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Life & Work with Stefanie Frankenstein

Today we’d like to introduce you to Stefanie Frankenstein. 

Hi Stefanie, thanks for sharing your story with us. To start, maybe you can tell our readers some of your backstories.
When I was young, my grandparents, Phyllis & Dick Frankenstein, owned the original Frankenstein’s Nursery, so plants are in my blood. I grew up spending a lot of time with my grandparents at the nursery and playing in the greenhouses while my grandpa watched me and worked. We had a tight bond, although coming from a small family, we have all been pretty close. My grandparents retired when I was in junior high, so I never really had the chance to slide into a real job at their greenhouse. By the time that I grew up, I had lost a little bit of that connectedness to plants and nature but redeveloped that once I had a space of my own that allowed me to garden. 

I have been a teacher for the last 15 years in Cincinnati Public Schools and started working at Adopt a Plant Greenhouse about 6 years ago after meeting the owner, Beth O’Brien (Harnist). Beth is the previous owner of the business that I have taken over. Our very first conversation happened in my garage when she was on an evening walk with her husband that took her past my house. For me, this event was a moment of great importance and serendipity. It felt like the start of something, and indeed, it was. As I mentioned, I was very close to my grandpa and earlier that year he passed away. On the day that Beth stopped by, I was drying seed from the last order he and I placed together with the premise that I would have a long line of seed still connected to him over the years. She saw the seed sitting on the table and said, “Someone here knows something about plants.” We then had a two-hour conversation about everything under the sun, she asked if I wanted to help out at the greenhouse, and the rest is history. 

When Beth started talking about retirement a few years after that, I expressed that I would love to continue her work, but honestly, I felt that it was a pipe dream. In the years since then, I have experienced a lot of change that has shifted my perspective on life in a major way. Before my grandpa passed away in 2013, I lost my amazing aunt and my maternal grandmother. In 2019, my dad, who I was also close with, passed away unexpectedly from an aortic aneurysm at 62 years old. In 2020, I lost my first dog, Prince, and in 2021 I lost my other dog, Jonesy. Loss is a profound thing, and it impacts you in ways that you could never predict or fathom. If you have suffered a loss that cuts as deeply as all of the ones I have experienced, then you know what I am expressing. Multiple major losses in such a short time span is not something I would wish upon anyone, but it is a catalyst for change and growth. When it feels like your whole life goes up in flames, you can only allow yourself to crumble in the ashes for so long or you turn to dust–like a Phoenix, you have to allow a new version of yourself to rise. My experience with this has set my life trajectory on a course that I doubt I would have had the courage to follow without it. 

Today, I am the owner and grower at Frankenstein’s Nursery. It has not been easy, and it is strange to be a novice at something again. I make mistakes every day, and as a result, I learn something every day. As an educator, I can confidently say that the only way to truly learn anything authentically is through experience, making mistakes, and having a mindset that allows you to persevere through the chaos to achieve your goal. It also helps to surround yourself with people who help you to maneuver obstacles without judging you, and who support you. I am lucky enough to be surrounded by many people like that in my life, and without them, I could not do what I am doing. 

Can you tell our readers more about what you do and what you think sets you apart from others?
For the last 15 years, I have been known as a Language Arts teacher. I have a Bachelor’s in Middle Childhood Education and a Masters in the Science of Reading. Personally, I feel that I have grown into a strong educator over the years. I am sure that many would agree, and a few would not, but hey–you can’t be everyone’s cup of tea. I have loved teaching so much; it’s hard to find a job that keeps you hip, allows you to be creative, and gives you an opportunity to make a difference in people’s lives. Being in the classroom with students is the easy and rewarding part, but over the years education has become much more than just teaching. Society has shifted, technology is taking over, and things have changed–not kids though, kids worry about the same things today that we did, that our parents did, that our grandparents did. They want to be liked, supported, accepted, and they want one thing more than they could ever want screen time: your individual focus and attention, which is unfortunately, the last thing many kids receive in today’s world. There is too much on the plates of educators to be able to give students what they truly need without burning out. It’s sad and it’s scary for future generations, and I hope a hero appears to fix the system so that other people who are good educators want to stay in the profession. But education does not only happen in the 4 walls of a classroom. 

At Frankenstein’s Nursery, I run a seasonal wholesale and retail greenhouse. We specialize in herbs (over 60 varieties), native perennials, annuals, and sedum/succulents. We use biological programs & beneficial insects in the greenhouse, and although we are not certified organic, we do not use chemicals on our plants. We value the symbiotic relationship between all things in nature. Educating people of all ages about the importance of this is something that I will build into my business over the next several years, and I am excited to see the paths that it could lead me down. I am very proud of the quality of plants that we have grown and I feel that plant quality without chemical use is definitely something that will set us apart. Every team member cares about our plants and our work–we save bugs, we admire the frogs who hang out in the sedum, we talk to the plants & we nurture them. There is heart in our work, and quite frankly, you do not find that in a big box store or in place that grows plants only for the monetary profit. I truly believe that our intention helps our plants, along with everything else, to thrive. 

Before we let you go, we’ve got to ask if you have any advice for those who are just starting out?
2 things… 

1. Be comfortable with the uncomfortable unknown. Lean into it. You have to work very hard, but you also have to believe in your core that things will work out. If you do both, then things will work out even if it is not as you had planned.

2. The best piece of advice I have gotten is from another local grower, Eliza at Wildwood Flora– When you are overwhelmed, just do the next logical thing.

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