food bank logoThe October meeting of the Greater Summit County Food Policy Coalition (SFPC), Akron’s new food policy council sprouted this year, led by Chris Norman, Director from Crown Point Ecology Center, brought its members to the Akron Canton Regional Food Bank (FB), a state-of-the-art 85,000 square foot warehouse facility on the western edge of downtown Akron.  

As reported by the Greater Akron Partnership for Sustainability: “Food policy councils (FPCs) are made up of a broad based group of dedicated individuals from both the public and the governmental sectors, each of which bring different talents and knowledge to the table. In the United States there are many cities beginning food policy councils, as the topics of healthy food access, school lunches, urban agriculture and farmland preservation continue to pop up in news across the nation.”

 Mark Mitchell, FB manager of marketing and communications, dished out some disheartening stats about the need for FB in the Akron-Canton area in light of the current economic snapshot for NE Ohio:

  • They distributed over 16 million lbs. of food in 2008
  • 25% increase over 2007
  • Projected 17.5 million lbs. of food for 2009
  • 900 volunteers putting in 18,000 hours
  • 23% of children under 5 are food insecure in Ohio, 3rd highest in nation

FoodBanksml[1] SFPC is forging ahead with active committees including:  Micro Enterprises, Health Food Access, Education/Marketing, Community Gardens and Networking. It’s another bright spot for Akron’s growing sustainability efforts.

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Monday, June 29

Gardeners gather 'round master gardener Nancy Clem (far right) for helpful advice.

Gardeners gather 'round master gardener Nancy Clem (foreground group right) for helpful advice.

Our assigned night to get green tips from the Ohio State University Master Gardeners (OSUMG).  It was a great excuse to gather the gardeners together.  At my Charles & Turner site, the gardeners came out in droves (a couple dozen) together with the surrounding neighborhood folks. 

Larry Parker, Akron Coop and manager of the Akron Community Garden project, was flipping over the turnout and community interaction. “This is as good as it gets!,” he said. “It’s exactly what community gardening is all about–bringing the community together.”

The Charles & Turner site is taking on a life of its own!  A couple of gardeners worked together to place spigots in selective locations around the garden plots.  This replaced the hassle of dragging around a single hose from one location where the hydrant stands.  The Youngs, whose home sits on the west end of the garden, placed a series of chairs and endtables on the sidewalk for all the weary gardeners to sit, relax and enjoy their gardens between workouts. 

P1010040Akron’s newest immigrant community, the Karens, are active participants at the Charles & Turner site. Master farmers from their homeland of Myanmar (Burma), they are the gardeners to watch. Oscar Baaye, a Karen leader who recently relocated to Akron from Seattle, serves as the official interpreter for the group. Wearing his native garb, he is an upbeat, delightful guy who is working hard to uplift his people settling in Akron.  His involvement with the plight of his Karen people, living most of their lives in refuge camps, victims of the cruel ongoing extremely violent civil strife, has enough compelling content for an epic Hollywood edu-tainment flick.   

Nancy Clem,  a volunteer with OSUMG Summit County, gave me the news I expected about my garden: “Gotta get the weeds out!”  So, between great conversation, I got my hoe in hand and started hacking.  Then Nancy told me how to lay down nothing but newspapers on the soil between plants acting as one of the best weed inhibitors. 

Oscar Baaye (left) relaxes on the sidewalk chairs with the Young family

Oscar Baaye (left) relaxes on the sidewalk chairs with the Young family

I am now finding myself heading over to the community garden as many evenings as possible, not just to tend my garden, but to meet up and chat the night away on the Young’s sidewalk chairs with my newfound friends–gardeners and neighbors alike–on these balmy Akron summer nights until the fireflies start flittin’ about.

Selecting seed packets for the community garden

Selecting seed packets for the community garden

The City of Akron together with the Akron Cooperative and Ohio State University Extension is breaking ground to offer community garden plots for its residents.

Eight city-owned lots scattered about town are being tilled, furrowed and sown to move closer to a vision of one day sustaining a third of the dietary needs of its citizens.

The Summer of ’09 is the revival of a program now taking on the challenge of getting enough participants at each site to ante up $20-30. Larry Parker, director of Akron Cooperative says, “That initial investment will be repaid to urban gardeners many times over. Keep in mind that for $20 or $30 you can produce a couple hundred dollars worth of fresh veggies.”

So far, plenty of gardening go-getters have formally registered to get their fingernails dirty working those spades and hoes to reap a bounty of homegrown veggies and/or colorful sprays of flowers.

At the 11th hour, I stepped up as a participant, running my app. over to the city planning office. Kurt Mulhauser, urban planner and the city’s head hoe-downer, tipped me off that an orientation was taking place that very evening at the Highland Square Library.

Listening to the enthusiastic and encouraging words from Kurt, Larry and Denise Ellsworth, OSU Extension master gardener, and grabbing a handful of seed packets and a $15 live plants/seed packets voucher from the City of Akron to Donzell’s, Graf Growers or Pettiti garden centers, and later, starter plants donated from Crown Pointe Ecology Center in Bath (I already got my initial investment back!), I can’t wait to dig in!

Can a greenhorned gardener like me pull up at least one radish by harvest time? What kind of “garden-variety” angels will be stepping forward inside and outside of the community garden neighborhoods to aid the cause?

Get all the latest digs right here on the community gardens adventure as the project continues to grow!