Sunday, September 29, 2013

My interview with Room of Tears author Linda Merlino

I’ve been a fan of Linda Merlino and her work since I first came across her novel, Belly of the Whale (2008). Reading that novel was, for me, a discovery of a fresh voice in literature that should be heard.
When Linda sent me the galleys for her newest novel, Room of Tears, published by Imajin Books in July 2013, I once again became immersed in the story she had created, and I wrote the book blurb for the novel:

"I've just put down Room of Tears, Linda Merlino's second novel, and I am still sitting in that pool of shimmering light that a good book tosses over us, a translucent mantle that momentarily suspends the reader in time and space and life as we know it. A little something like being caught in a drop of suddenly solidified amber, I imagine. Merlino's writing is that gorgeous, and her skill at telling a story that transports the reader from disbelief to a state of astounded belief is matched by few, perhaps not any. Room of Tears does all of these things to us, its readers. It requires courage and extraordinary skill to build a story on the backdrop of the nation's tragedy of 9/11, but Merlino has built an original story that moves us through the still-fresh pain to a place of hope in the future. She makes us believe. She makes us believe in miracles."  —Zinta Aistars, founder and editor-in-chief of The Smoking Poet

Description of Room of Tears:

Out of tragedies come heroes and miracles…

At 9:59 a.m. on September 11, 2001, Diane O’Connor’s life as a firefighter’s wife changes forever shattering her faith. She writes daily of her sadness and four decades later she still keeps a note she wrote on 9/11 to her husband, Billy, hanging on her kitchen cabinet in Queens, the paper yellowed with age.

In the summer of 2041, Diane invites Friar Antonio Ortiz to her home. He is a man destined to become counsel to the first American pope—her son, Peter. Antonio asks no questions and arrives in secret, promising to wait nineteen years until Peter’s papal election before passing Diane's journal to him. Only then will Billy’s story be told, along with answers to Peter’s questions about his father’s last days.

First Edition ebook ISBN:978-1-927792-08-7
First Edition trade paperback ISBN: 978-1-927792-10-0

Zinta: Linda, Room of Tears has been off the presses since July. What kind of reception has your newest work received? You’ve chosen to write about a topic that has been important in recent American history, and we just saw its anniversary date again just a short while ago. It’s not an easy subject to address, and sensitive to very many.

Linda Merlino
Linda: Room of Tears has been well received.  Most readers understand that the book is meant to be a stand-alone novel, despite being written on the delicate canvas of 9/11. Early reviews drew praise for honoring those lost in 9/11-calling Room of Tears a tribute book which was very flattering, but in doing this sidestepped the real story of the lost firefighter’s son becoming the first American pope. Most publishers and some agents backed off from anything that hinted of religion, even homogenized religion, preferring to focus on the tragedy of the World Trade Center. Ironically 9/11 sprung from a clash of ideologies and the beliefs of what awaits in the hereafter.  September 11, 2001 is indelible. Everyone remembers where they were – what they were doing.  I wanted to take that core knowing and push the buttons on it – try to raise the level of consciousness to a place where a reader could poke into the corners of the unknown and find solace – answers – miracles. Room of Tears takes readers on a journey spread across six decades where memories can grow dim and through a fictional future asks those same readers to never forget.

Zinta: How did you come up with the idea for this novel? Did you read other works about 9/11 to see how other authors had handled it?

Linda: One seed for the story came from reading suppressed articles about the people who escaped the burning towers by leaping from the buildings – especially the North Tower. People in the South Tower were told to stay at their desks but when they saw men and women falling past their windows they fled. The people who jumped were the unsung, first heroes – but their actions were misunderstood and their stories never told. A second seed came in 2005 when Pope John Paul II died leaving a hole in the religious world, particularly for Catholics. The pope is a universal, public figure whose power reaches across the abyss of politics and organized religion.  Pairing the two events and conceiving the idea of an American pope I reached into the spectral possibilities of a higher power’s plan arising from devastating loss. These two seeds and the chance encounter with a firefighter’s wife gave me the courage to pursue what often seemed like a daunting task.

