Have you ever dreamt of having your own farm? How about your very own garden? Maybe you live in an apartment and it’s just a matter of not having the space... Well, a solution to that problem may be right around the block.
Your garden dream can become a reality through Akron Grows, a community gardening program managed by the city of Akron. Before you know it, you can grow your very own fresh fruits, vegetables, herbs and/or colorful flowers.
The program uses vacant city lots to provide an opportunity for Akron residents, and residents in any of the surrounding communities, to grow their own food.
“It came out of the realization that the city has plenty of vacant lots that we’d like to re-use, and also that there’s a shortage of healthy food access in some of these neighborhoods,” said Kurt Mulhaufer, a city planner, who added there was also a need for apartment dwellers to cultivate their own gardens.
“They get to grow their own food themselves, whatever they choose,” Mulhaufer said of the program, “People grow anything from corn, tomatoes, peppers and things like that, to lettuces, herbs and perennial flowers. They beautify the garden sites,” Mulhaufer said.
Seven garden sites are currently being used. “We have a large immigrant population that utilizes some of these gardens, and most of them have a lot of their own seeds. It just makes it easier to grow food that they want that might not be available so easily locally. Everybody can start at the seed level and just grow their own food to put on their plate,” Mulhaufer shared.
As of right now, most of the sites are in use, but there are a few vacancies. About 50 to 60 applicants are involved. “A lot of them bring the kids out or family. So we probably have about 100 participants,” Mulhaufer said.
By the end of the year, plots are normally all filled. “Gardeners from the previous year have first dibs on their lot the next summer so they can continue in the program as long as they want without worry. As long as they keep gardening they can have that site as long as they want. There hasn’t been a lot of turnover. Most of the gardeners keep coming back to use their site year to year, so it's up to us to keep finding new lots and just expand the program,” Mulhaufer said.
Looking to grow
“We have a site were looking at; I don’t know if it's going to be ready this year so we’re just playing it by ear," Mulhaufer explained. "We’ve tried to keep it low key this year and last when we found the gardeners were returning. It’s a good problem to have. We cant guarantee that (everyone) will get a lot. They may have to go on a waiting list, then we’ll contact them as we get other lots available."
Though there are hundreds of vacant lots in the city, but not all lots make for good gardens due to lack of water access; surrounding trees also could be problematic.
“Were trying to expand it as each year goes by, putting more of these vacant lots to use. We just haven’t really figured out yet how we’re going to do it, but were definitely planning to continue with the community gardening lots,” Mulhaufer explained.
The program also is trying to expland so that people can use entire lots on their own. “We’re trying to promote urban gardening in the city more, as an urban farm type of thing. We have a Summit Urban Farming Initiative that we’re working on in cooperation with Crownpoint Ecology Center, in order to train urban farmers who would use bigger lots than ours and put them to a productive use,” Mulhaufer said.
There are two sizes of plots and space for about 100 gardens within those plots (each being segmented off). Plots available include a 10- by 20-foot plot which costs $20, and a 20- by 20-foot plot, which costs $30.
“We offset the cost of the plots with everybody getting a $20 voucher for some of the local produce markets or grass growers,” Mulhaufer said.
This $20 gift certificate can be used to buy seeds or whatever kinds of tools one might need.
For those interested, applications are available online for this community gardening program at www.ci.akron.oh.us.com.