In 1980, members of the Over-the-Rhine community in Cincinnati, Ohio joined forces with the Civic Garden Center and purchased four vacant lots on East McMicken Avenue which they ultimately transformed into a productive vegetable garden known as the Over-the-Rhine People’s Garden. This historic Over-the-Rhine People’s Garden was the first community garden in Cincinnati and is an excellent example of people coming together to improve a neighborhood.
Beginning in 2014, the Civic Garden Center’s Over-the-Rhine People’s Garden began collaborating with Grow Appalachia and Paul Mitchell the School Cincinnati after the then Admissions Leader and Green Team Leader, Christina Matthews, along with a neighborhood art teacher, Ali Burns, decided to apply for a grant from Grow Appalachia to support the garden. Christina Matthews, personally met with John Paul Dejoria, the CEO of John Paul Mitchell Systems and founder of Grow Appalachia, in Toledo, OH where he agreed to donate $10,000 toward their efforts.
The Over-the-Rhine People’s Garden is Grow Appalachia’s only urban partner site. And although it is located in a neighborhood that continues to see high crime rates, it is viewed by many of the residents as a respite from some of the pressures that exist outside its fences. It is also purported to be the longest continuously active community garden in the country!
Paul Mitchell the School Cincinnati eagerly became involved with the garden as a direct result of the culture established in its schools. The culture of Paul Mitchell’s schools encourages individuals to do more for their community by giving back. The Green Team focus on civic responsibility, recycling etc. Christina Matthews’ vision was to meld the goals of Grow Appalachia, Paul Mitchell Schools and the OTR People’s Garden in an effort to improve the Over-the-Rhine community.
Six years later, the Over-the-Rhine People’s Garden has accomplished more than anyone could have ever imagined—growing approximately 500 to 1,000 pounds of fresh food and flowers per year! More importantly, it provides a space for the community to heal, teach, empower, and feed each other. Just last year the garden offered 17 free garden classes with topics that included cooking, generating income from a small garden plot and building affordable season extensions. Events like these brought 250 new friends and volunteers to the garden in 2019!
Christina Matthews, was so inspired by her years of involvement with Grow Appalachia and the People’s Garden that she resigned from Paul Mitchell Schools in 2016 and launched her own flower-farmer-florist business—The Flower Lady OTR. Now Christina devotes all her time and energy to what she loves—growing a business in conjunction with volunteering her time with Grow Appalachia, The Over-the-Rhine People’s Garden, and in the OTR community. Life is flourishing!