A new gardening initiative is taking root at the International Institute of Akron (IIA), where new ideas seem to be in bloom this spring. The mission of the garden is to create a positive green space in the North Hill neighborhood, home to a number of refugees and immigrants. This will allow people of different cultures to work and grow together.
This is among the many new projects instituted by Lindsay Millard, refugee case manager for IIA. “Essentially one of the reasons they hired me was to find interesting ways for the families that we work with to share their art, traditions and heritage with the community, and vice versa, for the community to share who they are with these new Americans,” Millard said.
Here they will be able to incorporate their traditional farming practices, meet new neighbors and learn from other cultures and traditions, as well as share their own. “We’re kind of bridging the gaps between, ‘You’re different from me. I don’t know you so let’s just stay apart.' It’s like, ‘No, let’s create something where you have to get to know each other,’” Millard said.
“There are a lot of different resources that show that something like farming and gardening have a huge impact on your emotional and mental health. I think for a lot of the people that we work with, coming from this incredible trauma, to be able to practice something that is inherent to them like farming can be healing,” Millard said.
The benefits of this include creating a second income and decreasing grocery bills, teaching the value of good nutrition, teamwork and how to care for a garden. It will also have a positive impact on people’s self-esteem and possibly increase job motivation and work ethic.
“Our goal is to help them be self-sufficient, and it’s impossible to do that when they’re in such a depressed state or are struggling with being motivated. To create these different things where they can feel good about themselves and feel more connected with their community is going to have a positive effect on whether they’re able to take those first steps into really re-settling and connecting with their new environments,” Millard explained.
The IIA plans to host outdoor film screenings, community meals, farmers markets, mural projects, and whatever other creative ideas the neighborhood comes up with. Hosting farm markets is also a dream for the future.
“They have so many things to teach us, which is what really makes me excited. It’s kind of a flip of the model. Usually people are like, ‘Come here and learn from us. Learn our language,’ which is all important and good, but it’s also like, 'Let’s not forget how important it is to learn from you,’” Millard explained.
“I really want this to be a community space. There are a number of different neighbors in the North Hill neighborhood, not refugees but pre-existing community members, that are really excited about the garden. We just want to make it a good community space for these two different worlds to collide and get to know each other and make something beautiful together,” Millard said.
You can get involved by gardening, donating materials (such as wood, compost, soil, seeds, tools, paints etc.), sponsoring a plot (estimated cost is $150 to build 8x4 raised bed plots. All sponsors will have their name or business painted somewhere in the garden) and spreading the word.