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When a library includes a teaching kitchen, community connections multiply

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KAYTE YOUNG:  From WFIU in Bloomington, Indiana, I'm Kayte Young, and this is Earth Eats. 

MARILYN WOOD:  When you think of literacy and you think of what does that mean and what are all of the parts, think about reading a recipe, think about measuring the ingredients, think about learning how to cook, think about planning a meal or budgeting for that meal. There are so many things that are learning through play, learning through doing it in a teaching kitchen. That's the reason why we call it a teaching kitchen. It really is about learning literacy as well as some skills that are very specific to cooking. 

KAYTE YOUNG:  This week on the show, conversations with an architect, a library director and the head of a food pantry about how a teaching kitchen found its way into a Public Library and what it means for the community. Stay with us. 

KAYTE YOUNG:  Thanks for listening to Earth Eats. I'm Kayte Young. Picture this scene. People of all ages gathered around a large rectangular countertop in a brightly lit kitchen. A woman with orange hair is narrating her actions while she grates yellow lemon zest ribbons over a white bowl, filled with a magenta colored dip. 

KAYTE YOUNG:  And now we're gonna put in some zest of a lemon and so I've got this little-- 

KAYTE YOUNG:  Okay, well, newsflash. The orange haired person is me. I'm demonstrating how to make beet hummus. But here's the kicker. I'm at a library. That's right, the public library, the new South West branch of the Monroe County Public Library. It's their grand opening and I'm helping them show off their new teaching kitchen. Now, if you're asking yourself why is there a kitchen in a library, you're not alone. It's a reasonable question. And it's something we're going to explore in this episode with my guests. 

MARILYN WOOD:  My name's Marilyn Wood and I was the Director of the Monroe County Public Library for seven years and helped to plan all of the things that went into the South West branch. 

CHRISTINE MATHEU:  And I'm Christine Matheu. I am an architect here in town with Matheu Architects. 

KAYTE YOUNG:  My first question was an obvious one. I wanted to hear the origin story for this idea. Here's Marilyn. 

MARILYN WOOD:  When we started planning for the library, we did a feasibility study. As part of that feasibility study, we did some community conversations and Christine and I were out in a variety of places, talking to people to find out, "What do you want? What would a new library look like to you? Where should it be? What kinds of programs or amenities would be most useful?" And we learned a lot. We learned that they wanted traditional libraries, they wanted the ability to read and movies and places to go, but they also wanted community. They feel like the library, and I'm so proud of this in our community, the library's really a safe place. It's a place where they like to go, meet their friends or have things to do that they wouldn't otherwise get to do because they can do them for free at the library. 

MARILYN WOOD:  And so, we started throwing out a few things about, okay, so what does that look like? "Well, coming together. Maybe eat." "Well, what does that look like?" And before long, we had developed this idea of what about a teaching kitchen? A place where you can both learn and be part of the community. Kitchens are in libraries now, but not very often, so we did a little bit of research and found out more about what they look like and how they're used. There's a gamut, we could talk a little bit about that, but not exactly the way that we have envisioned ours. But there are libraries that currently exist. And then we went from there and it was a whole idea then about, "Well, how much space would it require, what would it cost, and how do we pay for it?" 

KAYTE YOUNG:  And here's the architect, Christine Matheu. 

CHRISTINE MATHEU:  The library is located in the south west quadrant of this county and it is a somewhat under served area and a lot of the people who came to the community meetings that we had, really had no place where they could meet other people. There really is very little in the south west quadrant. They kept talking about a place where they could sit and go meet friends and have a coffee together, or really start thinking about the library as a place where they gathered. That's an extension of what Marilyn was saying about a community. 

CHRISTINE MATHEU:  But it was really specific to a group in the south west, which, in this county, is really an agrarian area of the county. So, if we talk about agrarian, oftentimes families do homemade cooking and that also was tying back into the teaching kitchen idea. 

MARILYN WOOD:  And we're very fortunate, even during those meetings to have some partners there who put their hand up and say, "I would love to be involved with doing something like that," so do extension and then it went a little further as we talked to others about funding, who might partner with us. But eventually we were able to work with the Community Foundation and they provided a grant for us that purchased all of the equipment in the kitchen. During that phase, we reached out to a variety of partners like Ivy Tech, Mother Hubbard's and others to see if they were interested in doing any kind of programing at the library with us and they were thrilled and already are doing some of those things. 

MARILYN WOOD:  So, it really is a community effort. It's not just something that the library is doing on their own. 

KAYTE YOUNG:  When you talked about meeting with different organizations in the community and getting input from them, what were some of those organizations? And who specifically might have been asking about having some kind of food related programing? 

