Civic Garden Center celebrates 74 years, builds community through gardening


Now in its 74th year, Civic Garden Center (CGC) is focused on building community through gardening, education and environmental stewardship. A number of different programs help educate the public about sustainable gardening and conservation at the grassroots level, which in turn improves Cincinnati’s little corner of the environment.
 
Its main program, community gardens, helps build community garden plots throughout Cincinnati’s core in mainly low- to moderate-income neighborhoods. There are about 60 community garden plots in the city, and volunteers who are mostly residents of those neighborhoods operate them.
 
“It takes more than one person to build a community, and it also takes a lot of people to garden,” says Jared Queen, director of development and marketing for CGC. “When people come together to do something bigger than themselves, it can give them a sense of purpose.”
 
The focus of the community garden plots is on fruits and vegetables, not flowers — the plots yield thousands of pounds of fresh produce each year, and a lot of it is in turn donated to Freestore Foodbank.
 
Along with the community garden program, CGC operates a school garden program at 90 different schools, churches and community organizations throughout Greater Cincinnati. The gardens are living and learning labs where students have the opportunity to leave the classroom and go into the garden to learn about nature, where food comes from and the life cycle of plants.
 
On top of that, CGC offers teacher education that’s free and focused on school gardening. The organization also donates seeds and other materials so schools can operate the gardens themselves.
 
“The mission of the school garden program is to help provide positive experiences in nature for students and teachers so they can become lifelong learners and lovers of nature,” says Mary Dudley, director of children’s education at CGC.
 
This fall, Mt. Auburn International Academy will receive a new $10,000 garden with 20 seeder raised beds. CGC is helping to restart the garden at Covedale Elementary School and adding two new beds at Silverton Paideia Academy. Shine Nurture Center in Mt. Airy is also receiving a garden courtesy of CGC. By next spring, there will be about 100 school gardens inside the I-275 loop.
 
When CGC moved to its current Avondale location in 1949, there was a gas station adjacent to the property that closed in the 1950s or ‘60s. CGC purchased the site in the 1980s but wasn’t able to raise capital to fix up the blighted property until 2007. The Green Learning Station opened on the spot in 2011 and is a fully functioning educational tool that helps teach kids and adults about sustainability and environmental science.
 
For example, the Metropolitan Sewer District contributed $600,000 so CGC could help educate the public on combined sewer overflow. Through the efforts at the Green Learning Station, Queen says that Cincinnati’s total amount of sewage dumped into natural freshwater ways has been decreased from 14 billion to 11 billion gallons.
 
In order to operate all of these programs free of charge, CGC has to receive grant money or hold fundraisers. Its largest fundraiser, THE Plant Sale, will be held May 6-8. This is the 56th year for the plant sale, which started as a plant swap between gardeners.
 
“This sale really speaks to our organization because it started at the grassroots level,” Queen says. “To this day, it’s still run by hundreds of volunteers and shows our humble beginnings as an organization.”
 
The sale starts Friday night with a ticketed preview event, which sells lots of tickets because the event doesn’t restock. Once a plant is gone, it’s gone. The sale continues Saturday and Sunday and is free to attend and open to the public.
 
There will be a wide variety of plants available, including herbs, fruits and vegetables, sun perennials, hastas and donated perennials at 17 different booths. In the tradition of how the event started, you can split a plant you grew at home and donate it to the sale, with all the profit going to CGC.
 
The Green Flea, which is a nod to City Flea, will be held the same weekend, featuring new and gently used gardening implements and decorations available for sale.
 
Tickets to the Friday preview event start at $75 and can be purchased here.
 

Read more articles by Caitlin Koenig.

Caitlin Koenig is a Cincinnati transplant and 2012 grad of the School of Journalism at the University of Missouri. She's the department editor for Soapbox Media and currently lives in Northside with her husband, Andrew, and their three furry children. Follow Caitlin on Twitter at @caite_13.  
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