and parents went to the library May 7 to pick up seedlings to grow at home, library director Corinne Chronopoulos said.
They participated in the Plant-A-Row program, led by library assistant Lucie Gratton and master gardener Marc Duquette, who donated some of the supplies.
The children will be growing an assortment of vegetables — including tomatoes, zucchini, cucumbers and green beans — in four small garden plots outside the library, Chronopoulos said. The produce will be given to the food pantry, she said.
The library will be promoting gardening throughout the community by establishing a “seed catalog,” Chronopoulos said.
When the vegetables are harvested, seeds from the produce will be saved at the library and made available to patrons interesting in starting gardens.
After all, libraries are more than just a place to pick up books.
“You can come in and check out a package of tomato,” Chronopoulos joked.