MARILYN WOOD:  Purdue Extension is one of the biggest. So, they do already some educational programs related to health and sustainability and tied together with gardening efforts and other things that would fit into that south west community as well. So they were really interested in working with us. Mother Hubbard's, Downtown Library had done some programing with them related to fermentation and other kinds of things. They have been very popular programs and so they wanted to continue to do those things also. Then, we actually tied together some book reading and book clubs and they meet and they have a meal together. So, there's just so many different ways that we can partner with others that have been interested. 

MARILYN WOOD:  Also, the potential for having a herb garden and working with herbs is still floating around out there. The South West Library has space, unlike Downtown and Elletesville, where we could actually have an herb garden. Then use that in the kitchen and teach not only the using of it, but the growing of it. So, it's full circle. 

CHRISTINE MATHEU:  Because of the wonderful location where the library is, which is right next to Batchelor Middle School, the idea that all ages are part of this whole attempt at teaching how to cook. You've got the kids right next door who come over after school and they have the opportunity to use the kitchen with so many teaching classes. In addition to that, Marylin was mentioning an herb garden, the library at this point, because of the site, there are these incredible opportunities to expand out and make the library less of an insular space and something that really brings in much larger programing effort to bring the outdoors in. 

CHRISTINE MATHEU:  And this is something I think, certainly new for the Monroe County Public Library. And it has in fact, from what I understand, even the people who want to work at the library have a new kind of point of view on their role in bringing the outdoors in and the library to the outdoors. The herb garden and any other kind of growing will be part of that. 

MARILYN WOOD:  I think that's true. I think that even some of the library staff when we first started talking about this, this is a completely new idea. How was that gonna work and how are they gonna find time to do that? And as we began the planning and just really brainstorming ideas about it, everyone got very excited about it because when you think of literacy, and you think of what does that mean and what are all of the parts of it, think about just reading a recipe, think about measuring the ingredients, think about learning how to cook, think about planning a meal or budgeting for that meal. There are so many things that are learning through play, learning through doing it in a teaching kitchen. So, that's the reason why we call it a teaching kitchen, it really is about learning literacy as well as some skills that are very specific to cooking and/or preparing food. 

KAYTE YOUNG:  We were just talking about the garden kind of next to talking about Batchelor. Just from my own experience and people that I've talked to, I know how difficult something like school gardening is to maintain, because you know, gardens are often tended mostly in the summer time and it's really hard when parents and teachers are coming and going and students are coming and going to maintain any kind of consistency with a garden. But the idea that maybe something that has a partnership between the school and the library, maybe some kind of a teaching garden, would make sense in that environment. I mean, I know that's not necessarily part of the programming, but it just occurred to me when you were talking, like, oh, you know, there's this possibility for youths to be involved in it and since the library is year round, maybe it could work. 

CHRISTINE MATHEU:  It's perfect because the library with kids is the busiest during the summer. So, you've got this opportunity to work outdoors with the kids. Plus remember that it's an all ages garden, in other words, everybody could be part of it, which is also something that came through when we were interviewing people, that they wanted something where a grandparent had an activity to do with their grandchild, or a group of people who had a love for gardening could find an outlet for their skills. You tie that back into growing food and there's this sort of magic kind of thing that happens between the outdoors and the indoor kitchen. 

MARILYN WOOD:  The library's had a lot of success with some of that multi-generational programing. Downtown they actually have a garden that is planted multi-generationally. Then in Elletsville, they partnered with Pantry 279 to grow produce that particularly the teens are involved in. So, we envision, I think, something very similar to that that can happen at South West, maybe in preparation for it. There's a lot of opportunity. 

KAYTE YOUNG:  Could we go back for a second to what you were saying about the continuum? What are some other library kitchen programs that you had heard about when you were first thinking about this? 

MARILYN WOOD:  There were just a couple, in fact. One of them was in an eastern state or Pennsylvania, I don't remember where now, but it was more in a food desert area, so it really did serve a purpose for helping to feed the community. And they had a lot of programing there, or a preparation there and it actually did provide a space for people to come and eat. Then, there have been others that have been a little more related to just very specific programing efforts in the libraries, so they would have a kitchen that was fairly limited, but then for kids to come in and bake cookies for the day or do other things with it. 

MARILYN WOOD:  So, it's relatively new in the library world, in that planning stage, or to figure out how it can best fit. And it's very community oriented as every library is. It depends upon where you are and what you need. So, I think that Monroe County is well positioned to be able to use some of those people, particularly the partners that have already experienced some of the needs and the educational parts of it and really can make good use of it and they have a space to do it. 

