When urban ecologist Kim Frye returned to her hometown of Mount Vernon in 2016, abandoned greenhouses on West Gambier Street sparked memories of her childhood. Intrigued, Frye reached out to the owner, curious as to whether or not the land was in use. Little did she know that those very greenhouses would become the launching point for her organization Community Roots. The nonprofit provides horticultural rehabilitation programs for probationers, agricultural programs for schools and countless other programs that provide agricultural education for the Mount Vernon area.
Prior to their abandonment, the greenhouses were used as the nursery where Frye first learned about horticulture and gardening. In 2016, after leaving her teaching position at DePaul University’s environmental science department, Frye hoped to apply her expertise to the greenhouse horticulture. She reached out to the previous Mount Vernon landowner, and discovered their mutual interest in using the space for rehabilitation programs. “It happened organically from there,” Frye explained. “Over the next year we developed relationships in order to recruit board members for our new nonprofit.”
The first year of Community Roots allowed Frye and the board members to experiment. “It felt like we were throwing things at the wall to see what would stick. We did everything from crafting fairy gardens to drilling gourds for bird feeders to winter seed sowing,” she said.
Since its inception, Community Roots has matured into an organization that offers distinctly funded programs, one of which centers around probationers dealing with opioid recovery, offering them cognitive behavioral therapy through therapeutic horticulture. Explaining the reasoning behind the use of plants for the therapy, Frye said that the plants provide an outlet through which participants can practice coping mechanisms. “The goal is to focus on the process, not the product. We use the plants as an indirect focus to deal with anger management, forgiveness, compassion and resilience,” she said.
Community Roots also brings agricultural projects to schools, a program funded by a United States Department of Agriculture Farm to School grant, and has helped Twin Oaks Elementary School in Mount Vernon install raised garden beds. The school is now planning for the fall season, involving students in the planting of radishes and carrots. As these beds are neglected in the summer, Community Roots steps in when parents and teachers are unable to care for the beds.
The volunteer opportunities open to Kenyon students at Community Roots are endless. Most commonly, groups of students are organized and provided with transportation to community gardens. “That was a big hit in the past — sorting seeds in the spring and fall, as well as putting the community beds to rest for the winter with weeding and mulching,” Frye explained. She also highlighted both a summer and full-year position open to students post-graduation, which offers roughly $6000 for student loans or graduate school tuition. “This gives students experience in helping up and coming nonprofit organizations develop,” she said.
Frye emphasizes that Community Roots’ popularity amongst Kenyon students stems from feelings of isolation. “Community Roots can provide that outlet for those in a small world needing an escape,” she said.
To volunteer, students can sign up for time slots through www.communityrootsohio.org or they can contact Community Roots directly on Instagram @communityrootsohio.