Imagine this: raised beds of rich, dark soil blooming with colorful vegetables and flowers, set against a backdrop of rolling, snowcapped mountains. Sounds nice, right? The Ketchikan Public Library thinks so, too.

This summer, the library announced plans for a Children’s Community Garden to be built on the concrete patio just outside the children’s section of the library. Children’s Library Assistant Rebecca Jackson said the idea came to her while taking a master gardening class at the library. She wasn’t yet employed there at the time.

“I saw the concrete slabs out there, and I was like, you know — they weren’t being utilized, kids didn’t play on them, they were more just like a walk-through area that people would use,” she said. “So in taking the class, I got kind of excited about the potential for a community garden.”

Jackson said the patio is a perfect spot.

“It’s right outside the children’s library, it’s a great site,” she said. “Gets a lot of sun, gets good air circulation – maybe too much air circulation, at times – but that can be managed.”

Jackson began her job in the Children’s Library in 2014. She was nervous, as a new employee, to bring up the idea of a community garden to her coworkers. But once she mentioned it to Children’s Services Librarian Amanda Kiely, it was a hit. Here’s Kiely.

“She had the idea for a garden there and has really kept the idea going for the last couple years,” Kiely said.

The library received two grants to fund this project. One for $2700, procured by the Friends of the Library group, came from the Ketchikan Community Foundation’s annual grant cycle. Another $2000 came from an Alaska State Library Interlibrary Cooperation grant.

The grant money will first go toward the construction of raised garden beds, or boxes. Kiely said they hope to have them built by the end of August.

“And then we’re going to get the soil, mix the soil, and hopefully be able to plant some fall bulbs and fall crops in September, October,” she said.

Come spring, Jackson said, is when the real fun dirty work begins. She said they’ll begin mixing soil with various amendments and fertilizers like manure and seaweed.

“So it’ll just be doing that and then mixing it all together, so I think that will be fun because kids love to play in the dirt and get messy,” she said. “And then after that, it’s planting, it’s learning about important pollinator crops, just learning the importance of measuring and spacing and care for something like that.”  

Kiely stressed that the garden will belong to the children and people of Ketchikan.

“One thing I really want this to be is a community garden,” she said. “It’s not a library garden that we come and let people work in; I want it to be really a community garden, so the people – especially the children – who come and work and help have ownership of it.”

One way the library will promote this community ownership is through programs. In addition to mixing dirt, Kiely said she wants kids to be able to connect tending the garden to more academic parts of the program.

“Whether that’s story times, or doing garden journals, things like that to bring the literacy aspect and the library aspect of it into the garden project,” she said.

Kiely hopes that the garden will have a positive impact on the families of Ketchikan.

“Yeah, and also just providing really healthy activities for kids and for families: to be outside, to be working together, to be doing something really hands-on, and to be able to see the fruits of their labor…no pun intended,” she laughed.

Kiely asked that those who are interested in cultivating the Children’s Community Garden keep an eye on the library’s social media accounts.

Dirt doesn’t mix itself, after all.