CHRISTINE MATHEU:  In Boulder, Colorado, there is a teaching kitchen and there is a café that is related to the library and to the garden outside. They actually teach and use the garden produce. In our research, they found that they had upped the number of people who came to the library. It was just incredibly magnetic, to have people know that there was a café there, and that they could learn how to cook. And they brought in people who normally wouldn't necessarily go to the library, because that's one of the roles here too, is to bring in a population of people who don't normally go into a library because they associate it strictly with the reading and the stack areas of the library. Whereas, if you're trying to expand your population base and the use of the library, the teaching kitchen, along with some other spaces, are an immediate attraction. 

KAYTE YOUNG:  When you were talking about the south west quadrant and how it was under-served in several areas, not just around library services, and that it's more of an agrarian population, I guess one of the things that I thought of when you were saying, "Oh, people were saying they want a place to meet and a place to have a coffee," what about a café? And why did teaching kitchen come up instead of something like that? 

MARILYN WOOD:  That's a great question and we actually toyed with the idea of a café. But we wanted something that was interactive, something that actually could be the mission of a library, read, learn, create, discover, those sorts of things. So, the kitchen serves the mission, it really does meet people in a different place than what they would passively come and do in a café. 

KAYTE YOUNG:  And I think bringing a commercial endeavor in with it, it's different. It's a different vibe. 

MARILYN WOOD:  It is and I think we really strive not to do anything that costs money for folks that are coming in because that's both a deterrent and an exclusive. So, in this way, we are including anyone who would like to come. 

KAYTE YOUNG:  That's Marilyn Wood. She's the former Director of the Monroe County Public Library. I'm speaking with her and Christine Matheu, the architect for the library's newest branch and we're talking about the teaching kitchen in the new library. We'll be back with more from our conversation after a quick break. 

KAYTE YOUNG:  You're listening to Earth Eats. I'm Kayte Young. And today I'm talking with architect Christine Matheu and former Public Library Director, Marilyn Wood. We're talking about the new Public Library branch in South West Monroe County, Indiana. The new library features a teaching kitchen. Let's return to our conversation. 

KAYTE YOUNG:  The main reason that I really wanted to talk with you is that I found it really interesting to hear about the process for how the library planning was conducted for the South West branch because of the level of community involvement in that. It sounded like a lot of the ideas for it really did come from community conversations and my experience with those kinds of things is often that it's a box that the developer or the architecture firm or whatever, needs to check but they're not necessarily meeting with people and listening to them and putting that input into the decision making. So, I just wondered if you guys could talk about that a little bit? 

CHRISTINE MATHEU:  It was really interesting to find that if we met with a group of people and we said, "What image came up if you thought of library?" and the image that came up typically was a library that I grew up with, which was going in, it was very, very quiet, there was a very nice librarian at the desk and you went through the stacks and you picked out of a book or many books and then either read them there or you went home. But it was interesting to then go from there, a lot of people in the south west, that was their idea of what a library was and some of them felt really comfortable with that image, or that experience as their experience of a library. But then, what we did was we put up very, very large posters that included images of activities or spaces or various things that could expand the idea of a library. 

CHRISTINE MATHEU:  And we asked people just to take some sticky notes and we had them just put them on the things that they just liked. In other words, it had nothing to do with library, necessarily, but it had to do with just what things they enjoyed doing. And there were things that were related to how we were thinking about the library but we wanted to see what people thought. And it was really fascinating to find out, because their idea of library at that point just went expansive. And it had a very, very different thing than what was their response to what a library was. 

MARILYN WOOD:  And I appreciated that as they looked at these things, they would say, "Okay, we know you can't do everything, but, wow, we really would like to have this." 

KAYTE YOUNG:  What kinds of things were on that activity? 

MARILYN WOOD:  Well, I think much of it came out in the end. The kitchen or spaces where you could come and work if you didn't have a home office, or collaborative areas. The other thing that we did was, we reached out to multi-ages. So, we went to the middle schools and we went to senior rooms and other places, because we wanted to get input from all ages knowing that in five years, this person is gonna be aged out of where they are now. What do they want now, or what might they want then? And so we wanted to reach all of those ages. Batchelor Middle School was a great example of where we learned that the kitchen was their number two. Number one was gaming and number two was the kitchen. And, so, these were kids that anticipated wanting to use the spaces like that. What other things, Christine? 

CHRISTINE MATHEU:  Gosh, we had things like, "Did you want a sculpture garden?" or, "Did you want fountains?" or, "Did you want a play area? Did you want a place where you could see movies, watch movies." What Marylin mentioned, a work space was a really good example of things people were really looking for, was a place where they could possibly start a new business but their home was just too constraining a place for them to do that. But there were also things like 3D printing. They wanted to do things where you had lectures. Meeting rooms were a big deal. Meeting rooms were a big, big deal because there really aren't any in that area, as I mentioned before. Meeting areas were a big deal. 

MARILYN WOOD:  And study spaces and congress rooms. The amphitheater came out of that. 

