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How one person’s act of kindness is taking root in Ohio communities

Fresh picked flowers free for the public at the Lakeview Public Library.
Renee Wilde
/
WYSO
Fresh picked flowers free for the public at the Lakeview Public Library.

With everything that’s going on in the world right now we can all use a little more kindness. Amanda Rutan is using her family's farm and her skills as a gardener to help spread smiles to her community. Her act of kindness is growing and taking root in other communities.

Every now and then a story comes along that restores your faith in humanity. This is one of those stories.

A few years back Amanda Rutan found herself with a bumper crop of pumpkins that she had grown on her family's farm outside of Mechanicsburg.

“I had a ton of pumpkins,” Rutan recalled, standing in a sunflower field on her family's farm. “So I was like, ‘Oh I should just set up a produce stand and set ‘em out and people can take them.’ And I had sunflowers, too, so I set those out.”

And that's how The Plant Kindness Project began.

Rutan researches and develops Miracle Grow products for The Scotts Company, so it’s no wonder that her flowers and produce are amazing.

On a beautiful September afternoon, Amanda and her fiance Abby cut sunflowers to stock the simple roadside stand in front of her parents farmhouse.

Amanda Rutan, creator of The Plant Kindness Project harvesting sunflowers on her family's farm.
Renee Wilde
/
WYSO
Amanda Rutan, creator of The Plant Kindness Project harvesting sunflowers on her family's farm.

“I like cutting them,” Amanda said, reaching up to clip a golden flower. “I’ve picked probably 150 bouquets so far.”

The small bouquets of colorful flower arrangements containing dahlias, cosmos, marigolds sit under a tent. They are free of charge. There is a donation box if people do feel so inclined to donate, but they are not obligated to.

“It’s just my way of giving back to the community and doing something nice,” Rutan said. “I’ve got a plethora of sunflowers as you can see.”
The community has helped out by dropping off mason jars and other small containers for the arrangements.

“They are very nice,” Rutan said as she arranged flowers in a clear jar of water. “They drop jars off, leave them on the porch, leave them out here under the stand. So, knock on wood, I haven’t had to pay for a single jar yet this year. “

Rutan has also constructed a 120-foot gourd tunnel for the community to enjoy in past years. This year it was put on hold because of personal commitments.

“It did really well, and obviously that drew attention, people driving by,” she said. “I had lights that go all through it, and run the base of it, so it was all lit up and pretty. The community really enjoyed it and the kids really enjoyed it.”

In one of the barns, large containers hold small wooden tags with personalized messages that visitors have made and hung in the tunnel. Rutan has saved the tags every year. There’s probably thousands of messages on these wood rounds, stars and wooden hearts.

Weathered tags contain messages from visitors to the Rutan farm.
Renee Wilde
/
WYSO
Weathered tags contain messages from visitors to the Rutan farm.

“One of them said something about ‘kindness starts with realizing we all struggle.’ That was one of my favorite ones,” Amanda said, shifting through the weather-worn tags

The town of Lakeview, about an hour north of Amanda’s family farm, has seen its fair share of struggles. The tiny town of around 1,100 people, which borders Indian Lake, has seen its vitality drained and the downtown is filled with abandoned buildings.

Lakeview resident Eric Brown had heard of Rutan’s Plant Kindness Project.

And so I was really moved by that,” Brown said. “And this last winter, there’s not a lot going on in Lakeview, Ohio. I happened to be walking down the street and I look over – honestly I had forgotten we had a library, I really did. I mean it’s not a very big library if you’ve ever been in there, but, I thought, ‘Wow, we should do a Plant Kindness Project at the library.’”

Brown bought some containers to sit in front of the tiny library where he grows flowers to give away to the public. It’s both a way to give back to the community and to draw attention to the town’s public library.

In front of the library are two metal florist containers filled with canna lilies, cosmos, zinnias and sunflowers from both the sidewalk containers and the community garden that Brown started.

Fresh picked flower bouquets laid out as part of The Growing Kindness Project at the Rutan Farm.
Renee Wilde
/
WYSO
Fresh picked flower bouquets laid out as part of The Growing Kindness Project at the Rutan Farm.

Librarian Marsha Lynch loves the new view from her window.

“Patron’s love it. I love it because I get to look at flowers all day now,” Lynch said while sifting through a pile of returned library materials. “We do have more people stop, but not all of them come in to visit the library, but we’ve had a few. It just helps them bring a smile to their face and send them on their way to have a happy day.”

Brown said that this simple act of kindness has spread through the community. 

Different people in the community have gone out and planted flowers in these different businesses' flower boxes that have been empty for years,” he said. “They now have flowers in them, and so I think that little things are contagious.”

Rutan couldn’t be happier that her act of kindness has taken root. 

It tickled me pink that they were doing that and keeping the kindness thing going,” she said.

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Renee Wilde was part of the 2013 Community Voices class, allowing her to combine a passion for storytelling and love of public radio. She started out as a volunteer at the radio station, creating the weekly WYSO Community Calendar and co-producing Women’s Voices from the Dayton Correctional Institution - winner of the 2017 PRINDI award for best long-form documentary. She also had the top two highest ranked stories on the WYSO website in one year with Why So Curious features. Renee produced WYSO’s series County Lines which takes listeners down back roads and into small towns throughout southwestern Ohio, and created Agraria’s Grounded Hope podcast exploring the past, present and future of agriculture in Ohio through a regenerative lens. Her stories have been featured on NPR, Harvest Public Media and Indiana Public Radio.