Cygnet is a rural community of approximately 1000 people, with a small, but well attended library at its centre. Cygnet library is one of Tasmania's busiest regional libraries with clients from diverse backgrounds and needs. As a library, it's primary aim is to improve the literacy outcomes of the local community where nearly 50% of adults cannot read or write. One way of improving literacy rates is through community outreach activities that are inclusive and that appeal to a broad audience - this is where gardening comes in!
In 2013 myself and three other volunteers Carol Murphy, Catherine Ashmore and Kate Flint worked together in partnership with Libraries Tasmania to create an innovative community garden project which incorporates literacy, sustainability and community art.
The idea was to appeal to the community's interest in sustainability and health by welcoming them to the local library and it's edible garden, where people could learn more using the resources available through Libraries Tasmania. For example, the edible library garden provides an additional educational space for local children to participate in Storytime and craft activities outside often integrating elements of the garden into sessions. Adults and children alike, delight in exploring the garden, learning about the world around them - including plants, fungi, insects, gardening and sustainability with further resources conveniently available through the library.
Since 2013 the garden has been entirely run by a small grant from Kitchen Gardeners International - Sow it Forward Grant, community donations and volunteer support. The benefits of the project to our community is already evident, with locals and visitors becoming intrigued and engaged in the purpose of the project, along with feature articles in local newspapers and ABC radio. The project is bringing people together and feeling a sense of pride in what this initiative has achieved so far, and what is possible in the future.
Over the busy summer months, both local, interstate and even international visitors got to sample the garden produce including broad beans, tomatos, herbs and seeds saved from the spent blooms. One international visitor to the library that I spoke with, had never tasted the full flavour a home grown tomato before and was estatic that I was able to take one out of the garden and let her try it! Seeds were also saved and distributed to whoever wanted a packet to take home. Clients to the library loved being able to take home seeds to grow and many conversations followed, with clients updating library staff on the progress of their young sprouts!
The community arts project “Wishes” continues to be an important focal point of the garden. The project was coordinated by volunteer Catherine Ashmore who involved local children and adults to draw their 'wishes' on paper to be displayed on the library external walls. This project has brought members of the community to the library and provides insight about those who live here.
The grant from Kitchen Gardeners International, helped fund existing and new plantings in the front and rear garden and a portion also helped to fund a joint community project with the Port Cygnet Men's Shed to repurpose some seating to increase the rear garden area amenity for educational workshops and reading. The work by the Port Cygnet's Men's shed and volunteers Carol Murphy and Catherine Ashmore, were amazing, turning a run down seat into beautifully restored seating for library clients.
In 2015 a fungi garden was introduced including a table and chairs for outdoor Storytime readings and activities plus a fungi garden to see if we could get some edible fungi growing. Local fungi business Forest Fungi donated some fungi spawn to the project.
So far the garden provides a safe, welcoming environment for people to enjoy and maybe even get interested in reading!