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Conway library offers gardening workshops

by Sam Pierce | January 24, 2021 at 12:00 a.m.
Lana Thurman, a senior at the University of Central Arkansas in Conway, works in the community gardens behind the Faulkner County Library. To help facilitate people’s interest in gardening, Organic Urban Farming 101 will be presented by the library and the Urban Farm Project every other Thursday throughout the year.

— As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic and its subsequent social-distancing measures, many people have been looking for new hobbies or interests to keep themselves busy, and one of those has been gardening.

Zack McCannon, the garden programmer for the Faulkner County Library in Conway, said he has definitely seen a rise in an interest in gardening. He said that at one point, the Faulkner County Seed Library was offering online ordering and curbside pickup, and eventually, there was a shortage of seeds.

“There was a definite surge, which is good,” he said.

McCannon started working at the library last February but has been involved with farm projects since 2010. He said he would attend various events to learn how to properly garden. Now, to help facilitate people’s interest in gardening, he has started a new virtual class and in-person workshop for the library, called Organic Urban Farming 101. The class, presented by the library and the Urban Farm Project, began Jan. 7 and will meet every other Thursday throughout the year.

The virtual classes will take place from 5-6 p.m., immediately followed by the outdoor workshop. McCannon encourages participants to attend the virtual classes in their cars, using the library’s Wi-Fi. Then they are welcome to attend the outdoor workshop. The library is at 1900 Tyler St. in Conway.

“[Last week], we introduced the materials needed, such as soil, trays and light for growing — just the fundamentals,” McCannon said. “In two weeks, we will actually plant the seeds under the grow lights. We also have a greenhouse, so we can show both sides of it.”

The Urban Farm Project is a collaboration between Hendrix University, the University of Central Arkansas and Central Baptist College to use the land behind the Faulkner County Library as a garden. The project was started about 10 years ago, and there are spots for vegetables, flowers and raised garden beds.

He said not everybody will plant in January, but it does help to get an early start on planting. He said the goal for the workshop is to educate and assist growers in real time in order for them to have a successful garden and harvest. McCannon said he plans to document the process as the class progresses through the year, and the videos from the class will be accessible.

He said he hopes the classes will help teach the fundamentals of gardening and help others be less fearful if they are just starting out as gardeners.

“We don’t want them to overspend and do too much,” he said.

Lisa Christman, a professor at UCA, has been a volunteer with the Urban Farm Project for the past three years. She is a senior lecturer in the department of student transitions at UCA, and last year, she planted and took care of two of the large garden beds there. She said the food was harvested and eventually donated to Bethlehem House.

“I am excited to see this series of classes that Zach has planned this year,” Christman said. “This week, I’m going to demonstrate at the workshop some of the supplies that I used on campus this year.

“I’m going to bring those up for demonstration purposes.”

She said gardening has always been a hobby of hers, and she enjoys getting outside to work in the garden and donating things that she grows to local food pantries. She said the garden provides a way for her to be involved in the community.

“When I volunteer at the Urban Farm Project, it is a social outlet for me,” Christman said.

She has definitely seen a spike in the hobby because some of the places where she purchases seeds have sold out, she said.

McCannon said he manages the annual seed swap that takes place in February, and he said it is very labor intensive. There are also 40 community garden plots that individuals or families can volunteer at a couple of times a month that have been pretty successful.

“Education is at our core,” McCannon said. “Especially now with COVID-19, we want to provide some online education content and inspire others to take part in urban farming or gardening. … What we are trying to combat as an organization is food insecurity. That is our mission.”

McCannon said he will also be contacting people who have more expertise in various areas of gardening to help educate others. He said the presenters will provide a deeper understanding of gardening.

“This is a long-haul class, with different events created for different topics,” McCannon said. “We can expect one class, such as how to prune bushes or whatever it might be, to have more people in it than other classes.

“We are looking to create some sort of certification to give [the class] an end goal as well, other than just a knowledge goal.”

McCannon said the best way to sign up for the class is to RSVP through the online Facebook event. People can also sign up for the library’s newsletter, which informs patrons of all library events. To sign up, visit https://bit.ly/2XeS2XJ.

Staff writer Sam Pierce can be reached at (501) 244-4314 or spierce@arkansasonline.com.

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