CHRISTINE MATHEU:  Yeah, the amphitheater came out as an outdoor gathering space and the site worked out in such a way that the amphitheater was a natural outgrowth of the whole site because of the location of the building, which is on a slope. We were able to tuck in a layer of underground parking, thereby saving a lot of trees and saving open site area. And we were also able, using that same incline, to bring in the amphitheater space. So it worked out beautifully and what was amazing that from our standpoint as architects, I mean, it was wonderful to work with a library. And the fact that we had a board there that was really open to these ideas and they really wanted it to be a great library. 

MARILYN WOOD:  Absolutely. 

CHRISTINE MATHEU:  And it was just wonderful. As an architect we so much, oftentimes, run into clients who say, "No," they give a reason, but they usually oftentimes say, "No, we can't do that." And this one was always, "Yes, let's try it. Let's see if we can do it." And it was just a really wonderful way to work and partner. 

KAYTE YOUNG:  And is that how the kitchen ended up going as well? Where it was, "Hey, what if we tried this, let's see what would be involved?" 

MARILYN WOOD:  Yes, I think that in our first drawings, I'm not sure we had the kitchen even, in the first drawing, but soon we did. And then the board had to learn as well. What would you use a kitchen for ane how did we envision it and what was it? And then soon, they were certainly on board with it and thought it was a great idea. 

KAYTE YOUNG:  So, let's just sort of say what would you use a kitchen for in a library? 

MARILYN WOOD:  Literacy efforts. Opportunities to bring the community together. Teaching. And interestingly enough, the space, of course, is very expensive. Ultimately any kind of square footage in a building is. But setting it up was not. I mean, I think it was a relatively inexpensive set up. Obviously the community foundation was very generous with us and we were able to do that. But I think ultimately we turned a small space into a great space and I think it's gonna see so much use. 

CHRISTINE MATHEU:  The other thing is to realize when we were trying to figure out where to put it in the library, throughout the whole planning stages, the building, as you can imagine, kitchens are noisy places. Teen centers are also noisy places and all ages collaborative are potentially noisy spaces. So, what we really did was, we looked at what spaces would belong together comfortably and we found that the kitchen and the teen center and the all-ages were a great trio of spaces that could be next to each other and that they could rely on each other for activities, both directions. And in addition to that, we have a large program meeting room and a reception area and that too was a great opportunity to partner with the kitchen because the kitchen could provide a place where you'd prepare things that might end up traveling over to the program area or the reception space. 

CHRISTINE MATHEU:  So, it's almost like one plus one doesn't equal two in this case. We got much more. We got one, two, three, four equals 10 of opportunities. And it worked out really well. We intentionally made all the teen center and the all-ages and the teaching kitchen, we made them visible to each other, so that when you are in any of those rooms, you were very cognizant of the activities in the other two spaces. And this has worked out really well because sometimes one of those spaces might be on the quiet side, the kitchen isn't open unless it's being used, but you're aware of it, and the use of those spaces is remembered, you might say, by the other ones. 

KAYTE YOUNG:  And also I could imagine if there's a wall between you and the next meeting room, you might not know that somebody's over there trying to do something quietly and so you're not controlling the volume of whatever it is you're doing. But if you see each other, there might be more respect, of just like, "Oh, they're doing something over there. Let's keep it down." 

MARILYN WOOD:  It is a nice community space like that and it's also see and be seen. So, it's interesting to others to watch what's going on and then they want to try it. 

CHRISTINE MATHEU:  And it's also a built-in security. Nowadays, libraries are very open buildings and you want to make sure everybody feels comfortable in libraries. And by having this glass, it does lots of things in addition to making sure everybody knows what's going on in the building, in terms of exciting activities, but, also, people are aware of who's there and I think people feel a little bit more secure in that. 

MARILYN WOOD:  And the other thing that we did was make all of the counters ADA height, so that any place within the space could be used by anyone. 

CHRISTINE MATHEU:  My favorite is the oven. There are two ovens, stacked ovens, and the top oven is a French door oven, so that although it's high up, you're not having to pick up a large pan across a door that has been moved down horizontally. You don't have to stretch over that. I love that oven. It's really great. I think Marylin found that one. 

MARILYN WOOD:  I did. It was so much fun shopping for that kitchen. [LAUGHS] 

KAYTE YOUNG:  Do you want to talk about that a little bit? Just some of the considerations that went into it and what you ended up with? 

