Earth Day is all about making the well-being of the Earth our business. For some people that means something to pay attention to, like being extra diligent with the recycling, or planting a tree.
For others it means business, and for two women entrepreneurs who make all-things Earth their business, Earth Day is when most people get a taste of what they do year round.
Take New York’s Amanda David, Owner of Rootwork Herbals, manager of a community medicine garden, and recent recipient of the $10,000 cash prize accompanying the Made for More Small Business Award. For David, helping people reconnect with the Earth is a full-time job, particularly through the growing of medicinal herbs and produce.
“The healing that comes through tending plants together in community is as old as humankind, so I don’t consider it a trend, however I do love to see more and more folks reclaiming it,” says David.
“This reclamation is particularly powerful for inner city folks… and others who have systematically lost access to land and thus the healing it offers.”
Urban community gardens, like the Food Forest at Browns Mill in Atlanta, are growing rapidly in popularity across the country. Between 2012 and 2018 the number of community gardens in the U.S. increased 44%, totaling 29,000 in 100 major cities.
Often this takes form as garden plots in city parks, but has even been started in the ruins of old properties. David manages one of these community gardens on Native American land south of Ithaca, New York, and hosts herbalism classes for people looking to connect with that tradition, as well as an apothecary where she sells herbal remedies.
“Community Gardens are places of healing,” she says. “Connecting with the land and being outside is healing, growing food and medicine is healing, having access to fresh, local produce is healing, creating connections with other gardeners is healing, enjoying the beauty of a garden is healing.”
Her herbalism classes, to which she plans to devote her grant money, are a source of joy and learning for both her and the attendees.
“We facilitate lots of classes locally which attract folks exploring various aspects of herbalism, from growing and harvesting to medicine making and community care,” she says.
“Our herbalism school, The People’s Medicine School and our mentorship program, We Care for Us, attract folks who are interested in forming deep relationships with plants to care for themselves and their community.”
Another one of America’s community gardens is tended by another winner of the Made for More Small Business Award, sponsored by Ball home canning supplies. In Cincinnati’s Over-the-Rhine (OTC) neighborhood, the oldest community garden in America, started in 1980, is flourishing thanks to the leadership of Christina Matthews.
Founder of The Flower Lady LLC. her path to entrepreneurship started through her work with the OTC People’s Garden.
“Beginning in 2014, I became the volunteer garden coordinator for the historic Over-the-Rhine People’s Garden because I saw a great need for fresh fruits and vegetables surrounding [the neighborhood],” says Christina.
“So in the fall of 2013 a very good friend of mine, who also lives in the neighborhood, and I, decided to do something about the food shortage and together we successfully applied for a $10,000 grant from Grow Appalachia to help support the garden.”
From dirt to flowers
Matthews’ plan was never to get into the florist business, but happened as a consequence of her work in the People’s Garden. For her, it was following her dreams, and she took everything she learned in the garden to heart.
Now she sells bespoke floral arrangements, floral installations, garlands, and more for any kind of event, and oversees the fresh flower décor in brick and mortar stores. She also offers gardening coaching for those looking to bring flowers into their worlds as well.
“I am so fortunate to be able to devote all of my time and energy to what I love—growing a business in conjunction with volunteering my time with the Over-the-Rhine People’s Garden,” says Matthews.
“This fall I became involved with the City of Cincinnati’s Urban Agricultural program, and I just acquired a 1/3 of an acre lot to grow more flowers for the city I love so much,” she adds, responding to what she will do with her grant.
“This money will most definitely help me with all the supplies I need to make things grow such as: soil, seeds, plants, pest deterrents, T-posts, organic fertilizer, labels, and netting. I also plan to continue my free “Grow Your Business” garden workshops with the youth groups at the community garden.”
It’s not the most common way to celebrate Earth Day—celebrating entrepreneurs who turn the Earth into a business, but these feel-good stories of dream-catching and gardening could make anyone feel like happily digging in the dirt a little.