Library foraging program cooks up adventures in nature

Read this Q&A with Terese Winters, Information Services Librarian to learn about how a planted idea starting with research can bloom into a library program.

 by Kayla Cook, Media Relations & Communications Specialist, feat. Terese Winters, Information Services Librarian

Q&A with Terese Winters, Information Services Librarian

The seeds our community members picked up at our Seed Library will continue to provide adventure throughout the summer! Whether you’re growing vegetables, herbs, flowers or fruit, watching your plants grow is a joy that lasts all season long. 

As part of the Seed Library’s Native Plant Initiative, we gave out 3,070 packages of native plant seeds this year, purchased from Native Lands Restoration Collaborative, opens a new window. Seeing what pollinators these plants attract is part of the learning adventure of growing native plants and helping to preserve biodiversity. 

We want to hear what adventures you have as a result of the seeds you picked up this year! As you grow and learn about native plants and pollinators or cook with the veggies and herbs you grew, take pictures and send them to Terese:, or tag the library on social media on Facebook, opens a new window or Instagram., opens a new window

Learn about how a planted idea starting with research can bloom into a library program below.

Lawrence Public Library offers a wealth of programs to the Lawrence, KS community. How are these library programs organized?

Not all library programs and events come about the same way. Sometimes ideas originate from community partners wanting to share their expertise with the public or from community members offering their feedback on a library survey. Other times, a program idea begins with an interesting article or episode of a podcast a staff member shares in a meeting. This piece of information often presents an underexplored aspect of a current issue. No one is pitching a program idea yet, but we have a fascinating take to dig into.

Recently the Information Services team executed a two-part foraging series. How did that program start?

On April 5, 2023, Information Services Supervisor Melissa Fisher Isaacs emailed a couple of us on the Information Services team an article from the New York Times: “Why It’s Better to Plant Wild Greens Than to Forage for Them., opens a new window” The article discusses our collective, growing enthusiasm for foraging for wild, edible plants. In our desire to reconnect with the land and eat more sustainably, it seems we may be in danger of overharvesting some native plant species, including wild leeks, aka ramps. These ideas are explored in Wild Plant Culture: A Guide to Restoring Edible and Medicinal Native Plant Communities, a recently published book by Jared Rosenbaum and a focus of the article. Without realizing it, both Melissa and I submitted requests to purchase the book! Rosenbaum advocates for planting these edible native plants in one’s garden, prompting our team to consider this as a direction for our Seed Library and inspiring a program idea. We all agreed that combining a foraging event with “In the Kitchen,” a quarterly cooking series we’d been doing, made perfect sense!

Foraging is becoming more and more popular online it seems. For example, forager and social media influencer Alexis Nikole Nelson visited Lawrence last fall at a KU Commons event. Can you speak to the growing popularity of foraging and explain a bit about different plant types?

Yes! Foraging, growing native plants to support biodiversity and growing and eating sustainably are all connected and have been gaining momentum online and in local communities. I should say, there are of course Indigenous people across the globe for whom knowledge of edible and medicinal native plants is not new but simply a part of daily life, as well as an important aspect of their culture past and present. There is also a movement among some Indigenous communities to decolonize foodways and a push for food sovereignty that includes reconnecting with plants as well as growing and cooking practices of the past. Below is a list of books and resources on indigenous foodways to learn more:

Indigenous Foodways

List created by LPL_TereseW


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For those who grew up gardening but without a knowledge of native plant species like myself, I found this definition from the Conservation Foundation, opens a new window based out of Illinois sums it up nicely: “The textbook definition of native plants is they are the plants that have been growing in an area prior to European settlement. Another way to define native plants is: Native plants evolved or adapted to our local environment  for thousands of years, and are an important part of our local habitats, ecosystems and ecosystem services (pollination, infiltration, carbon sequestration, etc). They are the most sustainable plants for our specific area. Our native plants not only adapted physically, but chemically and genetically.” As for invasive species, they are plants that have been introduced from an outside region, often with good intentions but harmful results. As stated by Cornell Botanic Gardens, opens a new window: “An invasive plant is one that is capable of moving aggressively into a habitat and monopolizing resources such as light, nutrients, water, and space to the detriment of other species. Invasive species have contributed to the decline of 42% of all U.S. endangered and threatened species.” And I should add, not everything falls into these two categories. There are plenty of non-native plant species that are not considered invasive and don’t endanger the growth of native species. 

