(Editor's Note: Each year, Arkansas Business partners with the Arkansas Municipal League to present the Trendsetter City awards, which recognize exceptional initiatives underway in municipalities across the state. Large, medium and small-sized cities were honored in six categories: Education & Workforce Development; Environmental & Green Management Practices; Infrastructure & Water; Public Safety; Tourism Development & Creative Culture; and Wellness & Fitness. Below is one winner's story. For more, click here.)
Environmental/Green Management Practices
Honorable Mention • 20,000 or Greater
Last spring, Bentonville Public Library (BPL) collaborated with supporters and partners to plan, fund and install new learning gardens in BPL’s Backyard.
Mayor: Stephanie Orman
This initiative is a use of land purchased for the library’s expansion. It is the result of survey and workshop feedback collected as part of BPL’s Needs Assessment Study and the staff’s desire to implement a project that would improve community wellness through nature and environmental education.
The goal was to enhance the vacant space north of the library with vegetables, herbs, native plantings, natural pest deterrents and pollinator flowers for community educational opportunities. The natural setting offers an opportunity to present programs and activities as well as eventually providing recreational reading areas.
The learning garden joins an existing rain garden and is a test scenario for future library plans, based on requests for natural spaces for the general public.
The community supports the program through volunteerism and funding. A member of the Library Advisory Board is a Master Gardener, and was the ideal volunteer to assist the project. The Benton County Master Gardeners approved the plan while the Friends of the Bentonville Library approved sponsorship options. When the Teen Services Librarian engaged teen volunteers, the reality of a learning garden took shape.
The Master Gardener planned the gardens, designed the layout, prepared a list of supplies and met with library staff. The design included greens, roots, an Italian garden and specialty plantings like long beans and sunflowers.
Benton County was the leading apple-producing county in 1901 before establishing itself as a poultry production leader in the 1920s and 1930s.
Work days were scheduled and volunteers were recruited from the teen library volunteer group and the Benton County Master Gardeners. The project has met objectives because the library accomplished the planning, installation and continued maintenance through partnerships and volunteers.
The library’s learning garden project could be easily replicated by other cities with small green space, a little extra funding for materials and community interest translating to volunteer help.
The value to the community is in the educational opportunities and health benefits gained through gardening.