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Libraries step Outside the Lines to engage the community

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Photo submitted Awards will be given for the biggest, smallest, ugliest and best-dressed tomatoes.

Near the end of September last year, a table in front of the Creamery Arts Center in Hotchkiss displayed some of the most decorated tomatoes ever seen in Delta County. Tomatoes were dressed as iguanas, monsters, businessmen and more. They sported eye-glasses, pipe cleaners, false teeth, fancy hats, and other vegetables in an effort to win first place in best-dressed and ugly tomato contests.

While it is unlikely any of last year's tomatoes will return to join the competition again, their offspring will have the opportunity. Fortunately for competitive lycopersicum growing around the county, Delta County Libraries' Tomato Fest is returning for a second year, this time in both Delta and Hotchkiss. Contests will be similar to last year, with a public tomato tasting and people's choice award for best tasting, as well as judging for biggest, smallest, ugliest and best-dressed tomatoes.

Delta's Tomato Festival will be held Thursday, Sept. 10, in conjunction with Downtown Delta-Fest.

The Hotchkiss event will be held Saturday, Sept. 12, from 1 to 4 p.m., in conjunction with the Hotchkiss farmer's market.

"A lot of people are growing tomatoes with seeds from our Seed Library," explains Hotchkiss "seed librarian" Sarah Pope. "We want to celebrate everyone who has supported the Seed Library and reach out to the greater community by planning fun activities."

Competing tomatoes do not have to be grown from library seed, nor do participants have to grow tomatoes at all. This year's events include plenty of opportunities for gardeners whose tomatoes lack a competitive nature or for people who prefer to avoid tomatoes entirely. A scavenger hunt will take place at the event and in local businesses, winning poems from the library district's haiku contest will be read, and a variety of other fun family activities will ensure that everyone has a good time.

"It has been a great pleasure working with businesses to plan the Tomato Fest," says regional manager Lea Hart. "We have some restaurants like CB's and Opa's offering food specials to tie in, and others are going to be part of the scavenger hunt or donate prizes. Hotchkiss businesses are also doing quite a bit. It feels good to plan events with our communities this way."

Indeed, one of the main goals of the Tomato Fest events is to get out in the community. Delta County Libraries is participating in "Outside the Lines," an exciting opportunity for libraries around the world to step out of their normal parameters and reintroduce themselves to their communities in new and interesting ways. Outside the Lines takes place every September. Although it is a fairly new concept, originating at a conference in Telluride in 2012, it has grown in just a few years to involve more than 250 participating organizations from the U.S., Canada and Australia. Participating libraries commit to engaging their communities in various creative ways, making events fun for staff as well as the public.

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