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Hattie Larlham, Akron Zoo creating Hattie’s Gardens

4/17/2014 - West Side Leader
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By Maria Lindsay

WEST AKRON — Hattie Larlham and the Akron Zoo are partnering to create Hattie’s Gardens at the Akron Zoo.

According to Hattie Larlham officials, Hattie’s Gardens will transform 2 acres of unused land at the Akron Zoo into sustainable gardens that will grow chemical-free produce. The gardens at the Akron Zoo, located at 389 Edgewood Ave., will be outside the zoo perimeter fence, but on adjacent property owned by the zoo.

The partnership will help Hattie Larlham meet mission goals and make healthy eating easier for area residents, according to officials.

The garden project will begin this month, and a community celebration is planned for the end of June, According to Hattie Larlham officials.

Hattie Larlham provides medical, residential and vocation services to improve the lives of Northeast Ohio children and adults with developmental disabilities, according to its website at www.hattie larlham.org/v/garden.asp. The gardens will expand employment for people with developmental disabilities, according to Hattie Larlham officials.

“I’m thrilled with our partnership with the Akron Zoo,” said Dotty Grexa, Hattie Larlham vice president of vocational and enterprise services. “It will allow us to apply what we’ve learned at our two Hattie’s Gardens locations to an urban setting where we can be part of the neighborhood community.”

Other garden locations are at Crown Point Ecology Center and Old Trail School, both in Bath.

Hattie’s Gardens adhere to sustainable growing practices, including crop rotation to prevent soil depletion, composting, using beneficial insects to manage crop-damaging insects, spreading mulches to suppress weeds and using disease-resistant cultivators, according to the organization’s website. The gardens are certified by the Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association, which certifies farmers under the national standards of the U.S. Department of Agriculture National Organic Program, according to the website.

According to zoo officials, the gardens will achieve the zoo’s goal of creating affordable, fresh produce within a food desert. A food desert is a geographic area where affordable and nutritious food is difficult to obtain, officials added.

Hattie’s Gardens will make fresh produce more readily available to area residents through a farm stand that will open in late spring near the zoo on the corner of Copley Road and Edgewood Avenue, according to zoo officials. Officials added that zoo members and visitors will receive a discount on the purchase of produce.

The farm stand will offer a place within walking distance for area residents to purchase fresh produce. Also, producing and purchasing goods locally increases environmental responsibility by reducing the use of fossil fuels, which benefits the environment, and also lowers the cost of produce, according to officials.

In addition to supplying food for local residents, the garden’s produce will be used at the Akron Zoo’s Komodo Kingdom Café for its visitors. The café is certified by the Green Restaurant Association (GRA) and is the first four-star, green-certified restaurant in any zoo or aquarium in North America, according to zoo officials.

“We are excited to collaborate on such a unique project with a first-class organization like Hattie Larlham that will benefit our community,” said L. Patricia Simmons, president and CEO of the Akron Zoo. “Our neighbors will be able to take advantage of affordable and healthy food options, and our visitors will be able to enjoy this locally grown food in our four-star, green-certified restaurant, Komodo Kingdom Café.”

Hattie’s Gardens also plans to share healthy recipes and tips for preparing its produce.

“Being able to provide fresh produce to the community and sharing nutritional information is a privilege for our team,” said Grexa.

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