MARILYN WOOD:  Well, part of our considerations started with the county. We needed to know whether or not we had any code requirements or just where we stood in that whole spectrum of being not a restaurant but being a kitchen that would be making food that others might eat, but we weren't selling it. So, we had several conversations with the county just to find out what we needed and whether or not there were permits and other things that were necessary. When we figured that out, then that also led to what kind of equipment we could use in terms of the size of our stoves and hoods and all of the things that go along with that, that you know far better than I do, Christine. But then after that, it was really a matter of how many people do we want to serve? How do we want to accommodate it? How many stoves do we need? What refrigeration do we need? Et cetera. And then it's just like putting your first apartment together except at a higher level. Then it was a lot of fun and I went shopping. 

CHRISTINE MATHEU:  One of the issues was the stove. One's first reaction, if you go into a kitchen this size, is that you would have commercial stoves, you now, big Vikings or whatever. And we had worked with enough churches, and churches have kitchens and our office had worked a lot with churches to realize that these large commercial stoves, they can be dangerous and the BTUs are pretty large on those gas stoves, they're very noisy and they're very intimidating. If you're trying to produce enough food, for instance, you're serving people who are homeless and you're serving large quantities of food, those big commercial stoves make sense. But in this particular case, what were we doing? We were having a teaching kitchen that was to allow people to learn how to cook at home. So, the idea of having residential stoves made a whole lot of sense. We had lots of discussions about that and we ended up with the residential stoves as the direction to go, because kids coming over from Batchelor weren't going to be afraid of them and they were also going to learn how to use them for cooking and they could take that knowledge home. 

CHRISTINE MATHEU:  And that was true for all the adults. I mean, there was people who were adults, their cooking classes now at the library, they're going to learn how to do it in the context of the library's teaching kitchen, but they're going to take that knowledge and take it home with them. 

MARILYN WOOD:  And certainly safety was another issue, so we wanted to ensure that whatever we were doing could be transferred from one age to another, so we wanted to make sure that we had size that would fit kids as well as adults. We wanted to be able to have stoves that they could reach, or that they could use. But again, most of that based on a residential model, wasn't too hard to figure out. The other piece of it was just, what do you need to have in a kitchen that you're going to be doing programing in. And some of it's very specific to the equipment needs. But most of it isn't. That's the fun part about it is that there's staples in any kitchen that will work and that includes equipment as well as ingredients. So, we did the staples. 

CHRISTINE MATHEU:  In addition to the stove tops that are in the counter stove tops, the kitchen also has individual cookers, so that people can learn how to cook at their station, their cooking station. And those stations are intentionally grouped of four people together, so that you're not there alone. You might be there with a friend, cooking, but you also have a group of four people, which is not an intimidating number. I mean, four is a really great number to sort of talk about cooking and talk about other things besides cooking. And the cookers allow that to happen at the individual tables. And then the stoves themselves as a different kind of cooking arrangement. 

KAYTE YOUNG:  I really liked what you said about talk about cooking and talk about other things besides cooking because I think it's just something that I know from other programs whether it's gardening or cooking programs, that, yes, you might be teaching something but really what's happening is people are connecting with each other over a shared task and they're talking and they're getting to know each other and they're hearing stories about, "Oh, in my family we made this," or, "My favorite meal was that," or, "I remember that time when so-and-so did this." And it's a community building opportunity and space. 

CHRISTINE MATHEU:  And that's the other thing about that particular quadrant of the county is that because it is the most agrarian area, meaning that there are large tracks of land, big farms, people aren't living right next door to each other. There's a lot of people who are out there who are alone or who are with maybe just their immediate family. The library gives them an opportunity, in particular with a room such as the teaching kitchen, to meet other people. Because it can be kind of lonely, especially in the middle of winter. 

CHRISTINE MATHEU:  We really intended, all the way through, because the site kept giving us messages, you know? It's like, "Do this."  

KAYTE YOUNG:  Like what? 

CHRISTINE MATHEU:  We had to keep our ears open to the site. For instance, it was a wooded site, it was an area that had been planted by Batchelor students and their families. So the trees were very important in that particular site. So, we took that theme of trees and we started using different kinds of wood in the building. The furniture, for instance, is composed of walnut, maple, ash, oak, all these different kinds of wood that are being used for the furniture throughout the building. And the whole idea of the colors and the space that relate to nature, there's soft greens and there are blues and there are grays and browns, there are things that are natural colors and that's something that actually we picked up during the community interviews that we had. People wanted colors that felt natural. They really weren't going towards big, vibrant colors. Most people wanted something where they were natural colors. 

CHRISTINE MATHEU:  And what has happened, I think, in the building, is there's a sense of peace and tranquility in the building. Even though there are a lot of people in that building, there is a sense of tranquility and I think it's the way people connect with nature and that that is what I prize, among many things, about nature, is the fact that there's a feeling of tranquility. And the library has that. Even in the busy space like the teaching kitchen, you still feel it. 

MARILYN WOOD:  I think that we heard frequently that they wanted it to fit in, into the surroundings. So it didn't stand out, that it really was part of it. I think we did a good job there. 

