Covington partnership backs store to help city grow gardens, gardeners

Got library card? You can check out Empower Tools

COVINGTON, Ky. -- Gardening but don’t have a spade? Doing some home improvement but don’t want to invest in a drill?

Covington residents will soon have a free option to get help with home projects from growing vegetables to taking a class on organic gardening. It’s a new kind of store – meant for sharing tools, books and information – that has its grand opening July 1 at 305 Pike St.

Called Empower Tools, it’s a joint effort between Gus Wolf (think Covington’s annual Running of the Goats), the Center for Great Neighborhoods and the Kenton County Public Library.

Yes, the library. Residents will check equipment out from Empower Tools using their library cards. The tools will have similar checkout rules as the library’s more traditional media, said Paul Duryea, the library’s Covington branch manager. Library staff will donate time to catalog tools and manage the checkout system behind the scenes of the store. Anyone with a Kenton County Library card will be able to use the service.

A Covington resident writes what she wants to see in the community during a Center for Great Neighborhood data-collection party. The idea for a tool-sharing store came out of process last fall. (Photo provided)

The concept for Empower Tools came from research that was part of a FreshLo planning grant from the Kresge Foundation, said Kate Greene, program manager for community development at the Center for Great Neighborhoods. Projects tied to the grant – FreshLo stands for fresh, local and equitable – are related to food development, health and culture.

Greene said Great Neighbors spent last fall asking residents what they wanted in their neighborhoods. Several projects rose to the top of the list of suggestions, including helping people learn how to garden, especially in tight urban areas.

“We started dreaming up this idea of what would a tool share program look like in Covington,” Greene said. She noted cities such as Seattle and Philadelphia have similar programs.

“Our plan evolved to include home-improvement tools, such as sanders and power washers and steam cleaners,” she said. The home improvement piece is important to the Center for Great Neighborhoods because “building equity in homes is a key part of our work.”

Gus Wolf, owner of Wolf Tree Farms (and the goats in Goebel Park), entered the picture when Greene and her group were looking for a space and a partner. Wolf owns the building on Pike Street. He’s been using it as a place to bring in trees from Carroll County to show buyers, but, for the most part, the building’s storefront was sitting empty.

The store is a part of Wolf’s commitment to the community. “You're either part of the solution or part of the problem,” he said. “It’s about uplifting the community.”

The lending program will start out small, Wolf said, focusing on gardening tools to start. The partners are hoping to receive an Elsa Heisel Sule Foundation grant later in May. That grant would help expand the offerings to home-repair items as well as help with staffing beyond volunteers.

If they don’t get the Sule grant, Greene said they will have to rethink how to staff the store. The plan is that the store will be open on weekends, plus Wednesday evenings.

Duryea said the store is a perfect opportunity for the library to do more in the community. “We’ve been doing community sharing for a long time.”

He said the tool-share is just part of the “library of things” that already includes telescopes, metal detectors and binoculars.

Wolf and Duryea want to offer courses that will help urban residents with their next project. Wolf already teaches kids gardening in a class at the John G. Carlisle Elementary School.

Wolf, also a gardening advocate in Covington, sees the store as working hand-in-hand with his farming business. His plan this summer is to plant flowers on the half acre of land next to the building so folks can purchase cut flowers as well.

“I want to facilitate what I do already,” Wolf said. “I love to see it evolve.”

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