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Community gathers to unveil Hattie’s Gardens at the Akron Zoo

On Tues., Sept. 23, Hattie Larlham and the Akron Zoo unveiled the new Hattie’s Gardens at a morning press conference and an evening ribbon cutting. Located on the Akron Zoo’s property at 389 Edgewood Avenue, Hattie’s Gardens grows sustainable, chemical-free vegetables for Akron and Northeast Ohio residents, Akron Zoo visitors and members. Hattie’s Gardens is a Hattie Larlham work training program for adults with developmental disabilities. The new garden adds eight additional employees to Hattie’s Gardens, which currently employs 24 people.

The supporters, partners and donors who gathered to welcome Hattie’s Gardens at the Akron Zoo included City of Akron Mayor Don Plusquellic, Summit County Executive Russ Pry, Akron City Council Member of Ward 3 Margo Sommerville, Hattie Larlham CEO Dennis Allen, Hattie Larlham Care Group President and Treasurer Mike Weinhardt, County of Summit Developmental Disabilities Board Superintendent John Trunk, Akron Zoo Board of Directors Chairman Bob Littman and Akron Zoo Board of Directors Past Chairman Mike Stark.

“Hattie’s Gardens at the Akron Zoo is a partnership dedicated to the health and environment of the community,” said Hattie Larlham CEO Dennis Allen. “We’re making healthy eating accessible and affordable to local residents in an environmentally responsible way.”

The Akron Zoo had a similar vision to make fresh, local food available to neighbors and visitors. The Akron Zoo looked for an organization to turn the vacant lots it owned into sustainable gardens to serve the community. The Akron Zoo found its match with Hattie Larlham.

“For the last two years, our team has had the intense desire to become part of a community,” said Hattie Larlham Vice President of Vocational and Enterprise Services Dotty Grexa. “We wanted to have an urban garden in a setting where we can provide wonderful nutritional produce right in the neighborhood and become part of that community. This site affords us that luxury.”

“Our visions are well aligned,” continued Grexa. “We believe in sustainability, we believe in chemical-free and believe in preserving the environment. These traits together make us really wonderful partners.”

Hattie’s Gardens’ produce is now available Wednesdays from noon to 4 p.m. at its farm stand on the corner of Copley Road and Edgewood Avenue.

“Leveraging these properties has not only created produce for sale in the middle of a food dessert,” said Akron Zoo Vice President of Planning and Conservation Programs Doug Piekarz, “but it’s also created an opportunity to bring more jobs to this area to employ the clients of Hattie’s and we’re incredibly proud to be a part of that.”

A food desert is an area where affordable and nutritious food is difficult to obtain. Hattie Larlham and the Akron Zoo recognized the need for a community garden. Both organizations met with the Akron residents to understand their needs.

“The thing I like most about community gardens is the ability to bring people together,” said Akron City Council Member of Ward 3 Margo Sommerville. “I really have to commend Hattie Larlham and the Akron Zoo, because before they did anything, they called me and said, ‘We want to meet with the residents of the Edgewood community, we want to get their feedback and we want to get their ideas.’ We held this community meeting and they [the neighbors] are truly excited.”

“To build this garden and see the fruits of this is really a wonderful thing and a great partnership,” said City of Akron Mayor Don Plusquellic, “and I want to thank everyone involved. It’s truly another indication of a great community we have and the collaboration that takes place on many levels.”

Hattie’s Gardens at the Akron Zoo was made possible by the County of Summit Developmental Disabilities Board, The PNC Financial Services Group, the KeyBank Foundation, The Mary S. and David C. Corbin Foundation, The Robert O. & Annamae Orr Family Foundation and The Lehner Family Foundation, Congresswoman Marcia Fudge, Jeff Foster of Payto Architects Inc., Hattie Larlham Vice President of Operations Dan Warner, Dotty Grexa of Hattie Larlham, Doug Piekarz of the Akron Zoo and the Hattie’s Gardens staff managed by Nathan Edge.

For more information about Hattie’s Gardens at the Akron Zoo, visit http://hattielarlham.org/v/garden.asp.