The program at Harrison Library encourages growing vegetables, herbs and flowers at home

The program at Harrison Library encourages growing vegetables, herbs and flowers at home

A program at the Allegheny Valley Community Library is growing in more ways than one.

The library along Broadview Avenue in Harrison plans to expand its Seed to Salad program so people can take packets of vegetable, herb and flower seeds and grow them in their homes.

The library distributed 555 seed packets in the program's first year in 2023, said Julia Strzecyski, the library's adult events coordinator. The goal is to triple that number this year, she said.

“Many of our neighboring communities are considered food deserts and suffer from a lack of public transportation,” Strzyski said. “By providing the knowledge and practical tools needed to grow essential fresh foods, our community will benefit greatly.”

The library serves people in Harrison, Tarentum, Brackenridge, Vaughn, East Deer and Fraser.

The library plans to partner with the Pucketos Garden Club of New Kensington and Penn State Extension Master Gardeners to host workshops, speaker series and field experience at the Sheldon Park and Natrona Community Gardens, both in Harrison, Strzesieski said.

Raised garden beds will be built in the library so people can wash their hands and learn how to grow herbs to garnish pizza, greens for salads and vegetables to eat straight from the ground.

“These plantings will beautify the area and allow people to pick herbs for their own use,” said Pat Lance, a 10-year member of the Poketo Garden Club.

The club supports a garden at the Peoples Library in New Kensington, London, where members grow flowers, herbs and shrubs. Lance said working in the dirt is a good way to encourage young people to garden.

The seed library has quickly become an important community resource that allows the facility to expand its environmental footprint, said Susie Ruskin, director of the Allegheny Valley Community Library.

“I am thrilled to see our program expanding and offering not only materials but educational programs as well,” Ruskin said. “I'm so excited to inspire young gardeners through fun programs and a pizza garden here at the library.”

The library serves more than 40,000 people annually with its collection of books, CDs, magazines, and software that includes scrapbooking, technology, and history.

“We want to energize our community and promote the fact that our library offers more than just books,” Strzyski said. “Our library contains a wealth of information that can benefit the bodies and minds of our community.”

The seed library will be aided by a $5,000 grant awarded this month from the Ira Wood Foundation. Seeds, donated by library sponsors Tractor Supply, Walmart and Lowes, will be available in March, but the library will host a native plant workshop on February 10 to kick off this year's program. The time has not been determined but will be announced soon on the library’s website.

The workshop will be led by the Pucketos Garden Club. Supplies will be provided for people to take home a starter pot.

Native plants are extremely beneficial to local landscapes because they are designed to thrive in Western Pennsylvania's soil and climate, said Rachel Handel, spokeswoman for the Audubon Society of Western Pennsylvania.

She said it preserves local biodiversity and is generally easier to maintain.

“Native plants attract birds, butterflies and beneficial insects to your backyard,” she said. “They support wildlife by providing habitat and food sources, they are beautiful and hardy, and there are species that do well in sun, shade, dry and wet areas.”

Some examples of native plants include ferns, phlox, bee balm, asters and butterfly weeds.

Native plants like milkweed directly benefit dwindling monarch butterfly populations, Handel said.

“Other plants contain seeds and berries that provide food for songbirds. During the winter, insects crawl into the hollow stems of native plants,” she said.

Audubon, headquartered in Fox Chapel, has a native plant center on its property along Dorseyville Road. It is open from May to October.

Tawnya Panizzi is a TribLive reporter. She joined the Trib in 1997. She can be reached at tpanizzi@triblive.com.

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