words by Katie Jackson; photos courtesy of Dave Daly
Backyard urban farming is a growing hobby that has multiple benefits including stress relief, pride, and of course, fresh veggies. But what if you don’t know where to begin with growing a garden? Or what if you don’t have the time or space to plant one? Luckily we live in a community with an amazing resource that not only supports urban farmers, but also includes community outreach as part of their mission. We sat down with Dave Daly of Let’s Grow Akron to get the scoop on their organization, as well as some first time gardening tips.
Katie Jackson: What is the mission of Let’s Grow Akron?
Dave Daly: Let’s Grow Akron’s (LGA) mission is to overcome urban blight and alleviate hunger in the community by teaching people to grow, prepare and preserve their own food while working alongside them to beautify their neighborhoods. KJ: What is your role with the organization?
DD: I am the Market & Garden Coordinator. I work in Summit Lake, University Park, and East Akron to create and support neighborhood farmers’ markets, as well as community and market gardens. The major focus of my work is to help folks access fresh, nutritious foods (mostly fruits and vegetables) in neighborhoods where that type of access is limited or not available at all. KJ: How can people get involved?
DD: There are many awesome ways to get involved with Let’s Grow Akron and community gardening in general. If you are interested in becoming a member of a garden in your neighborhood, one of the best ways to get involved is to ask a gardener when you see one out by their plots! There are tons of events related to growing food in and around Akron, especially during the growing season. Follow LGA on Facebook/Instagram/Twitter and you’ll receive wonderful updates on all the good stuff we and fellow organizations are a part of. You can also join our email list by reaching out to email@example.com KJ: Where are your community gardens located?
DD: All over Akron! Let’s Grow Akron supports over 75 gardens to varying degrees. Some we manage on a regular basis, others we might support at the very beginning of the season or sporadically throughout. Folks can reach out via phone or email if they are looking for a garden to join in a particular neighborhood (330-745-9700 or firstname.lastname@example.org).
KJ: Are the garden plots leased, donated or granted to LGA?
DD: We don’t own any of the properties we grow food on. Depending on the land owner, whether public or private, we have a license agreement worked out detailing our access, spacial needs, etc..
KJ: What plants do you grow?
DD: All the fruits, vegetables, flowers and herbs we can get into the ground! Collards, Kale, Eggplants, Tomatoes, Lettuce, Beets, Radishes, Arugula, Potatoes, Strawberries, Radishes, Peppers, Raspberries, among others.
Flowers and herbs include Marigolds, Nasturtiums, Echinacea, Cosmos, Zinnias, Chamomile, Oregano, Parsley, Sage, Basil, Mint, Lemon Balm, Thyme, and Cilantro.
KJ: Who receives the food that is grown?
DD: It depends on where the food was grown. In community gardens with individual plots, those assigned to each plot grow and take home what they produce. They might share it with friends and neighbors, or donate it. Some gardens are communal in the sense that folks work and harvest from the same large space. Other gardens are specifically for food donation programs. The Peter Maurin Center on S. Main Street has a garden they grow produce in specifically for their free community meals, served several times a week. The Salvation Army on Maple also has a community garden they harvest produce from for their daily lunch program. We also have market gardens, which we use to grow produce for various farmers’ markets we participate in around Akron, including the Summit Lake Neighborhood Farmers’ Market. Sometimes, we eat some of the food we grow too! KJ: Where would you recommend a first-time, backyard urban gardener start? (Supplies needed, what to plant, when to plant, etc.)
DD: Start small! Whether in your own backyard or a community garden, don’t overburden yourself! A 4′ x 8′ plot can produce quite a bit of harvest, and will take at least an hour of maintenance a week through the growing season. That doesn’t sound like a lot now, but when it’s pushing 90 degrees out and you just got home from work, the last thing you might want to do is go weed for an hour or more in your garden!
A Community Garden may be the way to go in terms of supplies, planting knowledge, and camaraderie . Generally, more established community gardens have equipment to share amongst members, access to free or affordable seeds, and leaders who can help novice growers as they progress through their first growing season. Never forget to look to Let’s Grow Akron for trainings, garden tours, and other events throughout the growing season!!!!!
KJ: What is the most challenging part about urban farming?
DD: City soils can be less than ideal for growing purposes. In some instances they can be toxic, high in heavy metals like lead. Other soils might be depleted in nutrients and will need some sort of remediation. Before choosing a site, always take a soil sample and have it tested! We use the University Of Massachusetts for all our soil samples. They are comprehensive, inexpensive, and the turnaround time for results is about two weeks, relatively quick for lab work. (soiltest.umass.edu)
KJ: What do you enjoy most out of working with LGA?
DD: I love working with people and vegetables! Sharing experiences with folks related to growing, preparing, and eating fresh foods is definitely the best part of my job!
KJ: What is your favorite vegetable? DD: I love all vegetables, but based on usage…. Chile Peppers! Tiburon and Red Flame are great hot peppers that can be grown for fresh use, hot sauces, or to dry and store for soups and stir fries. KJ: How did you become interested in gardening? DD: I think it all started riding around on my Great Uncle Freddy’s tractor in Maine back when I was a youngster. He had a couple acres of cultivated land and always took my sister and I out for rides. Almost 20 years later I ended up working on a semester long Agriculture project for a sustainability class. I ended up transferring schools and changing my major to Agriculture! I’ve been growing food and working outdoors ever since!
Some LGA gardens to check out around town include:
-John Brown Intergenerational Community Garden behind the John Brown House at Copley/Diagonal Rd.
-The Pump House Agricultural Center in Summit Lake along the towpath, 411 Ira Ave
-Beck Community Garden with individual and communal plots on Beck Ave fairly close to Exchange St.
-Peter Maurin Center Garden (used for several communal lunch meals) 1096 S Main St, Akron, OH 44301