KAYTE YOUNG:  I really appreciate you talking with me about these things. It's so interesting to hear how this developed and evolved over time and responding to the community. Were there other things that you wanted to say that we didn't get to? 

MARILYN WOOD:  Well, the only thing I guess I will add is that the library is always looking for ideas for programing and other things, so if there are specific programs for the kitchen that folks would like to see, they should just be in touch with the library. Send them a note and say, "Hey, I'd really love to have a program on, you know, [PHONETIC: Ikian] cooking or sharpening your knives," or whatever it might be, I know that they'll open it up. 

CHRISTINE MATHEU:  The whole idea of the kitchen, in my mind, is just a place to have some fun and to really meet people and feel good. And to be in the moment. You know? You're not thinking about it, that's one thing about cooking that I find for myself, anyway, is true. So when you're cooking, you've got to pay enough attention to what you're doing that you're in the moment. You're not thinking about other things that might be stressing you out in your life, cooking just kind of zooms you in on the moment. And this teaching kitchen really affords that same feeling, I think. 

KAYTE YOUNG:  Thank you both so much. 

CHRISTINE MATHEU:  Thank you so much. 

KAYTE YOUNG:  That was Christine Matheu, president of Matheu Architects and the lead architect of the Monroe County Public Library's new South West branch. We were in conversation with Marylin Wood, who was the Director of the Monroe county Public Library during the planning stages of the new branch. The current Director of the Monroe County Public Library is Grier Carson. To see photos of the library's teaching kitchen, go to our website It's time for another quick break. When we come back, we'll talk with Megan Betz of Mother Hubbard's Cupboard about their involvement with the library's new teaching kitchen. Stay with us. 

KAYTE YOUNG:  Kayte Young here, this is Earth Eats. Our focus today is the teaching kitchen at the Monroe County library's new south west branch. After speaking with the architect for the building and the Director of the library during the planning stages of the new branch, I wanted to hear from someone in the community who participated in those early discussions and who is now using the library kitchen for programing. Megan Betz is the president and CEO of Mother Hubbard's Cupboard in Bloomington. Here she is describing the work they do in the community. 

MEGAN BETZ:  Mother Hubbard's Cupboard or as we often call it, The Hub, is a community food resource center. Most folks know us because of the Food Pantry. We have really tried to develop in a way that is resourcing our community to build the food system that they want to see, so our Food Pantry is a low barrier space, set up like a grocery store where folks are invited to come in over the course of Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, and take the food that they need to support their households. We try to prioritize fresh local produce the best we can because we know that those can be cost prohibitive and they also tend to be the hardest foods to find in food pantries. And then as our pantry grew, 25 years ago, we also started to see that folks would benefit from moving beyond just the pantry model to having space for learning how to provide food for themselves, how to use some of the food in the pantry, how to keep potatoes exciting and interesting when you see them for a couple of months in a row. 

MEGAN BETZ:  Also, how do we start building community with all of the people that we're seeing? Because some folks may be dropping in because they're between jobs, but some folks are also gonna be using the pantry month after month or sometimes year after year and so how are we also supporting them through relationships as they navigate what can be overall a really isolating and sometimes stigmatizing period. So, we grew out educational programing, which happens in community gardens that we have managed throughout the community over our history, but are now concentrated at our location on West Allen. And how do we also go beyond just teaching or offering space to share skills to making sure that folks have the resources they need to use those skills at home. And so from there we grew into the Tool Share, which is our lending library that is stocked with things like grow lights and micro green kits and trowels and the hand tools that you would need to start a garden at home, to pasta makers and pasta drying racks, food dehydrators, air fryers and instant pots, so that we don't all have to buy everything, we don't all have to have space for everything, but we all know where we can access things. 

MEGAN BETZ:  And then we also try to give folks as many of the things that you need for the home garden that you can't bring back, as well, right? So, each season we offer compost and top soil, we do seed swaps with the library and also here and offer as many seeds and starts as we can to make sure that our home gardeners have everything they need for a successful season. 

KAYTE YOUNG:  The Hub has been partnering with the Monroe County Public Library's Downtown branch for many years. 

MEGAN BETZ:  We have used our education programming to host book clubs where the library offers the books and then we offer space for a conversation and a recipe inspired by the book. We do seed swaps with the library, where we're inviting folks in to take some of our seeds, share their seeds. So, we have a history of doing educational programming and then our former education coordinator maintained conversations with the library as they were mapping out what that space could look like in the hopes that we could grow our programing, offer educational programing there, really as a way to drive folks between the two spaces so that it could be a loop where we're meeting folks needs regardless of where they are in the community. 

KAYTE YOUNG:  You have a teaching kitchen here on site, so what does programing in that space at the library offer that is different than what you have here? 

