Non-profit brings locally sourced produce to Lane-Wooster food desert
words and photo by Patrick J. Worden
The northern reaches of Akron’s Lane-Wooster neighborhood are about to go from being a food desert to a fresh-produce oasis, thanks to Hattie’s Food Hub. The 600 square-foot cooperative market, located at 395 Douglas Street, is set to ‘soft open’ in early April, with a gala community grand-opening slated for June 23rd. Hattie’s Food Hub is a spin-off venture sponsored by Hattie Larlham, the Twinsburg-based non-profit foundation that provides services to area children and adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities.
Since 2011, the foundation has overseen Hattie’s Gardens, a sustainable, organic vocational operation at several sites in Summit County, including the Akron Zoo. As part of community-outreach efforts in the neighborhood around the zoo, the Hattie Larlham team learned that the immediate area had earned the unfortunate designation of ‘food desert,’ meaning there were no retail outlets for fresh produce within one mile. Already working on plans for a commercial facility to wash, package, and process the harvest from Hattie’s Gardens, the team recognized this as a perfect opportunity to benefit multiple constituencies. The idea for Hattie’s Food Hub was born.
The recently completed, custom-built facility includes an indoor market to be open year-round, selling fresh produce and staples such as eggs, milk, and cheese. There is also an education wing, which will host community cooking classes and information seminars. Dotty Grexa, Hattie Larlham’s Vice President for Vocational and Enterprise Services, said there’s an emphasis on making the educational outreach “kid-friendly,” in order to pass on nutritional awareness to the next generation.
While a large proportion of the fresh offerings at Hattie’s Food Hub will be harvested from the certified-organic grounds of Hattie’s Gardens, the foundation is also partnering with area farmers and other providers. The goal is for as much of the produce as possible to be locally sourced, preferably within a 100-mile radius. Grexa conceded that this requirement might be relaxed during winter months, to ensure an uninterrupted supply of healthy food for local shoppers.
During the warmer seasons, Hattie’s Food Hub will also be hosting outdoor farmers’ markets, in one of two custom-converted shipping containers located on the property (the second container is to be used as a neighborhood bike-box). The schedule for the outdoor market is yet to be determined, as the team is working to ensure it doesn’t conflict with other farmers’ markets throughout the county.
Grexa says that Hattie Larlham sees this effort as an investment in the community, and as a way to meet a desperate local need while simultaneously integrating the foundation’s clients into the community they’re feeding. None of that would have come about, says Grexa, had the foundation not taken the time to “listen to the neighborhood.”
Hattie’s Food Hub will ‘quietly’ open for business by the second week of April. The June 23rd event is planned not so much as a solemn ribbon-cutting, but more as a neighborhood celebration. All of Akron is invited.
Akron farmers and gardeners are likewise invited to share what they grow. Think you might want to be one of Hattie’s green-thumbed partners? Start with a phone call to Zac, the Hub’s produce manager, at 330-760-2876.
Pat Worden is so Akron he was once a rubber-press operator. He’s thankful not to be one anymore.