Cincinnati Living Green

By Mimi Rook

Community Garden Development Training

Where can people go to learn how to grow and tend a community garden? In Cincinnati, those skills are taught for free at the Civic Garden Center (CGC). Located in the crossfire of busy traffic between Taft and Reading Roads, the center is a peaceful, green oasis between Clifton and Walnut Hills.

CGC is the go-to place for gardening classes and outreach programs in the Greater Cincinnati area. For someone with no experience or little money, this is a great place to learn and share in the many benefits that community gardening offers.

CGC has two free “cornerstone” programs available. They attract all classes and backgrounds of people in Cincinnati and are designed to strategically promote the mission of the Civic Garden Center to “garden anywhere and everywhere.” One teaches children about gardening. The other program is the Community Garden Development Training (CGDT). A 12-week series running from late fall into late spring, it prepares wannabe community gardeners to effectively plan, start, maintain and expand a neighborhood community garden. This year, it runs from November to May. The only requirement to attend is to register with the Civic Garden Center and show up (and maybe bring a covered dish for a shared potluck meal!).

The classes include lots of hands-on experience, instructional start-up materials, leadership training, garden problem solving and basic plant and gardening education. Graduates from the program are entitled to free site consultations for their future gardens. Also available are free seeds to begin plantings for the gardens. Best of all is becoming part of the supportive network of fellow beginners and experienced gardeners that run the city-wide range of neighborhoods from Indian Hill to Over-the-Rhine.

Gardening is a great equalizer. No matter the background or neighborhood, gardeners share many common experiences – they all get dirty, they all share battles against insects and other garden pests, against encroaching weeds and uncooperative weather. They also relate to its pleasures – the taste of that first homegrown tomato, the heady aroma of fresh herbs, a bouquet of colorful, garden-grown flowers, the pride of harvesting the garden’s abundance of fruits and vegetables.

Peter Huttinger, the Neighborhood Gardens Coordinator at CGC, oversees the program, along with Madeline Dorger, the Youth Education Coordinator who runs the children’s gardening programs. Huttinger has run the program for six years. Currently he says CGC has 45 community gardens affiliates, but that number is a “moving target” changing with each year’s new graduates from the program. Many of these gardens are featured on the Neighborhood Gardens link of the center’s website.

Huttinger said, “We don’t run the gardens, the gardens are our boss.” He considers each community garden as an individual “city state” with a unique culture and character created by the core group of gardeners committed to its care. Huttinger estimates that in any given year, he oversees and assists in 8-10 new and existing community gardens around the city.

The genius of this shared experience is the constant influx of committed volunteer gardeners who support the programs and gardens of CGC. More importantly, these new gardeners are the driving force behind the transformation of blighted land into productive, shared community garden space in their own neighborhoods. In this era of lean non-profit budgets, it is this volunteer base that sustains the Civic Garden Center’s mission to “garden anywhere and everywhere” in greater Cincinnati.

If you are interested in attending this year’s Community Garden Development Training classes, contact the Civic Garden Center at 513-221-0981. You can also sign up on the center’s website http://www.civicgardencenter.org or e-mail Peter directly at phuttinger@civicgardencenter.org

Next article: Changes in Westwood: The Westwood Community Garden

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