Over-the-Rhine People’s Garden

When talking about the revitalization of Over-the-Rhine the focus is often on the renovation and conversion of dilapidated buildings into condominiums, dining establishments, and neighborhood pubs. Also highlighted are places like Washington Park and Music Hall. But just as significant and probably even more impactful is the resurgence of the Over-The-Rhine People’s Garden.

Established in 1980 by members of the community working hand-in-hand with the Civic Garden Center, four vacant lots on 49 East McMicken Avenue were converted into a community vegetable garden. Forty plots were planted and harvested by area residents paying a one-time fee of $20 to own and maintain their area of the garden. The garden includes edible landscaping, flowers to encourage pollinators and two large community plots where everyone shares the responsibilities and harvest. Some of the original plot owners now have great grandchildren working the garden today. But even with the best of intentions, it often “takes a village to raise a child” – so too with a garden.

As interest in beautification and sustainability grew in popularity, and more civic conscious people began moving back into Over-The-Rhine (OTR), the belief in the importance of resuscitating and expanding this garden emerged.  In 2014 Christina Matthews, the admission’s leader of Paul Mitchell the School Cincinnati (one such transplant from the suburbs), along with a neighborhood school teacher, OTR resident and horticulturist, Allison Burns, successfully procured a $12,500 grant from Grow Appalachia to help rejuvenate the garden. Grow Appalachia was created in 2009 through funding from John Paul Dejoria, co-founder and owner of John Paul Mitchell Systems. Its objective is to encourage and assist families in growing as much of their own healthy fruits and vegetables as possible.

In addition to this financial assistance utilized to construct cedar beds, a greenhouse and a tool shed; along with purchasing, a lawn mower, organic seeds, compost, security lighting and the like – Christina’s affiliation with the Paul Mitchell School enabled her to share Grow Appalachia with the school and recruit Future Professionals (students) and Learning Leaders (instructors) volunteers committed to protecting the environment via the school’s focus on giving back. This “Green Team,” together with area residents and other community volunteers from neighboring schools, mentoring programs, churches and recovery centers, have succeeded in providing +4,000 pounds of fresh fruits and vegetables to more than 150 people living in the OTR community.

But it doesn’t stop there. Piggybacking on the legendary fish story – if you give a man a garden, he may eat for a day; if you teach a man to garden, he may eat for a lifetime – education has become a main component of the People’s Garden. From children to grandparents, the knowledge gained from participation in this endeavor has proven to be invaluable. For example, the Over-the-Rhine People’s Garden was recently approached by a restauranteur, Buona Terra in Mt. Lookout, who wanted to learn to harvest his own herbs and vegetables. In exchange he offered to leverage his resources by providing the People’s Garden with space in the Farmer’s Market on two occasions this summer – what better way to foster and promote entrepreneurship! 

John Paul Dejoria, put it this way, “Success unshared is failure.” With this in mind, the OTR People’s Garden is bound to succeed.