Ohio's largest public seed nursery is right here in Southwest Ohio, and it's hosting an open house this weekend.
Tucked among the corn fields in Crosby Township, Shaker Trace Nursery looks like a small collection of old barns surrounded by 51 acres of colorful coneflowers, native grasses, asters, mints, milkweed, thistle, hyssop and more.
This is the domain of manager Tim Osborne and his bevy of volunteers.
"When people come out, they see 150+ species of native plants that we grow," Osborne says. "They'll see the native insects that are attracted to those native plants. They'll also see an aquaculture program that we started back in 2009 where we raise hybrid bluegills."
The bluegill are used to stock the pond at Triple Creek. The plants are harvested, and their seeds collected for supplying Great Parks of Hamilton County with native flora.
Osborne estimates the nursery's provided 1,000 pounds of seeds in his seven years there.
"A thousand pounds on the fair market value right now would be about a half a million dollars, so we've certainly saved the taxpayer a half a million dollars just by having our own seed source here," says Osborne.
The nursery was created in 1991. Parks staff and volunteers gathered the starter seeds from prairies within a hundred mile radius. They kept the search local to ensure seeds with the genetic strains that have existed in Southwest Ohio for hundreds of years were collected.
Osborne says that's paramount. "It's essential for the germination and survival of a plant. It's adapted through hundreds and hundreds of years to our climate, our soil types, our moisture, our humidity, etc."
Native plants also attract native insects, and while many people may not be big fans of bugs, they do play an important role.
"The native plants will bring native insects, which in turn will bring native birds that feed on those insects. It creates the sustainable ecosystem that we are in dire need of, and it's under attack right now with invasives and urbanization and other things."
Not every plant you find in one of Hamilton County's parks comes from the Shaker Trace Nursery. Osborne would like to see that be the case someday.
He and some 25 volunteers begin harvesting seeds in May, continuing into November and even December last year.
The work is done by hand. The plants are laid out to dry in an old barn, then processed to separate the seeds. Next they're weighed, inventoried and placed in a climate-controlled storage room until they're sent out to a park for planting.
"I just think that we are responsible for our environment," Osborne says. "We have an opportunity to shift the momentum back in favor of a sustainable ecosystem, and native seed - specifically the Shaker Trace Nursery with its local genotype - is here to supply that seed, and I want everybody on board."
Editor's note: This story first appeared in 2018 and has been updated. Shaker Trace Nursery is hosting an open house and offering a tour on Saturday, June 1, from 10 a.m. to noon. You can register here.