MEGAN BETZ:  What we were excited to see with the new library location is entry into a new neighborhood in the community, a space where there isn't as much service in terms of local fresh food. There's a Kroger in that neighborhood, but there isn't a Blooming Foods, there isn't a food pantry that's as visible in that space. So, are there folks who don't know about us yet, or who are under served in other ways that we could begin building relationships with so that then they're comfortable learning about and coming to our space? So, part of it is just excited to be in a new area of the community and then the other piece is there are programs that really parallel each other between The Hub and the Public Library. We each are developing a tool share, so a lending library, structured in different ways but the hope of being really complementary where you're finding the tools you need that you can check out at no cost to support your gardening efforts, to support your adventures in the kitchen, build some skills in the kitchen, preserve food. And so what do we not have stocked or what is there extra demand for, where we're sharing skills in The Hub kitchen, in the library kitchen. And then they know that there are resources where they can check those tools out and continue practicing those skills at home. So, designed to really be complimentary to meet community demand. 

MEGAN BETZ:  And then also try to use the spaces in ways that are comparable and then sometimes duplicating services, so having a pie workshop here, prioritizing folks who are doing their shopping, learning about the workshop from within the pantry space and then letting them know that if the time for that workshop doesn't work here, it'll be offered in the future at the library and then introduce them to the library space in that way. If we're at the library, saying, okay, we loved having you for this pie workshop, did you know that we offer similar workshops at The Hub. While you're at The Hub, you can access our tool share, you can be shopping in the pantry. And so making sure that folks are really building comfort in both of those spaces, in addition to the skills. 

KAYTE YOUNG:  As president and CEO of The Hub, much of Megan's work has been in the office in meetings and conversations with donors and in other administrative work required to run an organization like The Hub. But Megan was the one who stepped up to teach the first cooking workshops that The Hub offered in the new library kitchen. 

MEGAN BETZ:  It was really exciting for me in particular, to get to do some of these first workshops that we hosted at the library kitchen because I just got to be in community with folks in a way that's sort of outside of my job description, most of the time. So far, we have made apple galettes and pumpkin muffins. Galettes are my favorite type of pie to make, they're a free form pie that just has one crust, so it's a really nice introduction to making one pie crust, rolling it out, you don't have to get it perfectly round, you don't have to do anything fancy to the edges. You're just dumping your filling into the middle and then folding up the edge to form sort of a little hug around the edge of the pie, so everything is tucked in. And then you get nice crispy edges with very minimal effort, which, when you're working on a 90 minute timeline for a workshop, or a really impatient baker, like I tend to be, it's the perfect pie format. 

MEGAN BETZ:  And because the way that we are structuring our programing at the library, is a partnership not only with the library but with one of our farm partners, People's Cooperative Market, we got to highlight local ingredients in those recipes too. So, we try to set a calendar that was really featuring seasonal produce. The apples that we had in our apple galette workshop came from local farmers. We got to do an apple tasting while the galettes baked and that produce came from People's Cooperative Market from farmers who are also providing food to the pantry throughout the week, that we have an ongoing relationship with. So, we got to talk about our local food system and what apples grow here and how we decide what apples will work best for sauce versus pie, but also highlight, okay, you can come find local apples in The Hub pantry, you can find local apples at People's Cooperative Market and both of us have ways to get you fresh, local produce free of cost, as low barrier as possible. 

KAYTE YOUNG:  Often when we picture the kind of food that's offered at a food pantry, fresh, locally grown produce isn't exactly what comes to mind. To me, this is some of the highest quality food available anywhere. It's incredible to know that folks can access this for free at the food pantry. I wanted to hear more about how they're making this connection with local farmers. 

MEGAN BETZ:  Two years before I came into The Hub, so, in 2020, we received a pot of money to pilot a program that grew into the Farmer's Support Initiative. So it was our first time having money to specifically use our overall fairly limited buying power to invest in local produce. That program came with an upfront investment in each of the farmers that participated, so they had support to develop a high tunnel or get the cover crop that they need for this season, or invest in their farm in the way that they needed to. And then knew that they had a pot of money from us, where we would be buying over the course of the growing season. That program has grown some each year, so, when I came into my position, we had space to add some additional farmers and we were excited to work with People's Cooperative Market, give their organization that upfront investment and then buy at least $7,000 of produce from them over the course of the year. 

MEGAN BETZ:  And the beauty of working with People's Market is we're not only in partnership with one farmer, but we get to access all of the farmers that are part of the market and use their cooperative structure, to get more diverse goods, to access higher volumes of goods, to have folks who can really tailor to the types of things that our shoppers are asking for and know that we're serving an organization that is similar in focus to us where we're prioritizing folks who have been marginalized by our food system, who might have farms operating on a smaller scale or struggle to access capital or access land in ways that other larger scale predominantly white farmers can, more readily. So, it was a way to just have one front door to a lot of produce and a lot of space for relationship building. 

