Backyard Growers’ Spring Garden Event Calendar

Each spring, Backyard Growers hosts a calendar of workshops and community events to empower people to grow their own food and connect neighbors over the shared experience of vegetable gardening. Check out the full calendar below – save the dates and register (where necessary!)

All workshops are $15 general admission / FREE for Backyard Growers program participants (e.g. Community Garden, Backyard Garden, and GrowBag Garden Programs managed by Backyard Growers)

🥕 In-Person Workshop: DIY Healthy Soil Amendments @ February 23

🌿 Virtual Workshop: How to Start Seeds Indoors @ March 8

🐝 Community Event: Free Seed Giveaway – Seeds to Start Indoors @ March 9

🦋 Community Event: Free Seed Giveaway & Swap at Burnham’s Field @ April 1

🍅 In-Person Workshop: How to Plan Your Vegetable Garden @ April 8

🌽 Virtual Workshop: How to Plan Your Vegetable Garden @ April 12

🌱 Community Event: April Seedling Sale (Online Ordering & Curbside Pickup) @ April 12 – April 22

💚 Community Event: May Seedling Sale (Online Ordering & Curbside Pickup) @ May 10 – 20

Questions? Contact us at

Plus, learn more about our Community Programs and how to grow your own food with us in 2023. Now accepting applications!


The Sawyer Free Library is pleased to announce some exciting additions and promotions to the staff at the start of this new year. 

Meghan O’Neill has recently joined SFL as a new Community Librarian with a focus on serving newcomers and the Gloucester High School teen community. Joella Allen is the new Digital Services Librarian responsible for managing digital learning programs and digital resource access through SFL’s website. In addition, Joann Dunajski has been promoted to the newly created position of Customer Experience Supervisor, and Leah Svensson to the role of Community Librarian

“I am thrilled to say that there are two more dynamic reasons to visit the Sawyer Free Library at 21 Main Street with the addition of Joella and Meg to our dedicated and talented staff. I am also delighted to share the news of the well-deserved promotions of Joanne and Leah,” stated Jenny Benedict, the Sawyer Free Library Director. “Their collective experience and knowledge strengthens our great staff team and brings new enthusiasm for achieving our goals.”

Meghan O’Neill brings her extensive library experience, having worked in school, college, and public libraries, to her new position as a Community Librarian at SFL. “I am happy to have joined Sawyer Free Library and to be in Gloucester,” said O’Neill about her new role. “I’m committed to equity and accessibility, outreach with various community partners, and uplifting voices through programming and enhanced online services.”

She comes to SFL after serving over a decade as the Librarian at the Pingree School in Hamilton, MA. Previously, she served as a librarian at The Buckley School in California. O’Neill holds a Master’s in Library and Information Science from the University of California Los Angeles, a Master’s of Arts from Dartmouth College, and a Bachelor’s of Art from Bishop’s University in Quebec. 

SFL’s new Digital Services LibrarianJoella Allen, shared, “I am excited to join the Sawyer Free Library and help our patrons of all ages, abilities, and backgrounds with their technology needs. I’m looking forward to the exciting spaces and technology coming in the next few years and the programs we’ll be able to offer!” 

Joella grew up in California before leaving to complete her Bachelor’s Degree in Anthropology and English at Johns Hopkins University. She completed her Master’s Degrees in Library and Information Studies and Archival Studies at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, BC, where most recently Allen worked for a health technology start-up doing privacy and information security.

Already a familiar and welcoming presence at SFL, Joann Dunajski has been promoted to the newly created Library position of Customer Experience Supervisor.  With her extensive Library services experience and passion for serving the public, Joann is now responsible for supervising and maintaining the daily operations of the primary public service desk and collection circulation, providing customer service in person and remotely, and most importantly, creating a welcoming environment for people of all ages. 

After two years serving as a Library Assistant at SFL while she worked toward her Masters in Library and Information Science at the University of Rhode Island, Leah Svensson has been promoted into the position of Community Librarian.  

