Compiled by Sonia Potter

Akron has dozens of community gardens and local food initiatives aimed at making the city a better place and providing fresh, local food to Akronites. Let’s Grow Akron, Summit Food Coalition, and Akron Cooperative Farms are some of the key players carrying out this mission. If you’re wondering how to get involved in Akron’s local food initiatives, keep on reading!

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  1. Lease a plot. Akron Cooperative Farms provides plots to gardeners of any skill level. Full plots are 20 x 25 feet and cost $50 for the duration of May through October. Half plots are 10 x 20 feet and cost $25. The price of leasing the plot also includes seeds, garden tools, water, coaching and whatever else you may need to help your garden thrive. If you’re interested in registering, you can head to akronlf.org/get-a-plot.
  2. Donate. If you’re not a fan of getting your hands dirty, head to their websites and look for the “donate” buttons. Both Summit Food Coalition (summitfoodcoalition.org) and Let’s Grow Akron (letsgrowakron.org) accept donations in order to do the most they can to improve access to fresh food for Akronites.
  3. Volunteer. Summit Food Coalition has volunteer opportunities for several different interest areas. From putting together local food guides to mentoring new gardeners or helping with social media, there’s something for everyone. Email summitfpc@gmail.com to get started.
  4. Become a member. Summit Food Coalition has a robust free membership program for those who want to support the local growing scene in collaboration with a team of community thought leaders. There are multiple membership tiers, so head to summitfoodcoalition.org/gp-and-membership to learn more.
  5. Attend community garden events. Let’s Grow Akron puts on several events and programs over the course of the year, from community garden leader training to a series called Talks in the Garden. Head to letsgrowakron.org/programs to learn more.
  6. Visit your local farmers market. The Summit Lake Neighborhood Farmers’ Market is a program of Let’s Grow Akron, which brings locally grown produce to Summit Lake. The Healthy Asian Pacific Islander (HAPI) Fresh Farmers’ Market in North Hill, supported by Akron Cooperative Farms and Asian Services in Akron, gives immigrant farmers the opportunity to grow and sell crops. If neither of these is close to you, Summit Food Coalition has a map of local farmers’ markets on their website. Bonus: Some of them accept and match SNAP benefits.

This month, we also asked you to talk about your gardens with us. We heard from six of you, who gave us the inside scoop on what you’re growing, where you find your supplies and the advice you have for beginners. Here’s what you had to say:

Dave Daly (Highland Square)

1. How long have you been gardening? I have a degree in agriculture and have been growing plants one way or another for the past 15 years.

2. What’s your favorite thing to grow? Hot peppers, fresh greens and gorgeous flowers!

3. What’s the biggest challenge you’ve faced while gardening? Pests! I don’t have to deal with any now, but in parts of Akron the groundhogs will decimate vegetable gardens. Currently I’m dealing with some cucumber beetles and squash vine borers. Keeping my cat from going to the bathroom in the garden beds can be a challenge, too! 

4. Are there any local businesses from which you purchase seeds, starter plants, or other gardening supplies? Let’s Grow Akron had a plant sale in the spring I took advantage of. I’ve hit local farm stands and nurseries up over the years, too. I also purchase seeds from Johnny’s Selected Seeds and Fedco Seeds.

5. What’s one piece of advice you have for first-time gardeners? Learn by doing. Gardening is an acquired skill that requires time and experience. Every growing season will present different opportunities and challenges. Also, compost if you don’t already! It’s easy, reduces how much you throw away and the finished product can be added back into your garden beds!

Katelyn Mertz (Goodyear Heights)

1. How long have you been gardening? This is the fourth year in our home, and our fourth summer growing a vegetable garden! [My spouse and I] had both had experience with container gardens, respectively — with our families growing up and then later on apartment balconies — but these four summers in the house are the first we’ve really been able to carve out a garden space of our own. 

2. What’s your favorite thing to grow? My favorite thing to grow changes every season. We had a really successful garlic harvest this year, so I’ll say that. 

3. What’s the biggest challenge you’ve faced while gardening? The biggest challenge we’ve faced so far has been GROUNDHOGS. They’re voracious! So cute, but dang can they tear through an entire crop of peas in no time. Cucumber plants, tomatoes, coneflower, sunflower, black-eyed susans, kale, potatoes — all have been lost to these little guys. 

