Families in Desoto County who visit their local library could walk away as gardeners and healthier eaters. That’s because the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences Extension Desoto County has implemented a program that creates a garden at the local library.
The Family Learning and Literacy Garden was started in 2015 via a partnership between UF/IFAS Extension Desoto County and other community organizations, said Kristie Popa, a UF/IFAS Extension 4-H agent. So far, eight families have successfully completed their first growing season and are preparing for their next crop.
The idea is to educate youth and their families about gardening, health, nutrition and agriculture. “We wanted to immerse families in books to encourage a love of reading, while engaging young people in 4-H who may not have had the opportunity before,” she said. “So, gardening at the library gave us the perfect opportunity to engage families in literature and in healthy living.”
The gardens consist of multiple raised beds used to grow vegetables, including tomatoes, lettuce, cucumbers and collards. Families harvest produce from their own gardens and participate in activities directly related to agriculture through children’s books on plants, water cycles, health, nutrition and more.
“Most participants had never grown their own food before. So, they were able to work with other families and share garden beds,” Popa said. “The experience fostered an understanding of what 4-H does and how it can impact their lives. And it led to discovering new reading opportunities at the library and a healthier lifestyle.”
UF/IFAS Extension DeSoto County 4-H Agent Kristie Popa. UF/IFAS File Photo