There are only a few works of fiction that mention 9/11 – like my book they use 9/11 as the backdrop.  The most widely read books available are non-fiction.   I chose to read the non-fiction Firehouse  by David Halberstam and a few others suggested to me by my “angel” firefighter’s wife whose husband survived 9/11 because he had a doctor’s appointment that day.

Zinta: What kind of research did you do as you wrote the book? I recently visited the 9/11 Memorial in New York City and it is a very moving place to be. For all the material around us about that day, I learned things I didn’t know prior to my visit. If you’ve been there, what was that like for you?

Linda: The research was overwhelming at times bringing me to a halt for days.  I have not yet visited the 9/11 Memorial but I watched many documentaries and news features of its beginnings – its progress - and its completion.  My plan is to visit the memorial before the end of the year. 

Zinta: Was anyone close to you involved on that day?

Linda:  I know several people who lost loved ones – husbands-sons-brothers. The one person lost most significant to me was a wonderful woman I met in 1977 when I first moved to Connecticut. As a newcomer I became involved with a local museum and she became my mentor, guiding me in those early days with so much kindness.  In some ways she became an adopted mother as my own mother lived at a distance. On September 11, 2001 she and her husband were on board hijacked flight 77 that crashed into the Pentagon killing all fifty-nine passengers, crew and terrorists as well as one hundred twenty-five people on the ground.  

Zinta: Once written, you were no doubt faced with selling the manuscript about a topic already addressed by many in many ways. What challenges did that present?

Linda: As I mentioned before many publishers and agents were uncomfortable with a manuscript that had any mention of the Vatican.  Considering the DaVinci Code is a hugely popular novel I wasn’t convinced not to argue the point.  My agent who read the manuscript gave me many solid pieces of advice.  She was not put off by the American pope idea but focused on the concept of being more genre specific – such as religious/paranormal.  I couldn’t bring myself to agree – the story is literary fiction not genre specific. 

Fortunately for me I have an incredible Indie publisher, Imajin Books, who loves my writing and re-released my first novel, now titled Hudson Catalina, and was thrilled to accept Room of Tears without questions.

Zinta: You’ve said that you are a fan of Joseph Campbell (so am I), and that he has inspired your work. How is that?

Linda: The Power of Myth and The Hero with a Thousands Faces are dog eared with my reading and re-reading. Mr. Campbell’s simple approach to life through mythology offers me the wisdom needed to tackle daily life.  Follow your bliss he said – and through my writing I do just that…

Zinta: Another inspiration you've often spoken of for your writing—your children. Did they inspire you for this novel, too?

Linda: My children, now grown with their own children, have always been my number one fans. Each supports me in their own way urging me to stay on my path and follow my dream. I dedicated Room of Tears to my grandchildren – how amazing is that?

Zinta: What do you hope your readers find in reading your work?

Linda:  If nothing else, may readers find hope within the pages of my work and the incentive to be whatever they dreamed they could be – no matter their age or circumstance.

Zinta: Are you planning special events, book tours and such, for Room of Tears?

Linda: As I answer these questions I am preparing for a midnight radio interview on WBZ 1030 Boston Radio.  I am also speaking at a writer’s conference this weekend and have library events stacking up in the months ahead.

Zinta: And, Linda, we fans want to know: what are you working on now?

Linda: My next project will veer off the literary fiction spectrum and venture into the young adult fiction world.  My family has asked that I write a story about Thanksmas.  Our invented every-other-year holiday that combines both Thanksgiving and Christmas created to allow adult children and their partners to have guilt free holidays.   We gather as a family and have the BEST time – so good that Thanksmas has become our favorite.  My story will be fiction – but Thanksmas is not.

Zinta: Thank you, Linda. Always a pleasure to have you visit, always a pleasure to learn about a good book.

