Patrons of local libraries can not only learn about gardening and sustainability through books and other resources, but also by example.

In 2009, the Pikes Peak Library District formed its aptly named Green Team — a group of up to nine employees from across the district’s locations dedicated to making the library system more sustainable.

The Green Team meets monthly to plan, plant and sow a flower/vegetable/pollinator garden at Penrose Library. Its compost comes from the library’s kitchen, and its garden tiles are made in another branch’s MakerSpace. The city provides the mulch.

“We are here to educate, cultivate and share the love and fun of gardening with our neighbors,” said Debbie Vitulli, senior library assistant at Penrose Library. She co-chairs the Green Team with Tim Morris, head of the library’s special collections.

Currently blooming are several colors of iris, as chive and other vegetable starts are taking hold. There’s also a bee mason house to attract pollinators.

“We look for new and creative ways to improve the sustainability footprint of PPLD and to educate its ever-changing staff of more than 450 on environmentally friendly and intelligent practices,” said Vitulli, a Green Team member since 2016. “Right now our big thing is the garden.”

The garden’s vegetable harvest is donated to the nearby Catholic Charities Marian House Soup Kitchen to feed those in need. The Green Team harvests the vegetables weekly during summer to donate to the Marian House, which offers free balanced meals daily to anyone who visits. Fresh spinach, lettuce, radishes, garlic, Swiss chard, lettuces and zucchini from the Penrose garden’s three raised beds along Pikes Peak Avenue complement the soup kitchen’s menu, Vitulli said.

“The food is harvested in the morning, and they serve it that same day. That, to us, is a big connection with our community,” she said.

Sometimes hungry people “harvest” some of the garden’s bounty before it can be donated, and that’s OK. “As long as they’re using it, we don’t care,” Vitulli said.

The Green Team also publishes a quarterly in-house newsletter, “Live Green!” And it runs the library district’s in-house recycling program, which also reuses books.

“We recycle books when they get too old through BetterWorldBooks (which sells books online to raise money for nonprofit literary organizations) and sell them at the Friends of the Library Book Sales, held twice a year,” Vitulli said. The next sale is set for early October at East Library.

“We also partner with area businesses and organizations and educate through classes.”

The Green Team partners with the Pikes Peak Justice and Peace Commission to hold monthly Urban Experience Tours to educate the community on how homeless people survive with the help of various providers, including PPLD and Marian House. The team also participates in the Trails and Open Space Coalition’s annual Bioblitz, which studies ecosystems in city parks and open spaces, and The Great Sunflower Project, which gathers information for a national database on bee pollinators.

The team recently won PPLD’s 2019 Chief Librarian’s Award “Green Award” for promoting sustainability within the library district.

Learn more about the Green Team on its Facebook page, facebook.com/PPLDGreenTeam

Features Reporter/Special Sections Editor

Michelle is editor of Pikes Peak Newspapers: Pikes Peak Courier; The Tribune; and the Cheyenne and Woodmen editions. A Penn State journalism graduate, she joined the Gazette in 2015.

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