For more than 50 years, KNOX has served citizens, businesses, and communities improving the environment and helping Hartford become green, sustainable, and healthy. Efforts include connecting people with horticulture, encouraging local farmers to start their own businesses, beautifying neighborhoods, and establishing community gardens.

MetroHartford Alliance Content Manager Nan Price recently spoke with KNOX’s new Executive Director Patrick Doyle and Advancement and Marketing Director Clasina Jones to learn more about how the organization is supporting local business growth and economic development in Greater Hartford.

NAN PRICE: Let’s talk about the impact KNOX has on Hartford-area businesses.

PATRICK DOYLE: KNOX does so much to create a strong and healthy Hartford—especially within our business community. Right now, we’re working on our City Planters program, which show Hartford is a welcoming place where people want to spend time. The planters also help local businesses by beautifying their grounds.

We used to receive a grant to bring those planters to the city. Unfortunately, we no longer have that funding, so it falls on KNOX and all of us as a community to figure out how to keep this resource in Hartford.

We’re working very hard to meet our goal, which is to get 300 of these planters out around the city. We’re reaching out to our corporate partners and the business community to encourage them to work with us and help support the program so KNOX can continue to beautify Hartford with these planters.

Another of our initiatives is our Incubator Farm program. We are actually incubating small businesses here in Hartford and using our community gardens to help commercialize our urban farmers and their unique, Hartford-based products.

CLASINA JONES: The first cohort of urban gardeners were six community farmers. The program helped them take the next step from enjoying a hobby to realizing they wanted to make a living doing it.

During their first few years creating their farm business startup, KNOX provides one-on-one support and gives famers access to land, infrastructure, and equipment. This enables them to start selling at a wholesale capacity and increase their local business, which is helpful for the city’s overall economic development.

NAN: How does Knox collaborate with other organizations or local businesses?

PATRICK: We’re working with some businesses around town in our corporate community. We want to make sure Hartford is a city people are excited to come to—it’s green, it’s beautiful, it’s healthy. That makes it easier for employers to have their workforces want to come into work here. And it means passing by some of our community gardens on the way into work.

CLASINA: We’ve had a long-term collaboration with the city of Hartford and the Hartford Business Improvement District. Aetna, The Hartford, and Prudential are among our program sponsors. In addition, corporate volunteer groups participate in KNOX annually. It helps improves employee morale, encourages team building, and gives back to the Hartford community.

PATRICK: We’re in the process of working with Aetna to build a community garden right outside their doors that their employees will be able to use, both for themselves and in some of the partnerships Aetna has with other community organizations.

NAN: Patrick, what do you hope to accomplish in your new Executive Director role?

PATRICK: On paper, a lot of my previous experience has been about community engagement—bringing people together; helping people who may come from different backgrounds but they’re all within the same ecosystem to develop and form authentic relationships. What you won’t see on paper is my belief that, when people have the opportunity to connect with their natural world and the people around them, we all live happier and healthier lives. That’s a driving passion I bring to KNOX. I really want to see the organization supporting the concept that horticulture can be a catalyst for community engagement.

In my role, it’s important to focus on people. We want to support our staff to become stronger and our community gardeners to become better gardeners and have access to other resources. I also need to ensure that people are forming good relationships through KNOX. We want to encourage connections that help create healthier and happier lives—that’s what we’re seeing as one of the outcomes of our work.

NAN: What’s next?

PATRICK: Over the course of decades, KNOX has grown into this incredible organization in Hartford that supports so much: We have 23 community gardens and four greenhouses on our property on Laurel Street. My core focus now is to ensure that there will be lasting, sustaining resources for the Hartford community. That’s my first step. From there, we’ll see the different ways we can grow Hartford together.

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