Friday, September 27, 2013

My radio interview with Great Michigan Read's author Steve Luxenberg, "Annie's Ghosts"

by Zinta Aistars for WMUK 102.1 FM radio
Kalamazoo, Michigan's NPR affiliate station
Arts & More program
September 27, 2013

Annie's Ghosts: A memoir of uncovered family secrets by Steve Luxenberg

My author and artist interviews at WMUK 102.1 FM radio in Kalamazoo, Michigan, for the Arts & More program, play regularly on the radio and online. Listen on your radio or listen online for the full version at 

The book Annie’s Ghosts was picked as this year’s the Great Michigan Read, which means it will be the subject of discussions around the state. Its author, Steve Luxenberg, will be at some of those events, including the one at Portage District Library on Monday, September 30, at 6:30 p.m.
Annie's Ghosts is about Luxenberg's discovery that his mother had a sister that she kept secret from her husband and children. Luxenberg's aunt, Annie, had mental disabilities and was housed at the well-known Eloise Psychiatric Hospital in Detroit.
Listen to live radio by clicking on the button "Listen WMUK" at the top left corner, or click on LISTEN at the bottom of the page for the full interview. 

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Going the (short) distance to make a difference

by Zinta Aistars
Published in Southwest Michigan's Second Wave Media
September 26, 2013


How far would you run to help hospice? Well, the good news is you don't have to run far to help raise funds for hospice programs such as grief support for adults and children, massage therapy, and music therapy. Zinta Aistars has the story on the zany event with a serious purpose.

It is entirely possible that saying the name of this fundraising race may take longer than running the race: the First Annual Ultimate Extreme Ultra .1K Race benefiting Hospice Care of Southwest Michigan. By the time you catch your breath after that mouthful, you may have crossed the finish line 328 feet away. The race takes place Saturday, Sept. 28, at 11:30 a.m. on the downtown Kalamazoo Mall.

Sitting on the board of trustees for Hospice Care of Southwest Michigan, located at 222 N. Kalamazoo Mall in Suite 100, is Tom Jager. The .1K race was Jager’s idea, formed when Jager and his wife Laura participated in a similar race in Grand Rapids about a year ago. 

"That was a fundraiser, too," Jager says, "and for all outward appearances, it was a running event. Sure, you saw a lot of goofy stuff, with some dressed for a serious race and others showing up in high heels. We thought Kalamazoo would be the perfect place for such an event, with people experiencing our downtown. It would be like a big block party."

A big block party with a cause. 

Julie Waldron, grief counselor at Hospice Care of Southwest Michigan, agreed that the .1K race would be a fun way to show the greater Kalamazoo community "that hospice is an important addition to the quality of life." She says, "The race goes along with the concept that hospice is about enjoying life to the fullest."

Matching the fun event to a cause important to him was a natural for Jager. "I lost my son, Grant, about five and a half years ago," Jager says. "He was the light of our life. The people at Rose Arbor Hospice Residence were so great to us during those days."

When Jager brought up the idea of the .1K race as a fundraiser for Hospice Care of Southwest Michigan, which includes Rose Arbor Hospice Residence along with its other hospice programs, to his colleagues at Nulty Insurance, he had his first sponsor. Nulty Insurance was soon joined by the Millennium Restaurant Group, Gazelle Sports, Absolute Video & Multimedia, and Catalyst Development Company, LLC.

"We needed about $10,000 from the sponsors to fund the event," says Jager. He was not on the board for the hospice yet at that time, but he was soon appointed to it. With the help of Sarah Kerry, event planner at the hospice, the event was under way. 

"This event has tremendous potential to ..."


Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Lansing becomes a pioneer in Michigan, launching bike share program

by Zinta Aistars
Published in Capital Gains Media (Lansing, MI)
September 25, 2013

Bike SHARE PROGRAM IN LANSING, MI. Photo by Dave trumpie of Trumpie photography

When it seemed that the launch of a new bike share program in Lansing was starting off with a flat tire, Lynne Martinez was not in the least discouraged. The bike share program was initially to launch at the beginning of August, but a glitch in the bike locking mechanisms stalled the pilot.

