Part I of a series
— I bet you’ve seen them around town: signs next to empty lots containing well maintained gardens. The colorful “Let’s Grow Akron” signs exude happiness, putting to good use formally unused spaces, bringing together people in neighborhoods to grow their own food, providing education with a strong focus on preserving food and healthy food choices for children and families in the food deserts of Akron.
You may have seen the signs and the gardens and maybe the people tending them, but I bet you don’t know the story behind them or the lady responsible for driving this effort. You see, with any grassroots organization there has to be someone behind it, someone with a vision and a drive. This lady was Elaine Evans.
Unfortunately I never met Elaine. She had passed of cancer years before I became involved with this organization. I have heard many times that the unfortunate part is I never met Elaine! One story in particular is striking.
Elaine used to work for the City of Akron. It was her job to respond to calls regarding neglected and abandoned lots. Over time it occurred to her that this was a considerable waste and surely the lots could be used for something to benefit the community. Elaine grew up on a farm and after discussing the blight situation in Akron with a pastor friend, he pointed out, “Well, you know how to grow food, you could do something about it!” That comment lit her spark. She decided the abandoned lots could be used to grow food.
Being a resourceful woman, she went to the foodbank and received a rotten bag of potatoes. Each potato could be cut into several pieces, and each piece could become its own plant. At the end of the season, potatoes were harvested from that lot by the pickup truck loads. That is how one takes waste, turns it into food and feeds a neighborhood.
I see this passion in her successor Lisa Nunn, who I have had the pleasure of working with for my upcoming bee yard for training people on beekeeping, especially in urban environments.
Lisa is the current Director of “Let’s Grow Akron.” One thing most notable to me about Lisa is her hands. This small beautiful energetic package of a person never has those manicured hands of an office worker because she is in essence a farmer.
Not only is she planting gardens, she’s pulling weeds, finding city land for those who need it, consulting on gardening projects, driving folks in need to their destination, planning, budgeting, writing grants, manning booths at events, worrying about water access from fire hydrants, and the list goes on above and beyond what any dedicated person could humanly give all the while answering to a board of directors.
Although Lisa had the opportunity to work and learn from Elaine prior to her passing in 2013, Lisa admits being the director without Elaine’s guidance has been a huge challenge, with an incredibly steep learning curve. I lamented to a friend that Let’s Grow Akron has so many wonderful stories to share, I’ve witnessed it, and if they could just get the word out, this would help with fund-raising, marketing and grant proposals, and my friend responded, “It’s because she’s busy ‘doing,’ she doesn’t have time for that!” and that really hit home for me.
We all have great ideas on how to better something from the outside looking in, but the difference is in the doing. If I had to walk in someone else’s shoes a bit, my walk would take on a different stride. So I’m choosing instead to help by getting the word out. This is part one of a series on the works on Let’s Grow Akron and the army of people within Akron behind it.