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You can come to our library, get a bag of books, and maybe a bag of groceries.  

As the LFNC fellow in Granville County, I recently had the exciting and rewarding project of creating a new food security program for our county library system. The word “Library” does not often conjure up the words “local government.” Much in the same way that, “refrigerator” does not elicit thoughts of libraries. So, when I say that one of my projects in local government was using refrigerators in libraries… that’s bizarre. Yet here I am to tell you the story of how we put refrigerators in the county library, and how I built a food security program from some empty fridges into a self-sustaining network of fresh produce for underserved community members. But first, let me provide background information about Granville County and its library system.  

Granville County

Granville County is 1 of 100 Counties in North Carolina, located 15 mins north of Durham on I-85 north, where you will find the dueling municipalities of Butner and Creedmoor (as you can see in this map to the right Map of Granville from the 2023 Economic Development Snapshot). These towns are fiercely independent and competitive. Twenty minutes further north is the city of Oxford, population 8,600 people, where I live. Oxford is also where both the seat of government and where the county’s main library branch, Richard Thornton Library, is located. Oxford is the most central population cluster in Granville County. Twenty minutes north of Oxford, past the municipality of Stovall (population 335) is the end of the county and the beginning of the state of Virginia.

In short, Granville County is a long and narrow county that has 5 municipalities and is more sparsely populated and rural the further north or west you go. This is one of the challenges the county faces, and one the County Library system has worked to tackle with its four geographically spread library branches.

GCLS, The Granville County Library System

GCLS, or the Granville County Library System is a county department of four publicly funded libraries reaching across Granville County. The system also features two express library lockers in two rural townships where people can call to have their library books delivered closer to home, saving patrons some driving time. The four branches of the library are as follows: The Richard Thornton Library in Oxford in the central part of the county, South Branch Library located in the southern end of the county in the city of Creedmoor, Stovall Branch Library in the northernmost municipality of Stovall, and finally a tiny branch in the west in an area smaller than a township, called Berea. These four libraries combine to form GCLS, the Granville County library system.

So anyways, on to the refrigerators…

“Call this list of Farmers”

The printer spits out a list of ten farmers in a bulleted list.  I am sitting in front of the library director, Will Robinson, when he says, “I want you to make a food security program.” He then leaned back in his chair smiled and said, “should be fun.” He had returned from the 2022 Association for Rural & Small Libraries Conference a few months before I arrived and was captivated by an odd strategy that libraries were implementing to reduce food insecurity. They were putting refrigerators in their libraries (See Des Moines Register 2022).  The idea of putting refrigerators into libraries was to have fresh and healthy produce freely available to food insecure community members donated by farmers. And, as he walked me out of his office, we came upon an empty unplugged fridge.

As I looked at the sad fridge, I thought this would be an easy task. I call this list of 10 farmers, get them to bring produce to the library, people take food out of the refrigerator. Simple. Yet, as it turns out, food security is not simple. Immediately I identified 4 problems during my calls with farmers.

  1. I do not know anything about nutrition, farmers, or food security.
  2. People are interested, but farmers don’t produce much in the winter.
  3. Farmers have friends, and my list of potential contacts ballooned to 20.
  4. People don’t answer their phone, and you need to remember to call them back.

To become informed, I researched food security in Granville County to find “the why” for our project. I found a GIS map from the Urban librariesCouncil that displayed library locations as orange dots and low-income, low-access areas in purple. Our two largest branches were right next to large purple areas and our other rural locations likely share a need as seen by our rural neighbor counties.

After becoming more informed about food security I created a Canva flyer to boost awareness of food insecurity and the library programs working to address the issue.More challenging was keeping track of the ever-growing list of farmer information. To remedy this, I created an excel file to track contact information, the last time contacted, method of contact, and a brief summary of the last topic. Yet with all these farmers and apparent interest, the fridge was still empty.

To get the fridge filled, I expanded the scope from farmers to churches, nonprofits, and foodbanks. I created an additional flyer to get the word out, using our library and county websites as well as a press release from our public information officer to get things moving. The library even landed in multiple newsletters and papers. Yet my first success came not through the press release or the flyers, but through word of mouth.

