Groton Public Library doesn’t just lend books, it’s also a community hub for healthy food. I spoke with Sara Knobel, director of the Groton Public Library, about the library’s monthly community meals program. In 2014 the library began hosting Healthy Free Food Tuesdays, a weekly food drop-off spot made up of donations from the Friendship Donations Network, extra produce from Buried Treasure Farm, and any individual donated food. Anyone is eligible to pick up the free food, and Sara tries to have a table with something people can grab most days of the week. The program began in the fall of 2015 with a potluck harvest celebration Sara coordinated. This community meal was met with very positive feedback, and she decided there was still a need in the town for readily available healthy food.
Sara continued reflecting about this issue the following year, at a ‘community cafe’ training at Cornell Cooperative Extension. The goal of a community cafe is to orchestrate and lead a community meal and conversation that strengthens and empowers community members. She explains that the only places in Groton to buy food are convenience stores. “Is Groton a food desert?” She mused. “You don’t know until you go and ask people. Conversation is key.” A community meal program for the library was awarded grant money by Sustainable Tompkins and Friends of the Groton Public Library. Sara also began collaborating with Tina Snyder, nutrition program educator at Cornell Cooperative Extension, who cooks for the library each month. Elizabeth Wolfe and Ruth Williams are invaluable partners in the program as well.
Sara hopes that these events, paired with Healthy Free Food Tuesdays, could help the community members who struggle to find time or transportation to grocery stores or cook for themselves regularly. The monthly meals also serve to provide an intimate opportunity for conversation about the local food system and a chance for busy people to reconnect with their food. Sara finds that some people make a plate for themselves and continue walking around the library, and others engage in conversation. People who stay for the meal and discussion can pick out a free book. Anywhere from 20-30 people attend with a mix of new and familiar faces each month. They see all ages, but most commonly older single adults. Drawing inspiration from the book, Good and Cheap by Leanne Brown, Tina cooks meals to bring to the library ahead of time, although this coming meal will be cooked at the library. The meals that can be easily and quickly put together at home. Tina and Sara keep this book on hand for people who are interested in the recipes.
This upcoming year Sara anticipates applying for more grant funding, and may begin planning a kitchen for the library. She wants to make it clear that there is a seat at the table for everybody, and looks forward to opening up further conversations about what Groton’s food system needs. Starting this summer, the library will once again be an open site for free lunches for kids under 19 years old. The elementary school and the library also hope to continue raising support for the community garden, which has potential to be a great educational and nutritional resource for the town. Anybody looking to get involved is welcome to attend or donate to the food hub and the monthly meals.
Photo by Sara Knobel, used with permission.