SLF invites the community to meet Joella and Meg and say hello to the friendly and talented staff at the Library’s new sun-filled space at 21 Main Street, downtown Gloucester. While there, learn about the Library’s in-person and digital services, resources, programs, and events. SFL@21 Main Street is open Monday through Wednesday, 8am to 6pm, Thursday 10am to 7pm and Friday and Saturday, 10am to 5pm or 24/7 at 

For more information about SFL@21 Main Street, please visit

Joella Allen, Digital Librarian and Meg O’Neil, Community Librarian at Sawyer Free Library

“So Salty” Fun at SFL@21Main Street Saturday, Jan. 21

Join in on the “So Salty” Fun at the Sawyer Free Library at 21 Main Street in downtown Gloucester on Saturday, January 21:

10:30 a.m. to 12:00 p.m.   “Snacks by the Sea with The Open Door”

The Sawyer Free Library and The Open Door will present a cooking demonstration of a salty snack for families. Throughout the day, we will celebrate local food traditions with a display of our historic cookbooks and recipes in the Local History collection. 

1:00 to 2:00 p.m. “Sea Shanties and Maritime Heritage Through Folk Music

Come listen, sing, engage, and celebrate maritime heritage and community with local musician and teacher Olivia Gale, who was born and raised in Gloucester. Join the fun as Olivia leads an exploration of history, story, and performance of sea shanties, nautical ballads, and other folk music written about the sea.  

Both events are free and open to all ages to come and enjoy!

These Sawyer Free Library events are a part of the 2nd Annual Gloucester’s So Salty Festival taking place throughout Gloucester Saturday, January 21 and Sunday January 22, 2023 from 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.

Celebrate the fish city’s recognizably salty character with local cultural institutions and businesses during the 2nd Annual Gloucester’s So Salty festival led by the Cape Ann Museum in partnership with area cultural institutions and businesses. Inspired by the annual Salem’s So Sweet event, this two-day event will include ice sculptures, live music, salty treats, free kids’ art activities, and much more.

All events are free and open to the public.

For additional details on the Library events, visit: or 978-325-5500.

Sawyer Free Library’s Storytime: New Time & Location

After a short pause, Sawyer Free Librarys is excited to announce weekly STORYTIME with Christy is resuming at a new time and location – this Wednesday.

Join Christy for a morning of stories, songs, rhymes, bubbles and fun with friends this Wednesday, January 11 from 11:15am to 12 noon in Movement Arts Gloucester MA‘s beautiful space in downtown Gloucester.

During the construction phase of the Library, weekly Wednesdays Storytime for our youngest patrons and families will be held inside Brown’s Mall at MAGMA (Movement Arts Gloucester MA) located on the top floor of the Brown Building in Gloucester. Families and caregivers can enter at 186 Main Street and take the elevator to the 5th floor. Please note that the new time is 11:15am – 12noon, weekly on Wednesday.

Until construction begins, attendees are able to park in the Library’s parking lot, and walk over to Storytime via Pleasant Street. For more information visit, or 978-515-6349.

For all other Sawyer Free Children’s Library services and activities please, visit 21 Main Street in downtown Gloucester or

Winter Workshop: Garden Tool Maintenance

Join Backyard Growers to learn to prep your garden tools for spring and help them last for many growing seasons to come.

📍 Thursday, January 26, 5pm – 6:30pm

💻 On Zoom

🎟 FREE to Backyard Growers’ program participants (including 2022 Backyard, Community, and GrowBag Gardeners). $15 general admission.

In this workshop, attendees will learn to prolong the life of their garden tools and get the most out of them. We’ll teach sharpening methods, the use of lubrication and mineral oil, proper storage conditions, and more. The workshop will also introduce good rules of thumb for removing rust and concepts about radius/edge on your tools.

All are welcome!

Rocky Neck Polar Plunge Rings in New Year with Donations for The Open Door 

From left: Organizer Cathy McCarthy with volunteers Robin Surette and Eileen Kelley collect food donations at the Rocky Neck Polar Plunge on Sunday, Jan. 1. (Photo Courtesy of The Open Door) 

The Rocky Neck Polar Plunge rang in the new year with a splash on Sunday, collecting 512 pounds of food and $1,740 in donations for The Open Door. 

The annual tradition, coordinated since 2006 by Gloucester residents Cathy McCarthy and Jeff Surette with the help of a small group of volunteers, encourages locals to take a brisk dip in the water at Oakes Cove Beach on Rocky Neck to kick off the new year while simultaneously collecting food donations for The Open Door.  