“It will work. Chicago and New York were each a year behind their targeted launch dates. Much bigger and more complex systems. But this stuff is never easy,” says Martinez.

Martinez is principal of the Martinez Consulting Group, LLC, and now also a consultant to a new, nonprofit bike share program called Capital Community Bike Share (CCBS). For almost seven years, Martinez was a representative with the State of Michigan, serving on the House Appropriations Committee for Human Services, Community Health, Higher Education and Local Government. She understands her city and its needs.

“I have been active in the community for 30 years, helping Lansing grow,” says Martinez. “About two and a half years ago, I started to get interested in bike share programs. There are successful bike share programs in many large cities—Denver, Chicago, New York City, Minneapolis, and others. I thought this would be great for Lansing, too.”

Martinez found a major obstacle, however, as she investigated other bike share programs across the country: cost. All the successful bike share programs she found were in major cities with major budgets.

A bike share program places bicycles for public use at designated spots throughout the city, available for rental. Some use kiosks, or stations, where the bicycles are parked, ready for renters. A bike sharing program works in a similar fashion to Zipcars, a sharing program with cars that available for renters to pick up and drop off at their destinations, rented by the hour or by the day.

“I thought such a bike sharing program would be great for Lansing,” says Martinez. “It would encourage economic development, as bicyclists tend to make more stops along their routes than drivers. It’s good for the environment, too, reducing carbon emissions. But when I checked with some of these bike share companies, I found they were very expensive and wouldn’t work well for a mid-size or smaller city.”

The big companies weren’t a good fit for Lansing, but a small start-up in Ann Arbor, A2B Bikeshare, turned out to be ...


Saturday, September 21, 2013

Funky Buddha heats up the West Michigan yoga scene

by Zinta Aistars
Published in Rapid Growth Media
September 19, 2013

Larissa Link, a director at Funky Buddha (Photography by Adam Bird)

After opening its hothouse doors in December 2010, the Funky Buddha has grown from two teachers at a single yoga studio to 11 instructors at three locations. Find out why downward dog is trending up in West Michigan. Zinta Aistars has the story. 

Your work day began knotting itself up at the base of your neck and straining across your shoulders since your long morning commute. From there, the knot tossed threads up to your temples during a frustrating meeting with the boss. Midday, a tension headache pounded inside your skull. By end of day, your spine had stiffened into a broomstick.

The cure? Walk into Funky Buddha Yoga Hothouse at 1331 Lake Dr SE in Grand Rapids, or 12330 James St. in Holland, and you’ll soon feel the stress and tension of the day melt away. On November 2, a third Funky Buddha location will open at 820 Forest Hills Ave SE in the Forest Hills area to meet growing demand for yoga classes in greater Grand Rapids.

Yoga dates back more than 5,000 years, but the ancient practice is making a remarkable resurgence both nationally and locally -- arguably alongside the surge of stress in contemporary society. Harvard University neuroscientist Sat Bir Khalsa has been researching the ancient art and the therapeutic role it plays not only in alleviating stress, but also helping with sleep disorders, anxiety, diabetes, HIV, cancer, and many other health issues. Yoga is even being incorporated into military training. Is yoga the old magic pill made new again?

“People have become more mindful about health,” says Larissa Link, director of Funky Buddha Yoga Hothouse in Holland. She, like most of the Funky Buddha teachers, travels from one yoga studio to the other to accommodate class schedules. “We don’t just think about diet anymore. We think about overall health, and the need for stress release is huge today.”

Funky Buddha is the brainchild of Kerri and Chris Reinbold, Grand Rapids natives who moved away to Chicago and Madison, Wisconsin, for some years, but then returned to Grand Rapids in 2009 to raise their sons. With Kerri’s yoga expertise and Chris’s entrepreneurial skills, they combined their talents to create a studio not unlike those they had enjoyed in the bigger cities. 

