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KNOX Executive Director Patrick Doyle spoke with MetroHartford Alliance Content Manager Nan Price about the work the organization does to build a green, healthy, and sustainable community in Hartford.

NAN PRICE: We connected in 2019, shortly after you stepped into the Executive Director role. Obviously, a lot has happened since then. Give us a little update.

PATRICK DOYLE: When I started at KNOX, some challenges needed to be addressed. As an organization focused on community greening, one of the most important things was to be sustainable as an organization and remain grounded in the vision of our founder, Betty Knox. Her vision was not only ensuring that we preserve Hartford’s green spaces, but ensuring everyone in the city has access to those green spaces and benefits from them.

The concept of access is critical to what KNOX does. So is making sure we’re authentically connecting with people in the community. Being in a place where we needed to shore up our sustainability as an organization created a lot of challenges for that. We’ve evolved to a place where we’re doing a better job of fully sustaining and funding all our programs, which is important so they can have the level of quality our community deserves.

We’re also working to reengage that community conversation. During the pandemic, fewer companies and businesses had their employees working downtown. But that created an opportunity to spend more time focusing and partnering with community groups, individuals, and organizations here in Hartford that have always been part of the fabric of this community. We learned about what they’re working on and what they want to see and thought about how we can be a part of shaping those ideas.

A lot of people are taking interest in greening the city—both individuals and groups that want to improve the quality of their neighborhood, their street, and their city. It’s been great to have more opportunities to work directly with those people and help bring some of their visions to life.

As a champion for Hartford’s green scene, how can we help hold up the individuals and groups in Hartford that are investing—either financially or through sweat equity—in making Hartford a better place? They’re working on creating better neighborhoods, better streets, and better opportunities for people to connect with one another.

How can help create more opportunities to change the narrative about Hartford, not necessarily by changing what’s happening, but by shining a light on the many good efforts that exist out there and figuring out how we can better support those efforts so they’re more effective?

NAN: How does collaborating with local organizations help KNOX make an impact in our community?

PATRICK: One of the most exciting collaborations we’ve done with multiple organizations and groups has been partnering with the city to focus on building on the Love Your Block campaign. We’ve been focusing on how to engage more people around a large-scale, citywide cleanup that does a lot to improve the green spaces and the quality of life in our neighborhoods.

We’ve also formed collaborations with our Hartford Urban Garden Society (HUGS) awards. And we’ve worked in partnership with Advocacy to Legacy and Hartford NEXT to create more opportunities to recognize and amplify more of the good work that’s happening, citywide.

NAN: Let’s talk about workforce development.

PATRICK: We’ve revamped our workforce development and our farmers’ program. With support from the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), we’re actively working to engage more urban farmers. We’re providing them with access to community space and learning experiences that can help them start businesses they can use to support themselves, whether that’s a side hustle or a full-time job.

KNOX is operating two 16-week cycles of our workforce apprentice program. Hartford city residents who may have challenges connecting to employment opportunities, especially ones who want to be working outside, can receive intensive training, get their OSHA 10 certification, do some team building, and learn from our crew at KNOX.

At the end the program, participants are on a pathway to having sustainable employment in the industry and ready to step into full-time employment in the landscaping industry.

NAN: What’s next?

PATRICK: So much is happening. One of the things we’ve been excited about is the return of our Greater Hartford Green Team, which is an open volunteer opportunity that takes place one Saturday a month in various locations in Hartford for those who want to help green the city.

It’s been great to see those come back because it’s an opportunity to connect with so many people. We want to make sure everyone has a better understanding of all the ways we could be working together.

Getting space in our community gardens is another great way to engage. Providing access to fresh, organic produce is something we hope can be available for everyone in the city. One of the ways we do that is by offering space in our community gardens and encouraging people to grow their own produce.

Also, a lot of people don’t know that we receive donations of produce seeds. Whether they’ll be use in a KNOX garden or in a garden on someone’s back porch in Hartford, those seeds are here for the benefit of the community.

So, if folks are interested in growing food, they can come to KNOX and get seeds free of charge. We can have a conversation about their gardening plans. It’s always interesting to about projects different people in Hartford are working on. Sometimes we don’t have enough opportunity to just sit down and talk about what people are doing, and you can learn just the tip of the iceberg about how many cool things are happening in Hartford when you start talking to people.

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