People gather for the 2023 Rocky Neck Polar Plunge at Oakes Cove Beach in Gloucester.  
(Photo Courtesy of The Open Door) 

This year, McCarthy and Surette also partnered with Gloucester 400 to kick off the beginning of the new year and the City of Gloucester’s 400th anniversary.  

“As January arrives promising winter weather and higher heating bills, the Rocky Neck Polar Plunge helps The Open Door start the year right by bringing community together to welcome the New Year and to fill our pantry shelves,” President and CEO Julie LaFontaine said. “Community doesn’t get any better than this. We are grateful to Cathy McCarthy and Jeff Surette for organizing this annual East Gloucester tradition and the Gloucester 400 for putting food security on the priority list for 2023.”  

“We know that The Open Door is a need for many, and we want the community to know how important it is,” McCarthy said. “We need to help those that need it. It’s quite simple, isn’t it? It’s all about starting the new year off positively and having a little fun.” 

Approximately 150 people attended the event, including Mayor Greg Verga. To commence the plunge, Rocky Neck resident George Sibley read a poem, an annual tradition at the event.  

Mayor Greg Verga helps collect food donations for The Open Door at the Rocky Neck Polar Plunge on Sunday, Jan. 1. (Photo Courtesy of The Open Door) 

Those who were unable to attend but wish to donate to The Open Door can do so at  

From left: Jeff Surette and Cathy McCarthy at the 2023 Rocky Neck Polar Plunge.  (Photo Courtesy of The Open Door) 

About The Open Door   

The mission of The Open Door is to alleviate the impact of hunger in our community. We use practical strategies to connect people to good food, to advocate on behalf of those in need, and to engage others in the work of building food security.  

Founded in 1978, The Open Door is a 501 (c)(3) tax exempt nonprofit and community food resource center for low-income residents of Gloucester, Rockport, Manchester, Essex, Ipswich, Hamilton, Boxford, Rowley, Topsfield, and Wenham.  

For more information, visit  

Sawyer Free Library Unveils the Most Checked-Out Library Books of 2022

As the page turns on 2022, the Sawyer Free Library has compiled a list of some of the year’s most popular books, sharing the top checkouts for adults, teens, and children. Of the thousands of print, digital, and audiobooks patrons borrowed, these were Gloucester’s favorite books of 2022. 

“It’s not surprising that as we slowly regained our ability to leave our homes, our reading turned to reflect on the priorities and values of our time spent in quarantine. In 2022, Gloucester seemed to want to read stories about relationships, families, and the uncertainties of modern life,” said Beth Pocock, the Library’s Assistant Director. “The Sawyer Free Library takes great pride that our beloved community continually turns to us for unparalleled access to books, knowledge, and entertainment to feed their souls, brighten their spirits and enrich their lives.”

Top Adult Fiction

1. Oh William! by Elizabeth Strout

2. by Amor Towles

3. Wish You Were Here by Jodi Picoult 

4. Apples Never Fall by Liane Moriarty

5. The Judge’s List by John Grisham

6. The Last Thing He Told Me by Laura Dave

7. Cloud Cuckoo Land by Anthony Doerr

8. Never by Ken Follett

9. Our Country Friends by Gary Shteyngart

10. State of Terror by Hillary Rodham Clinton and Louise Penny

The most borrowed book was Elizabeth Strout’s Oh William!, with a story full of family secrets that eventually grows into an uplifting meditation on our humanity. Taking the second spot is The Lincoln Highway, Amor Towles follow-up to his blockbuster novel Gentleman from Moscow, a complex story about two brothers whom you’ll come to care as deeply about as you did Count Alexander Rostov. 

Another highlight on the list is Anthony Doerr’s celebrated novel, Cloud Cuckoo Land. A New York Times bestseller, National Book Award finalist, and Best Book of the Year by most major newspapers, Cloud Cuckoo Land follows five young dreamers through time and space from 1453 Constantinople to the future. 