“When you first walk into the studio, it feels like a warm hug,” says Link. “That’s because we keep the temperature at 95 degrees.”

The body’s musculature, Link explains, is like glass. The more heat, the more malleable the body becomes. The more malleable, the more flexible, and the more flexible, the less prone to injury.

“Working out in the heat feels really good,” Link says. “Think of it as something like a sauna. I don’t like vacationing in Florida, but this is different. Once you’re in it, you forget about it—the body adapts. I’ve fallen in love with it, although I still won’t vacation in Florida.” Link laughs.

The Grand Rapids location is ...


Thursday, September 19, 2013

Pilot program offers a second chance for young people

by Zinta Aistars
Published in Southwest Michigan's Second Wave
September 19, 2013


Can young people who are poised to get adult criminal records turn their lives around? A group of dedicated people in Kalamazoo (including the Kinetic Affect duo) led by Judge Anne Blatchford is trying to help them turn that corner. Zinta Aistars has the story on how it works.

Photo by Erik Holladay
In any given month, approximately 19,000 Kalamazoo County residents are on probation. About 25 percent of those people are ages 17 to 20. 

These uncomfortable numbers come from Lynn Kirkpatrick, probation services director in district court, and these numbers make no one more uncomfortable than Judge Anne Blatchford of the 8th District Court. After all, a large percentage of those numbers, and the young faces attached to them, have been standing before her in her courtroom. 

"I see too many of these young adults falling through the cracks, and once they appear in my courtroom, too often I see them come back," Blatchford says.  

According to the Federal Bureau of Prisons, a division of U.S. Department of Justice (as of August 2013), 218,864 people are currently incarcerated. The trend has fast been going up, not down, and a group commonly falling through the cracks, according to Judge Blatchford, is young adults.

"Why are we having so much trouble with this group? How can we help these young people avoid having adult criminal records? How can we keep them from moving on to felonies?" asked Blatchford. She decided to seek answers. 

With recidivism the common pattern, Blatchford called together like minds to do some brainstorming. She found a starting point in Joan Hawkshurst, director of Kalamazoo College Center of Career and Professional Development. Hawkshurst had a finger on the pulse of the Kalamazoo community, the doers and the makers, and was able to provide a long list of those who might be interested in helping.

Helping to do what exactly? The key question of the initial brainstorming sessions was how to give these young people standing on the edge of a dangerous abyss a second chance at flight before fall. Before they turned juvenile misdemeanors into adult felonies, Blatchford wanted to get them into a diversion program to stop what she calls a potential train wreck.

Kirk Latimer and Gabriel Giron of the nonprofit organization, Speak It Forward, Inc., known throughout Kalamazoo and increasingly throughout Michigan for their dynamic spoken word programs, called Kinetic Affect (see Second Wave story of March 2013), aimed at lifting up youth, were high on the list that Blatchford and Hawkshurst brought together as key players. Along with some 30 other community organization representatives, Latimer and Giron were only too happy to join in on the brainstorming.

"That was almost two years ago," says Giron. "Meetings, sitting down and talking, dedicating our time."

"A big part of it was figuring out where to get the funding," Latimer adds.

"Kinetic Affect was the seed for change with these young people," Blatchford credited the two, but then credited the Kalamazoo Community Foundation for seed money to get the new program rolling. Other partners and participants have changed between then and now, but have included Douglass Community Foundation, Great Lakes PeaceJam, and many others. 

The Young Adult Diversion Pilot program began to take shape, bringing together components of education, health care, social and life skills, and something akin to group therapy. 

On April 16, a group of 16 young adults, men and women ages 17 to 20, gathered for a second chance at life. They were chosen to participate because they were failing at other diversion programs and stood on the brink of decision: low road or high. They would meet every Tuesday for three hours, for 26 weeks, once a week with their probation officers and twice a month with Judge Blatchford.

"Sure, there was posturing." Giron nods. "Their initial response was cynical. There are people, you know, who want to see them fail."