4. Are there any local businesses from which you purchase seeds, starter plants, or other gardening supplies? Generally, we don’t need to stray any further than Graf’s or our Tallmadge Petitti, which are both excellent garden centers with great products and friendly, knowledgeable staff.

5. What’s one piece of advice you have for first-time gardeners? The best gardening advice I ever got was simply, “Put it in the ground!” I’m someone who will plan and research something to death, and gardening itself can be kind of intimidating if you’re not sure where to start. Sometimes it’s really freeing to just experiment and see what happens. Heck, some of the best harvests we’ve had were from volunteers that started in the compost pile, just nature doing its thing. My spouse suggests that you keep a journal to document what worked and what didn’t, so you can carry those lessons through each season. We always think we’ll remember for the next year. Spoiler alert: we almost never do.

Caleb Aronhalt (Kenmore)

1. How long have you been gardening? Three years.

2. What’s your favorite thing to grow? Cherry Tomatoes.

3. What’s the biggest challenge you’ve faced while gardening? Getting my plants the best amount of sun.

4. Are there any local businesses from which you purchase seeds, starter plants, or other gardening supplies? Klettlinger Greenhouse (which has been family-owned for more than 60 years).

5. What’s one piece of advice you have for first-time gardeners? Raised garden beds are a great way to see if gardening is something you want to do long term.

Kit Dubie (Ellet)

1. How long have you been gardening? Off and on for 25 years.

2. What’s your favorite thing to grow? I love growing herbs and learning about their uses in food and healing purposes.

3. What’s the biggest challenge you’ve faced while gardening? Getting rid of pests without using chemicals.

4. Are there any local businesses from which you purchase seeds, starter plants, or other gardening supplies? I go to Canton Road Garden Center for most of my needs; last year I received free seeds from Ellet Library seed exchange.

5. What’s one piece of advice you have for first-time gardeners? My advice is to do a bit of research to see what plants will grow best for you and your space.

Caitlin Rambacher (Merriman Hills)

1. How long have you been gardening? Two years.

2. What’s your favorite thing to grow? So far, my favorite thing to grow have been the astilbe in my front landscaping. They’ve tripled in size in just 2 years and put on a spectacular show of color in early summer.

3. What’s the biggest challenge you’ve faced while gardening? This year, we planted a couple tomato plants in a container garden. The chipmunks have been FEASTING on the fruit. We’re working on protecting the plants now, but have not had much success. Next year, we are planning to build a fenced-in container garden.

4. Are there any local businesses from which you purchase seeds, starter plants, or other gardening supplies? I love Graf’s for our outdoor starter plants, as well as most of our landscaping needs. Not only do they have a great selection and hardy plants, but their employees are a wealth of gardening knowledge!

5. What’s one piece of advice you have for first-time gardeners? As a fairly new gardener myself, a seasoned gardener gave me some great advice. She impressed upon me that our gardens are ever-evolving. The locations you choose for your plants don’t have to be permanent. If something doesn’t work in one spot, transplant it! It’s not a one-and-done scenario. Don’t stress, have fun, and you’ll learn a lot along the way!

Allyse Love (Merriman Hills)

1. How long have you been gardening? We built the garden during the first month or two of the pandemic, so not very long.

2. What’s your favorite thing to grow? We harvested beans this week. They are sweet and delicious and the only thing we’ve grown so far.

3. What’s the biggest challenge you’ve faced while gardening? We read up on what we could grow starting in June since we were a little late to the planting season and planted a smidge too many cucumbers. They are taking over!

4. Are there any local businesses from which you purchase seeds, starter plants, or other gardening supplies? We had a supply of seeds from over the years, gifts from friends and neighbors, picked up at garden stores, memory flowers from weddings and funerals. It was great to use what we had!

5. What’s one piece of advice you have for first-time gardeners? Be patient with yourself. If you make a mistake, there is always next year. Plus, there are so many great local farmers markets where you can supplement your failures with delicious local produce.

Sonia Potter is the digital manager at The Devil Strip. Reach her at sonia@thedevilstrip.com.

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