Though cultivating native edible plants in your garden is a great idea, there are plenty of invasive species we don’t need to feel guilty about foraging. Ruby Mackinnon-Love, former Information Services Technician, made this point early in our discussions, mentioning wild onion as one example. This notion was reinforced when I reached out to Wendy Holman, KU Field Station, opens a new window Education Program Coordinator, asking if she’d like to collaborate on a series of foraging events. Wendy organizes amazing programs, including Science Sundays–education centered on a variety of topics that have included ticks, moss and bats, just to name a few.

Like me, Wendy remembers looking out at fields of beautiful, bright green plants with little white flowers blooming in the spring and thinking “how lovely.” As it turns out, this was garlic mustard–a highly invasive plant. Wendy suggested foraging for garlic mustard would be a win-win since it’s both invasive and delicious. Our next step was to loop in another crucial community partner, but first our Information Services team had some Seed Library planning to do. 

How to Find Wild Plants and Eat 'Em: Inspired by @BlackForager

List created by LPL_RubyM

Inspired by Alexis Nikole Nelson (a.k.a @BlackForager), this list contains titles to help you identify and cook with wild plants!

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The Seed Library is such a wonderful library resource offered each spring. How does Information Services staff work to keep it running and improving year-to-year?

Each year, our Information Services team reads every comment and suggestion visitors leave on our Seed Library feedback form. Increasingly, our community has expressed an interest in growing sustainably, increasing biodiversity, and providing food and habitat for pollinators. Hand-in-hand with these interests is a call for more native plant seeds and education. Local non-profit Native Lands Restoration Collaborative, opens a new window has always been generous in donating native plant seeds to the Seed Library, but we’ve been running out fast in recent years. As our team was considering the community feedback we’d received in addition to research spurred by the foraging article, Friends and Foundation Fundraising & Volunteer Specialist Logan Isaman-Unruh clued our department in to a grant opportunity through the Douglas County Community Foundation. With a shared community vision for gardening and growing sustainably and protecting biodiversity, writing a Native Plant Initiative proposal for the Elizabeth Schultz Environmental Fund Grant, opens a new window was a natural process. We were beyond thrilled and grateful to be awarded the grant.

That’s amazing the library was awarded that grant! What were the next steps to developing the library’s foraging series?

With news of our successful application, members of the Information Services team paid a visit to Courtney Masterson, Executive Director and Ecologist of Native Lands Restoration Collaborative, to discuss program plans, native seed purchasing, and to check out the seed vault they were working on. Their site is lovely–it was a snowy January day and the wood stove was warming their cozy home. We got to meet their cats and pass around a few varieties of just-in seeds. Speaking with Courtney and her partner Ryan was an inspiring interaction. They’re giving with their time and knowledge and have a vision for their work that extends beyond their lifetimes. When we mentioned the foraging program idea to Courtney, she was fully on board and thought Wendy’s idea for garlic mustard made complete sense. Adding to the idea, Courtney suggested sprinkling native grass seed where we’ve pulled the garlic mustard.

It’s astounding to see the way information-sharing develops from smaller one-on-one or group connections into a full-fledged library program. How did you all find a local Chef to lead the program on how to cook a delicious meal from the foraged greens?

I reached out to Nancy O’Connor, Executive Director of Growing Food Growing Health , opens a new windowand Melissa Freiburger, Co-Founder and Executive Director of Sunrise Project, opens a new window, and both said emphatically that Raven Naramore, opens a new window was the perfect fit. Raven is a talented local Chef and delightful person who grew up on an organic farm and specializes in cooking with fresh, underutilized, wild and foraged ingredients. She is the Chef of Juniper Hill Farm & Table and recently won a contest for cooking with wild game.