Giron and Latimer know. During their own teen years, both stood on similar brinks. Both have histories of substance abuse, criminal activity as juveniles, laundry lists of poor if not downright dangerous choices. It is why they do what they do, reaching out to youth in whom they see shadows of their younger selves had they not been given second chances. Kinetic Affect programs pack in audiences to hear their message of hope and healing for at-risk youth.

"The judge isn’t ready to give up on them and neither are we," says Latimer, determination lighting his eyes. 

Giron watches his business partner. "Kirk is ..."


Saturday, September 14, 2013

The Leaders and The Best, guest blog by Jeanne Hess

An introduction to Jeanne Hess by Zinta Aistars

Now and then, I like to share my space on this blog with a guest blogger. For this post, I want to introduce to my readers, those of you who may not yet know Jeanne Hess, coach extraordinaire for three decades at Kalamazoo College, but also author of, yes, I will call it revolutionary, a book called Sportuality: Finding the Joy in the Games. Frankly, I'm not a big sports fan. By reading Jeanne's book, I began to realize why: there is so much negativity, even violence, in our sports today. Why does it sound so much like war when we talk about sports? On the other hand, many of my favorite movies, I realized, are about sports personalities, people who overcome the odds to achieve their very best. It's a hero's quest. Why the disconnect?

Getting to know Jeanne and her Sportual ideas, I realized I was listening to something of a sports revolutionary. There's a reason why her team at K College is on such a winning streak. She gets it. Her team gets it. It's Sportual. 

Below is just one example of Jeanne's incredible approach to sports. See if it doesn't get you fired up. Learn more about Jeanne Hess and Sportuality at

The Leaders and The Best
by Jeanne Hess

Photo of University of Michigan's "Big House" by Jeanne Hess

I just spent a weekend with those words, and other folks who associate themselves with those words, and I want to share a few thoughts about a Sportual opportunity available to us all that these words inspire. In the book Sportuality: Finding Joy in the Games, I wrote about being in the largest crowd ever to watch a volleyball game. I wrote about the venue, the circumstances, and the feeling of being in that arena in Omaha among a sea of red as Nebraska battled Penn State, the eventual national champion, in a thrilling 5-set contest. I wrote about my hearing-impaired friend seated next to me. He answered my question as to whether he could feel the excitement: “I can FEEL this!”

I tried to FEEL the energy in the Big House during the Notre Dame football game, but I couldn’t get past the fact that as an alumna of one of the greatest universities in the country, I felt dismay and disgust at the lack of respect for our opponent, their fans, and their team. The event lived up to, and actually exceeded expectations, from the largest crowd ever to watch a football game (115,109), to the military fly-overs, to the introduction of Michigan’s other national contenders and legendary heroes, to gratitude for an alumni gift of $200 million, all leading up to an eventual victory for the home team. It was, by all intents and purposes, a great victory for the Victors.

However, if we are truly going to be the leaders and the best, we have an opportunity here to teach and to learn. In a world torn by war and violence, where our students study social work, healing, education, public health, political science, psychology, and so many other issues inside our nationally recognized classrooms, we owe it to ourselves to address the hostile welcome, and behavior toward all Notre Dame personnel during the game. Having spent the last several years of my career as a physical educator and becoming more aware of bullying in the workplace and in the schools, I found the behavior of a great part of that huge crowd to be reminiscent of bullying, which is “the use of force or coercion to abuse, intimidate, or to aggressively impose a certain type of domination over others.” (

I sat, cheering, as more than 100,000 people loudly booed the Notre Dame marching band–the oldest marching band in the country. They booed so loud that one could not even hear the marching band play. And then as the Irish took the field, the boo-birds came out in force. I am all for the NCAA command, “Be Loud. Be Proud. Be Positive.” The Big House, on Saturday night, was far from positive. Cheer FOR your team. Cheer for good plays by your team. But please refrain from booing and from the negative comments about the opponent, such as “you suck!” or F*** the Irish!” The leaders and the best are better than that.

Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young told us to “teach your children well” in 1970. The children who attended that game on Saturday night learned that disrespect, negativity, and bullying are ok, and that they actually win games.  The leaders and best are better than that. I’ve been admonished by friends not to be too vocal about this, but I can no longer remain silent. I learned to hate as a student in the 70s. We hated Woody and Ohio State. The bumper sticker “ohhowihateohiostate” went viral on campus. Sportuality asks that we would honor our opponent, rethinking competition as “working with.” We have an opportunity to shift the tide of the nasty fan. If 100,000 people can shift thought about competition, and share that idea with 10 people, that’s 1 million people! May The Big House be our best teacher, our children’s best teacher, and let us all believe in a higher ideal of competition and peace.

The word “fan” comes from “fanatic,” and indeed Michigan fans are fanatic about their team. I am, too. I love Brady Hoke and his staff, and honor their efforts of integrity toward building a team of leaders and best. Lately, fans have become the opposite of the excellence we demand of our student-athletes: unconscious, disrespectful, and negative. The leaders and best are better than that. How many of our students matriculate to our campus hoping to make a difference in the world? Where else will we have an opportunity to reach 100,000+ people on a single day? Let’s GO Blue! 

Sunday, September 01, 2013

Lending Seeds

by Zinta Aistars
Published in ENCORE magazine
September 2013 Issue

Libraries’ seed-lending program sow healthier communities

Story by Zinta Aistars

Think libraries, think books, think seeds.
Come again?
As state and federal funding for libraries gets pinched, librarians are getting creative with programming, finding new ways to serve their communities that go beyond lending books. For two small libraries in Southwest Michigan, that means preserving and lending seeds.
A sampling of some of the seeds available through the J.C. Wheeler Library in Martin.
A sampling of some of the seeds available through the J.C. Wheeler Library in Martin.
Last spring, a small group gathered in a conference room at J.C. Wheeler Library, in Martin, to talk about a new program as gardening season began: seed lending. Heading the meeting was Alice Kelsey, a library board member, and John Edgerton, a longtime gardener and business partner in Harvest of Joy Farm, a CSA (community-supported agriculture) farm in nearby Shelbyville. Gardeners, new and experienced, gathered around the table, laden with packets of heirloom vegetable seeds.
“Seed-lending programs are popping up at libraries across the country,” says Edgerton. “People are reclaiming their heritage. Faced with convenience, we tend to choose what’s quick and easy, but the slow-food movement and people getting back to organic food and farmers’ markets are renewing an interest in gardening.”
Here’s how it works: A library stocks seeds that produce herbs, flowers or vegetables, usually heirloom vegetables rather than the more common hybrids sold in most supermarkets. Typically the seeds have not been genetically modified. Library patrons check out the seeds much as they would a book to read. They plant, water, grow, harvest, eat and enjoy, and then they save seeds from those plants, dry them and bring them back to the library for the next gardener.
“We had no idea about response,” says Kelsey. “Our first meeting was simply to see who would show up and what they would like from our seed-lending program.”
Experienced gardeners around the table asked knowledgeable questions on topics such as the genetics of seeds and the complexities of composting, while beginners asked questions about when to plant, how far apart to place the seeds and what to expect next. Edgerton and Kelsey thoughtfully answered all questions, and the summer ahead would include workshops to give gardeners guidance throughout the growing and harvesting seasons.
“We are offering three choices to gardeners,” Edgerton says. “Take a packet of seeds and start them on your own, return later for already planted seeds to transfer to your garden, or, return even later for plants already sprouted from seeds to transplant into your garden. What we want to do is maximize the success, to get people involved in gardening again. This isn’t really a new idea. There have been seed libraries in Europe for some time.”
Hopkins District Library is also offering a seed-lending program to its patrons. Library Director Natalie Bazan obtained many of her seeds for the program from her parents, who own a greenhouse business…
Read the complete story! Click here to go to Encore’s digital edition.