Corey Kilgannon/The New York TimesHomegrown produce is in season at the City Island branch of the public library.
Robert Cox walked into the public library on City Island in the Bronx the other day to read the daily papers and to grab a handful of cherry tomatoes from a bowl of fresh produce next to the checkout counter.
“You better not spit them out – I grew them myself,” Gary Makufka, a library staff member, said as a rib.
Mr. Makufka was not kidding about growing them himself. Services at libraries can be vast and varied these days, but try finding a library whose staff grows fruit and vegetables for the patrons in a garden out back.
That’s the deal at this branch of the New York Public Library in an area often described as a little New England fishing village with a Bronx accent.
The City Island branch is one of the smallest in the city, but it has a backyard patio and small yard where patrons can read. In that yard lies the bountiful little garden patch that yields a bumper crop. The staff welcomes library users to pick their own or to help themselves from the bowl of freshly harvested produce near the door.
The library’s pumpkin patch was
coming along nicely last week
Yolanda Cirulli, a library patron who helps care for the garden, was eating her lunch on the back patio. She had a sandwich and a selection of garden offerings: some tomatoes, oregano, basil and leeks.
“Not only does this library feed the mind, but it also feeds the body,” said Ms. Cirulli, who is also a volunteer with the Garden Club of City Island, which helped start and helps tend the garden.
The garden, now in its third year, began as a modest strip of plants and has grown each year, to include an additional section along the patio.
“We’re a community library and we thought it was a good idea,” said the branch manager, Vershell Wigfall.
There have been problems, though, with squirrels munching some produce and humans pilfering plants, as there are everywhere in the city.
“Someone reached over the fence and stole our sunflowers,” Ms. Wigfall said. “It’s not so bad. At least it’s staying in the community.”
Ms. Wigfall herself does not soil her hands in the garden.
“This is the way I garden,” she said with a laugh. “I tell them, ‘Go get that tomato for me.’”
“They come in to use our computers to check the tides and the weather, or to get information if they’re going to go into the city at night,” Ms. Wigfall said. “We had this family that sailed down from Maine and got stranded on City Island — they came here for three days straight.”
Out back, Mr. Makufka explained that he had learned more from working in the garden than from the library’s books on the subject.
“Gardening books are too technical,” he said. “They can be very confusing sometimes. The best way to learn is by doing.”