Newton, NC – Driven by a desire to enhance quality of life for the local community, the Catawba County Library seeks to educate and engage with people in a variety of ways. From early childhood literacy and career development to technology tutoring and adult learning, the library touches on all aspects of life.

That broad range also includes healthy eating and fitness, library pursuits that are supported by partnerships with the Catawba County Cooperative Extension and LiveWell Catawba, a nonprofit committed to creating and supporting a culture of wellness for county residents.

A huge component of the library’s work in this arena centers around the community garden in Newton. Carved out of an empty lot behind the Main Library, it has grown in scope to become a testing ground for gardening techniques, a source of produce for healthy eating classes, a classroom for hands-on gardening and composting seminars, and a haven for reading, play, and picnic-table lunches.

During the growing season, the garden also turns out a regular supply of vegetables to benefit The Corner Table Soup Kitchen. The raised beds bear an abundance of squash, zucchini, and tomatoes, along with greens, peas, carrots, potatoes, green beans, and watermelons. Flowers, herbs, and strawberries round out the mix. Since March, more than 151 pounds of this fresh, organic produce have been donated to the nonprofit organization, helping feed and nourish local people.

Shelley Orr, senior librarian at the St. Stephens Branch Library, spearheads the planting and maintenance of the garden, attended by her sons, Frank and John. She also relies on the help of regular volunteers Shannon Radcliffe and Julie Finger, who pull weeds and pick and deliver vegetables.

Orr has experimented with trellising this season to maximize space and production, and she’s also implemented the Three Sisters method of companion planting. Originated by Native Americans, the technique unites corn, pole beans, and squash in a plot, taking advantage of their growing patterns to improve soil health and prevent weeds. The corn stalks provide climbing support for the beans, which add nitrogen to the soil, and the prickly squash vines shade the roots and deter pests. It’s a system of interdependence that’s proven successful for centuries.

As Orr cultivates and expands the garden, she welcomes community members who are interested in volunteering independently as their schedules allow. She is also accepting plant donations of all types (seeds, transplants, volunteers, perennials, berry bushes/canes, etc.). Anyone who wishes to dedicate time to the garden or drop off donations is asked to call Shelley Orr at 828.466.6824 to coordinate.

For more information about the Catawba County Library’s resources and services, visit, call 828.465.8665, email [email protected], or visit

Photos: (Top) Newton Main Library Garden. (Bottom)Shelley Orr and Frank.