The breakthrough came from a small farmer who told me about someone who helped them grow their garden. This helping hand worked for a local Warren County nonprofit called Working Landscapes. After reviewing their website, I decided to call. My priority was securing some of their educational nutrition materials to use for kids programming—I did not expect to hear, “we have excess produce that we might be able to bring to you.” So, a few days later I met Melissa Ferens, the Educational and Administrative Coordinator from Working Landscapes, in a parking lot in the City of Henderson, at a library no less than 15 mins away, because she too was of course a librarian, and we received our first batch of produce.


Food in the Fridge

The food was in the fridge! From there the library started receiving excess produce from the largest food bank in the county, A.C.I.M among others. My list of contacts had expanded to nearly 50 organizations and individuals. Having food in the fridge presented some new challenges. How can we account for the produce we intake? What if the food goes bad? How do we safely handle produce?

I started by creating a new excel spreadsheet to inventory the produce, and we later purchased a scale and label maker. I made sure to religiously document the weight of the produce to ensure we had data for future grant applications.

A coworker solved our food waste containment issue by creating a cute bin to take the food waste to compost on their farm, so even the waste was not wasted.

I contacted our cooperative extension nutrition agent for food safety information. In addition to food safety info the nutrition agent provided bags full of educational materials including recipe cards, nutrition planning, healthy eating programs for kids and seniors that we put around the fridge to make the space an educational corner for nutrition awareness. I also put together a donor appreciation flyer which included donor contact information, encouraged people to buy more local foods from our farmers, and to volunteer with our participating churches, nonprofits, and foodbanks.

Impact of “Farm-to-Fridge”

Finally, a good program needed an even better name. So, I typed some words into an internet randomizer and wrote down the options that made sense. That’s how we ended up with “Farm-to-Fridge.”

Farm-to-Fridge became a successful pilot program that has expanded to our other library branches with fridges of their own. All the produce placed into the fridge was excess produce, destined to become food waste if not consumed. In around two months we saved and distributed about 1181 pounds of produce including fruits vegetables and some eggs, discarding only 31 pounds of produce. On the macro level we expanded community awareness of food security, nutrition, programs, farms, volunteer opportunities, and fostered greater community participation and collaboration surrounding the issue of food insecurity.

As a result of the Farm-to-Fridge program, I ended up taking on a more involved role as library outreach and strategic partnerships coordinator, where I located places for expanding services at the library, like reaching out to NC Works to provide career events or, connecting with the chamber of commerce for local business support and finding five new pop-up library locations. I also did outreach to rural communities by spreading awareness of our express libraries. Through this larger role, and my time at the library, I found a great need for outreach and partnerships.

The Journey continues…

Finding a way to continue a program after someone leaves is a difficult process, but one that is necessary for any team aspiring to long term success. In transitioning out of my role in Farm-to-Fridge, I assembled and shared the materials necessary for the library to continue the project, and I hoped to create a lasting impact in food security at the library and throughout the county.

During budget season the library director showed me how his budget as a department head worked. He discussed a service expansion request he had been submittingannually for an outreach librarian  who would provide outreach to underserved communities and establish community partnerships. These service expansion requests are reviewed by the county manager and board of commissioners for funding approval. The director allowed me to submit the expansion proposal this year because expanding partnerships and community engagement was exactly what I was doing for Farm-to-Fridge.

My proposal included my impact as an untrained outreach pilot, statistics from the State Library of NC, and included an example of a county of similar size that recently hired an outreach librarian. This example displayed a 35% average increase over a 4-month period in library card registration. While this proposal is still currently under review, I have also discussed how the library could secure AmeriCorps members for their project if the request isn’t approved this year.

Checking out

In Granville County not only can you leave the library with a cabbage in one hand and a book in the other, but you can leave with much more. Granville County’s library operates under “the library of things” principle, the idea being that you can check out more things than just books at the library, and that libraries should be community hubs. Here in Granville County, you can check out wireless hotspots, blood pressure kits, and seed packets for gardens. You could join a public health diabetes session, visit a social worker to connect you to services, take your children to story time, receive career development and digital literacy support, play dungeons and dragons, or explore cooking programs with the libraries’ new Charlie cart.

My suggestion to the reader is to visit your nearest library, you may be surprised that what you find isn’t just books.

I am thankful I had this opportunity to work with our county library system to learn their work and all that they handle for the community. Which is, not just books!

A special thanks to GCLS Director Will Robinson and Thornton Branch Manager Andrew Maloney for making my library stay enjoyable and exciting.