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AUBURN UNIVERSITY, Ala.—Karen Howle-Hurst has taken her passion for seeing young people learn to grow their own food and put it to practical use. As the Alabama Extension at Auburn University SNAP-Ed educator for Etowah County, Howle-Hurst has partnered with the Gadsden Public Library to provide nutrition education while introducing a new feature to the public.

Seed Exchange Program

The library has recently introduced a seed exchange program where residents can obtain seeds to plant in their home gardens. The seed exchange allows residents to check out seeds through a catalog, much like a book from the library.

According to Howle-Hurst, the idea is that the person would plant the seeds at home, then return the seeds from the crop after harvest. The cycle is meant to be self-sustaining, so seeds are always available to the public. However, members of the public can also donate seeds to the library.

The seed exchange works primarily with heirloom seeds such as corn, tomatoes, lima beans and watermelon.

writing on fence, person standing

Etowah County SNAP-Ed Educator Karen Howle-Hurst stands in front of a fence at the Gadsden Public Library.

Howle-Hurst previously provided  Live Well Alabama recipe demonstrations and nutrition education at the library to students in fourth grade and higher. Live Well Alabama is an Auburn SNAP-Ed initiative that provides adult and childhood obesity prevention and nutrition education.

“I was thrilled with the idea of being part of the seed exchange at the library,” Howle-Hurst said. “As a SNAP-Ed educator, I want to be that link between growing your own food and the nutrition that it can provide.”

Howle-Hurst’s programming takes place each Friday. She teaches students from fourth grade through high school using the Learn Grow Eat Go program, which teaches about gardening, nutrition and physical activity.

Linking Food and Nutrition

After her lesson, she takes the students to a greenhouse jointly owned by the library and Beautiful Rainbow Café. At the greenhouse, the students grow crops for the Beautiful Rainbow Café. The cafe provides a garden-to-table experience from crops grown in its greenhouse.

The students also get their own pack of seeds to implement the lessons learned at home. Howle-Hurst said students get excited about the idea of growing their own food and explaining to their parents why it is good for them. She said the students also like the idea of bringing seeds back to the library to keep the program going.

“We are teaching the link between growing your food and nutrition,” Howle-Hurst said. “I want to teach self-sustainability to the next generation by helping them know they can grow their own food.”

pots with soil on table

Students plant seeds for the Beautiful Rainbow Cafe.

seed packets

Pictured are the seed packets that can be obtained through the Gadsden Public Library seed exchange program.











Valuable Partnership

During the inception of the seed exchange, Rachel Cole, who manages the library’s Teen Hive, contacted Howle-Hurst with hopes of implementing SNAP-Ed programming. Cole said Howle Hurst was a valuable partner for the library when developing the idea.

person in front of greenhouse

Etowah County SNAP-Ed Educator Karen Howle-Hurst stands in front of the Gadsden Public Library greenhouse.

“Not only did she and I brainstorm the seed library and greenhouse together, but she also promotes it, so community members will come to borrow seeds to plant and have healthy nutritious foods to eat,” Cole said. “Karen (Howle-Hurst) also comes every Friday to teach the teens all about nutrition, how the body works, what foods do for our bodies and so much more. She is an asset to the food and garden program at the Gadsden Public Library.”

For more information about the seed exchange or nutrition education in Etowah County, contact Howle-Hurst at (256) 547-7936 or email her at kzh0071@aces.edu.


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