Native Plants

List created by LPL_TereseW

A collection of native plant resources at Lawrence Public Library. Some are even by local authors!

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Wow! The fact that award-winning chefs are brought into library programs to share their expertise speaks volumes to the quality of programs offered. So, how did the foraging event go?

On a beautiful Sunday morning this past April, Wendy, Courtney and I gathered together by the river with a handful of folks, all of us eager to get started. We foraged for garlic mustard, learning about the importance of native plants in controlling soil erosion and seeing restoration work in progress along the way. As we dropped native grass seed in our wake, Courtney pointed out other natives and invasives to keep an eye out for. The following day, we all brought our garlic mustard to the Armitage Education Center at the KU Field Station, opens a new window. It felt like being in a family member’s kitchen as Raven put everyone to work grating garlic mustard root (horseradish-like) for a Russian beet salad, separating garlic mustard leaves from stems, grating Parmesan cheese for the pesto, and making bee balm tea. Raven affectionately demanded Courtney sit down and rest because she’d broken her toe that day, which worked for a few minutes. Raven cooked, and we ate, every part of the garlic mustard–root, stems and leaves. The meal was delicious and the sense of community was lovely.

I hope events like this continue and grow with each spring to come! May you speak once more to the collaboration between library staff members and community partners which made these events possible?

Of course! So many hands and minds often go into community events. Ideas are enhanced by each person’s knowledge, creativity, passion, and generosity. Melissa Fisher-Isaacs kicked things off by sending an article to Ruby Mackinnon-Love and me, which led to Collection Development Librarian Ransom Jabara ordering a book for our collection. Logan Isaman-Unruh passed along the Elizabeth Schultz Grant opportunity which enabled us to purchase more native plant seeds and support our community partners in providing free education to the community. At the start, Ruby pitched foraging for an invasive species. This was seconded by Wendy Holman, who suggested garlic mustard. Also without whom, we wouldn’t have been serenaded by a soundtrack of Kansas frogs while we cooked and ate. Courtney Masterson provided the native seeds and consultation on ideal varieties, planting instructions, and so much more that is essential to the Seed Library making native plants more accessible to everyone. It was Courtney’s brilliant thought not only to forage for invasives but also to guide nature in a healthy direction by depositing native grass seed where we’d pulled. Nancy O’Connor and Melissa Freiburger took time from their community work to shout: “Raven Naramore!” because they knew she was the person for the job. Raven Naramore not only made us all laugh and feel at home, she also made an amazing meal of garlic mustard pesto pasta, Russian beet salad, and sauteed nettle and garlic mustard stems, utilizing every single part of the garlic mustard plant.

Thank you, Lawrence community!

About Lawrence Public Library
Lawrence Public Library (LPL for short) is a community hub that believes in the power of connecting with each other through shared knowledge and resources. Located in the heart of Downtown Lawrence, Kansas, we are committed to providing a space where our community can learn, connect, create, and grow through access to our vast collections, resources, services, programs, and knowledgeable staff. The library is supported by tax dollars, record-breaking book sales and philanthropic efforts by the LPL Friends & Foundation, and the dedicated efforts of more than 300 volunteers. All are welcome.


Community Resources

Learn more, get involved or give support

Up From Dust Podcast, opens a new window from the NPR Network, KCUR Studios, and the Kansas News Service about repairing our Kansas ecosystems.

Episode 2: When Good Plants Turn Bad, opens a new window, about edible invasive plant species

Check out the work Haskell Greenhouse, opens a new window is doing “focused on conservation, preservation, and restoration of Mother Earth for past, present, and future generations” and join a workday.

Growing Food Growing Health, opens a new window

KU Field Station, opens a new window

Native Lands Restoration Collaborative , opens a new window

Sunrise Project, opens a new window


NYTimes (*Free access!)

Material Selection and Collection Development Policy 

Purchase Request Form

Seed Library’s Guiding Philosophy