The Madison County library hopes to foster a love of gardening to the community through their comprehensive seed catalogue and other plant-based programs.

Library Director Christina Cornelison said she was very excited about the upcoming programs.

"We're doing a lot with our seed library, it's every kind of seed you can think of. People just come in and grab them. We're gonna be doing a lot with the program this year. This is something we do every year that is just really neat," Cornelison said.

Along with a group of several other libraries in the region, the Madison County Library (with branches in Richmond and Berea) has built up a large collection of seeds to be distributed for free to visitors of the library. The catalogue is part of a larger gardening initiative that is set to expand throughout 2022.

A seed starter workshop is scheduled for Mar. 12, at 9 a.m. to noon in Richmond and 1:30 p.m. to 4:30 p.m. in Berea.

Containers, soil, and seeds will be provided at the workshop, but registration is requested, so the people at the library know how many supplies they will need for the class.

Later on in the year, there will also be pumpkin-growing contests for different age groups.

The library's 2022 seed catalogue includes the following:

Black Valentine beans; Roma II beans; Danvers 126 carrots; Ashley cucumbers; zinnia and cosmos; Sunny mix & Sunspot sunflowers; marigolds; dahlia flowered zinnias; tango lettuce and Four Seasons lettuce; red Ursa kale; basil; dill; cilantro; cantaloupe; cherry Belle radishes; zucchini; Pattypan squash and nine different breeds of tomatoes.

The library tries to provide a wide variety of plants for the catalogue including flowers, herbs, and summer and winter vegetables - all of which are non-GMO seeds. Available gardening books at the library are featured and a master gardener is going to be brought in to give a series of talks to educate would-be gardeners on the ins and outs of the art.

Paige Beichler, community partners manager of the Madison County Public Library, said the importance seed catalogue and educating the community about the gardening was vital.

"We wanna promote healthy living, being outdoors... We wanted to work with our rural roots and to help bring up kids to know about gardening. We can tie this in with STEM - biology, science, ecology. This is a good activity for little kids and grown people as well," Beichler said. "We've expanded this to include raised beds at the Richmond library, the Berea library, and Kit Commons.

In 2021 alone, the Madison County Library gave away 35,000 packets of seeds to the community. As an added bit of nostalgia, the seeds are kept in the library's old card catalogues. The library works with the Madison Conservation District to promote healthy soil conservation.

The community response to the seed catalogue has been a positive one in many ways.

"People really like it. All of this is anecdotal, but people are always asking when we're going to put the seeds out, when we're going to get more seeds, and requesting different kinds of seeds. We mostly stick with heritage seeds and things that people can grow and collect the seeds again themselves. We encourage people to bring seeds back to us if they're seed collectors and some of them do," Beichler said.

Most people who donate seeds to the library do it anonymously.

"They don't put their names on it. I'll just come to the desk and there'll be a pound of marigold seeds or a big bag of bean seeds. There'll be a tag on them saying what kind of seed it is and the year, but hardly ever the name. It's anonymous generosity," Beichler said.

A lot of work goes into the actual process of acquiring the seeds and preparing them for distribution.

"We pool our money and get together, but it's actually the library in Clarke County that does the purchasing so we can get seeds in bulk. In October of 2021, I went to Clarke County to get my allotment of seeds which totalled out to about 40 pounds of 15 or 16 different seeds. Then I work furiously with volunteers to measure them out into little envelopes," Beichler said.

The modern library is much different than the library of old, as they have become learning centers in more ways than one. While gardening is a big initiative for the Madison County Library this year, it is far from the only one.

"Anymore, books are secondary to what we do. Gardening is one point, in the pandemic many people took it up. Here in our digital services you can learn how to use a serger, use a sewing machine, bind a book, how to use a 3D printer -- these are skills that people are needing to use now. And the library is a place you can come to learn them. We have an unfunded mandate for this," Beichler said. "When they eliminated all the unemployment offices, we helped lots of people fill out an online application. This is the place to learn how to move in this world these days."

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