The pandemic and its shared experience provided the underpinning for many of this year’s other favorites. In Wish You Were Here, Jodi Picoult tells a story about the pandemic shattering a well-planned life and providing a platform for rethinking priorities. A group of friends meeting in a country house to wait out the pandemic in isolation sets the stage for Gary Shteyngart’s book, Our Country Friends. Referred to by many as “The Great Pandemic Novel,” Shteyngart aptly captures the uncertainties of modern life we all felt so keenly during the pandemic. 

No list of Gloucester favorites is ever complete without a few good thrillers. One of this year’s most popular suspense writers, Liane Moriarty, adds Apples Never Fall to 2022’s list.  John Grisham’s latest legal thriller, The Judge’s List, and State of Terror, by Hillary Rodham Clinton and Louise Penny aptly fill two other suspenseful slots.

Top Adult Nonfiction

1. The Gloucester Notebook by T.S. Eliot, 1888-1965

2. The Dawn Of Everything: A New History Of Humanity by David Graeber

3. Caste: The Origins Of Our Discontents by Isabel Wilkerson 

4. Death and Enchantment in a New England Ghost Town by Elyssa East

5. Words Like Loaded Pistols: Rhetoric From Aristotle To Obama by Sam Leith 

6. Happy, Healthy Minds: A children’s guide to emotional wellbeing by The School Life

7. The 1619 Project: A New Origin Story       

8. The Weekday Vegetarians by Jenny Rosenstrach

9. Quick + Simple: Simply Wonderful Meals With Surprisingly Little Effort by Jacques Pepin

The top ten non-fiction titles circulated at Sawyer Free in 2022 reveal the range of demographic groups that the Library serves. For those who love Gloucester’s history and lore, the top spot went to The Gloucester Notebook by T.S. Eliot, a collection of poems the 21-year-old Eliot first began to write at Harvard.  The number two spot in local history went to Dogtown: Death and Enchantment in a New England Ghost Town by Elyssa East.

Cape Ann’s long history of independent free-thinkers continues, with readers finding The Dawn of Everything and The 1619 Project appealing along with Caste The Origins of Our Discontents by Isabel Wilkerson which remained on the list from last year. The books rewrite traditional history very differently in surprising and eye-opening ways. While many parents found a helpful tool with Happy, Healthy Minds, inspiring chefs looked for guidance from the likes of renowned cookbook author Jacques Pepin. And local students who made their way to the Sawyer Free Library for their summer reading materials found the most in demand book this summer was Words like Loaded Pistols: Rhetoric from Aristotle to Obama

From familiar series to popular new releases, the Sawyer Free Library’s younger patrons read a lot in 2022. Children and young adults were browsing the Library’s shelves at record rates, in person and online, and to follow were some of their best-loved reads. 

For younger readers, Dog Man master Dav Pilkey chewed up the top spot on the most popular children’s books list. Raina Telgemeier’s Ghosts and Jeff Kinney’s Diary of a Wimpy Kid graphic novel titles were also top reads this year. The Young Adult titles with the highest circulation were Welcome to the Dark House, the suspenseful story by Laurie Faria Stolarz, and Siege and Storm, the second book in Leigh Bardugo’s popular Shadow and Bone Trilogy and the compelling tale Spice & Wolf: Volume 1 by Isuna Hasekura.

Top Children/Teens Fiction

1. Dog Man: Fetch-22 by Dav Pilkey

2. Ghosts by Raina Telgemeier

3. The Magic School Bus: Inside a Beehive by Joanna Cole

4. Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Rodrick Rules by Jeff Kinney

5. The Thank You Book by Mo Willems

6. The Babysitters Club: Kristy and the Snobs by Chan Chau

7. Welcome to the Dark House by Laurie Faria Stolarz

8. Beetle & the Hollowbones by Aliza Layne

9. Siege and Storm by Leigh Bardugo

10. Spice & Wolf: Volume 1 by Isuna Hasekura

Find these and millions of other books through the Sawyer Free Library. Visit the Library in its new location at 21 Main Street in downtown Gloucester or, where its friendly and talented Librarians are always there to help you find a new book to read and so much more. 

Approximately 14,000 people currently possess Sawyer Free Library cards. Anyone who resides or attends school in Gloucester can obtain a Library card for free by applying in person, online, or by mail. For more information, visit or call 978-325-5500.