KAYTE YOUNG:  I asked Megan about the turnout for the first workshops at the library kitchen. 

MEGAN BETZ:  We were really excited to see that the online registration filled up really quickly and then the wait list also filled up really quickly. So, that tells us there's a lot of demand, which I think is something to consider as we think about frequency of workshops and how much we're bringing folks into that space, to offer educational programing. Each of them were just very sweet. There were some people who came because they were long time bakers and they wanted to bake in community with folks. In my galette workshop, one of the long time bakers was very nervous about making the pie crust in the food processor, it was not the traditional way of making pie crust and so I won them over a little bit. They were like, "I think it's gonna get tough, it's gonna get gluey," but their crust had a beautiful flaky structure. 

MEGAN BETZ:  And, so, some folks are trying new skills or are there because they love the practice of baking, or of being in the kitchen. Other folks were there because they're living on their own for the first time and want to feel confident in the kitchen. There was a pair of teenagers who were dropped off and attended the workshop together and were very excited to have space on their own and were chatting with me about how much they enjoy the fall and apple season and were looking forward to warm apple cider and watching Gilmore Girls and it was really sweet to talk about autumn and these rituals that we shared and just building, not only confidence in the kitchen, but just joyful relationships together across generations, across skill levels. 

KAYTE YOUNG:  Building confidence skills in the kitchen, joyful relationships across generations, I think the world can always use more of that. Megan Betz is the president and CEO of Mother Hubbard's Cupboard in Bloomington, also known as The Hub. They partner with the Monroe County Public Library to bring food related programing into the library and to raise awareness about their food assistance programs and their education and advocacy efforts. They've been offering cooking workshops in the teaching kitchen at the library's new South West branch in partnership with the People's Cooperative Market. You can find links to all of these organizations in one place on our website at Also, keep your eye out for a cooking workshop in the library offered by yours truly this March. Subscribe to the Earth Eats digest to keep up with the latest. Find the link at 

KAYTE YOUNG:  That's it for our show. Thanks as always for listening and we'll see you next time. The Earth Eats team includes Violet Baron, Eoban Binder, Alexis Carvajal, Alex Chambers, Mark Chilla, Toby Foster, Daniella Richardson, Samantha Schemenauer, Payton Whaley, and Harvest Public Media. Special thanks this week to Christine Matheu, Marilyn Wood and Megan Betz. Earth Eats is produced and edited by me, Kayte Young. Our theme music is composed by Erin Tobey and preformed by Erin and Matt Tobey. Additional music on the show comes to us from Universal Production Music. Our Executive Producer is Eric Bolstridge. 

people gathered around a countertop in a professional/sleek kitchen space, a cookbook is standing on the counter, on person is demonstrating brushing filo pastry with butter

Olga Kalentzidou demonstrates a Greek recipe featuring filo dough during the grand opening of Southwest Branch of the Monroe County Public Library in June of 2023 (Kayte Young/WFIU)

“When you think of literacy and you think of what does that mean and what are all the parts of it– think about reading a recipe. Think about measuring the ingredients. Think about learning how to cook. Think about planning a meal, or budgeting for that meal. There are so many things that are learning-through-play, learning-through-doing-it, in a teaching kitchen. That’s the reason  why we call it a teaching kitchen. It really is about learning literacy as well as some skills that are very specific to cooking.”

This week on the show, a conversation with Marilyn Wood, the former director of the Monroe County Public Library* and Christine Matheu, the architect for the library's newest branch.  We talk about how a teaching kitchen found its way into the public library and what it means for the community. 

Then we check in with Megan Betz, the president and CEO of Mother Hubbard's Cupboard about their involvement with the new teaching kitchen and how programming in the space is going, so far. 

*Marilyn Wood was the director of the library when the new branch was in the planning stages. The current director of the Monroe County Public Library is Grier Carson. You can check out a conversation with Grier Carson about book banning on this episode of Flyover Culture (from WTIU).

Also, mentioned in the episode is the beet hummus that Kayte Young demonstrated at the Grand Opening of the Southwest Branch. Find the recipe here

Music on this Episode:

The Earth Eats theme music is composed by Erin Tobey and performed by Erin and Matt Tobey.

Additional music on this episode from Universal Production Music.


The Earth Eats’ team includes: Eoban Binder, Alexis Carvajal, Alex Chambers, Mark Chilla, Toby Foster, Daniella Richardson, Samantha Shemenaur, Payton Whaley and Harvest Public Media.

Earth Eats is produced, engineered and edited by Kayte Young. Our executive producer is Eric Bolstridge.

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