We believe in the power of storytelling. To introduce our model we want to share one of the stories we collected that succinctly puts all the pieces together. This is Milagros Tanega, branch manager of the Evelyn Meador Library, Harris County Public Library. Her story illustrates one of the central findings of this project – namely that innovation comes from library workers/leaders and community partners coming together to work together. This finding is illustrated below Milagros’s story in two images that you are free to use however you want.
When she moved to Texas she wanted to bring new ideas about sustainability to her library. She thought that the library’s greenspace would be ideal for hosting a community garden. She also knew that such an initiative is not something she could do on her own.
She “planted the seed” by telling the community she wanted to be part of efforts to support sustainability in her community and specifically that she’d love to bring a community garden to her library.
Through the simple act of sharing her idea, Milagros got connected to the collaborators she needed to get the idea off the ground. At a Rotary meeting, Milagros shared her garden idea and in the audience with the City Manager.
Shortly thereafter, the city manager was approached by a non-profit interested in started a community garden. The city manager connected the non-profit with Milagros and they started work together.
Milagros then “nurtured the seedlings” by setting up a structure to move the idea towards reality. Library staff met regularly with the non-profit to go over all the details and logistics involved with starting a community garden, developed a business plan, and successfully applied for a small grant. As a county employee, Milagros navigated a lot of legal requirements while the non-profit took lead on the actual installation work. They started small with an herb garden so they wouldn’t get too overwhelmed with the work. With that success in hand, they expanded to a raised bed garden. And with that success in hand, they expanded to a fruit forest. And they didn’t stop there. They now have a lending library of garden supplies and even a StoryWalk (pictured here), along the way expanding their web of partnerships to include schools and many more
The expansion of the effort over time is a product of how Milagros and her partners “harvested their bounty.” They created videos and shared updates on the Friends of the Library webpage, got the attention of local media, and took full advantage of social media.
The same channels that Milagros used to plant the seed of the community garden she know used to harvest, or celebrate, her bounty.
Throughout the course of this saga, Milagros took time to “rest the garden and prepare” for next steps. It’s a marathon, not a sprint. They didn’t start expanding until they got a grant, and through the structure of their regular meetings Milagros and her non-profit partner created space to debrief, share, and take stock of where they were and where they wanted to get to.