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Civic Garden Center celebrates 75 years of community beautification

Executive director Vickie Ciotti jokes CGC was green "before it was cool."

Civic Garden Center is located on eight acres of land just two miles from downtown.

CGC development director Karen Kahle

True to style, CGC building has a living, green roof.


The Civic Garden Center of Greater Cincinnati is gearing up to celebrate its 75th year of enriching the community through education programs and beautification efforts. This local gardening and education resource is situated on eight acres of land on Reading Road, just two miles from downtown Cincinnati.

Since its inception, the organization’s vision has remained the same: Staff and volunteers leverage their passion for horticulture, environmental stewardship and sustainability to educate the public, schools, organizations and businesses through a Horticulture Helpline, library, classes, STEM-based kids programming, hands-on workshops, tours and special events.

Bee boxes at the Civic Garden Center“We were founded in the midst of World War II; initially, our purpose was to help people establish victory gardens to grow food for their families,” explains Executive Director Vickie Ciotti. “That really hasn’t changed over the years.”

Shortly after incorporating in 1942, Ciotti says, CGC members became interested in providing children’s programming onsite and in schools. The organization has engaged with children ever since, teaching them how to garden, helping them develop an appreciation for the environment and helping them understand from where their foods comes.

“We’ve been part of the sustainability movement since before it became the norm,” Ciotti says. “We like to say we were green before it was cool. Our mission has focused on environmental stewardship since the beginning.”

Today, CGC maintains a unique niche in the community. The organization aims to facilitate positive gardening experiences to encourage people of all ages and demographics to fall in love with nature for life.

The CGC’s main program is community gardens, where instructors work alongside individuals to cultivate vegetable plots, often in low-income neighborhoods where residents might not otherwise have access to fresh produce and gardening education.

To date, CGC has erected more than 60 community garden plots throughout the city. Resident volunteers handle the day-to-day upkeep and oversight, as well as harvesting thousands of pounds of fresh fruits and vegetables each year.

In addition to the community garden program, CGC maintains gardening programs at about 100 local schools. The gardens provide an outdoor environment ripe for hands-on scientific learning. Children gain a first-hand glimpse of nature and topics such as the life cycle of plants and sustainable living. The center donates seeds, materials and time, offering ongoing training for teachers who want to incorporate students’ gardening experience into their regular curriculum.  

“The primary goal of our education programs is to teach people about gardening and environmental stewardship,” says Ciotti. “We truly have something for every age group.”

CGC’s youth education programs are a combination of on-site and off-site programs. The organization helps schools that have gardens to network with one another.

Rounding out the center’s youth education programming is the Green Learning Station, which is based on STEM curriculum designed for older students in junior high through college. CGC designed the Green Learning Station in response to the growing sustainability movement.

“We were looking for a way to remain relevant for future generations, and continue to live our mission,” Ciotti says. “Most field trips are geared toward younger children, whereas this offers an avenue to engage with older students, particularly during an age when many disengage from the science curriculum. We also have a summer STEM Camp specifically for girls. We connect them with female role models in STEM-related jobs.”

In addition to educational programs for schools, organizations and garden clubs, the Civic Garden Center of Greater Cincinnati hosts classes and programs for adults and families who want to garden or learn more about horticulture.

The nonprofit’s largest fundraiser, the annual plant sale, has been held every year since 1960. What started as a plant swap is now an opportunity for guests to mingle, learn about plant care and get first pick of new inventory.

The sale is open to the public and will take place May 6-7, with tickets available for a Preview Night party on May 5, which will feature valet parking, appetizers, an open bar, silent auction and live music by local favorite Rickey Nye. Preview Party tickets are $75 per person or two for $125.

Proceeds from the plant sale support the ongoing mission of the organization, which relies on grants, donations and fundraisers to continue to offer programming, free of charge. 

Click here for more information or to RSVP for the plant sale/preview party.

 

Read more articles by Claire Rogers.

Claire Rogers is a Cincinnati-based freelance writer whose work has appeared in Cincinnati Parent, Dayton Parent, LEAD Magazine and other online and print publications. She and husband Brian reside in Loveland with their two children. Connect with her on Facebook.
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