Getting Your Hands Dirty at The City Library

Nestled between the Main Library’s curved north wall and 400 South is an oasis of green leaves, flowers, and ripening vegetables. This is The Plot, the Salt Lake City Public Library’s community garden. Stand in the The Plot and you’ll hear the expected sounds of downtown Salt Lake City: cars zooming up and down street, TRAX trains dropping off commuters, and children laughing and playing with their families or summer-camp groups. Take a deep breath and you’ll notice the unmistakable smell of a thriving garden. Come at the right time and you can say hello to Emma Wilson, the Library’s Community Garden Coordinator.

“The Plot is a learning laboratory for Library patrons to sow, grow, and share using sustainable gardening practices,” Emma said. “Each gardener is the author of their own plot, fostering life and learning in an otherwise vacant urban area.”

The garden beds — 18 in total — are awarded to individuals and organizations located within the boundaries of downtown Salt Lake City via a lottery system held each winter. Gardeners can plant herbs, flowers, vegetables, and experiment with traditional or modern gardening methods. Everyone in Salt Lake City is welcome to attend free gardening workshops, little ones can attend special storytime sessions, and The Plot is the setting for twice-monthly Sunday morning Garden Yoga classes.

With The Plot, The City Library is serving the community in ways that might be surprising to people who think of libraries as places for books and quiet spaces for contemplation. But the modern public library aims to support pathways to a healthy community — specifically physical, mental, and emotional health — and facilitating solutions to our city’s health concerns. The Plot contributes to this by allowing urban residents to learn by doing, to feel the satisfaction of eating wholesome, organic produce they’ve grown themselves, and develop skills and habits that they can carry through life.

To get those skills and habits started early, The Plot offered garden beds to local youth groups during its inaugural year in 2017. Kids from the Children’s Synergistic Learning Collaborative, Jewish Community Center Counselors In Training, Urban Indian Center, Utah Pride Center youth support group, Wasatch Kids Camp, and Youth City all had a chance to experience planting and maintaining a garden before harvesting the results in the fall.

“We got squash, peas, and tomatoes. And look at this big zucchini! ” said Alyssa from the Urban Indian Center. Alyssa and other native children ages 7–12 gathered last fall for a late-season gardening session. After Emma demonstrated the proper harvesting technique, Alyssa grabbed her first vegetable. “It’s easy. You just twist and pull,” Alyssa said.

“Twist and pull.”

“It’s been a fun opportunity for the youth and for me,” Said Penelope, Youth Program Coordinator for the Urban Indian Center. “And it’s been fun collaborating with Emma and The City Library!”

During the off-season, Emma and the Library’s maintenance staff made some improvements to garden, including upgrading the irrigation system and starting a composting program to improve soil quality. The Plot will continue to evolve; Emma would like to add picnic tables, fruit trees and trellising for shade, and begin a seed library where members of the community can share their seeds with each other.

The Plot is supported by Wasatch Community Gardens, who have shared invaluable advice and best practices, donated seedlings, and conducted workshops. Red Butte Garden has also donated seedlings.

The Plot is open from sunrise to sunset for anyone that wants to stroll through the garden or have a seat and relax. To see the summer workshop and Garden Yoga schedule, click here. Next up is the garlic harvest, to be held on Thursday, July 5, at 4pm. Garden Yoga will be held the following Sunday, July 8, at 10am. The lottery for the 2019 gardening season will open early next year.

The Salt Lake City Public Library System