With the summer breeze finally blowing in, the Akron Zoo and Hattie's Gardens have joined forces to provide the Akron community with affordable and accessible fruits and vegetables.

With the summer breeze finally blowing in, the Akron Zoo and Hattie’s Gardens have joined forces to provide the Akron community with affordable and accessible fruits and vegetables. The two-acre garden, which will appear on Edgewood Road, right next to the Akron Zoo, will be open to the community at the end of June.

“We’re really excited. We’re thankful because we have a very great neighborhood and active community so we really expect that people will take full advantage of (the garden)” said David Barnhardt, director of marketing and guest services at the Akron Zoo.

By identifying the area surrounding the Akron Zoo as a food desert, a geographic area where affordable and nutritious food is difficult to obtain, the Akron Zoo green team approached Hattie’s Gardens with the goal of filling this void.

By targeting the neighborhood around the zoo, individuals will now have the opportunity to have affordable and healthy food within walking distance.

With the partnership, Hattie’s is also excited about traveling to various Akron Public Schools in the fall and teaching kids about eating right and growing vegetables, while also giving students hands on experience with the garden.

“Once a month or twice a month, we also want to provide education classes for families to show them how to use the vegetables to make a dish and then, potentially, send them home with recipes that they can make at home” said Dotty Grexa, vice president of Hattie Larlham, the organization from which the garden sites branch.

Apart from this, Hattie’s will also be providing a tasting garden. Anyone from the community will be able to stop by and pick fruits and vegetables such as cherry tomatoes and various berries. Hattie’s certifies that all fruits and vegetables will be pesticide-free and will be organic. In terms of affordability, Hattie’s is fully aware of the community with which it serves.

“We’re actually offering discounts to zoo members and the surrounding neighborhood. We’re very reasonably priced (and) we’ve also applied for the ability to accept EBT and Wick, so that’s a service to the neighborhood” said Grexa.

Hattie’s garden is more than a place to grow foods. It’s a place to where careers take root. The organization will employ those with developmental disabilities. As of the last count, Hattie Larlham has employed 211 people in its vocational program at its other two garden locations in Crownpoint and Bath. Employees learn the necessary skills required for sustainable agriculture while also earning minimum wage.

“In terms of the vocational program, it adds confidence. (Employees) are working in an environment where they’re encouraged to grow and develop with job coaches that teach them what they need to know,” said Jacqueline LoPresti, the communications and media relations coordinator for Hattie Larlham. “They’re with other people that have developmental disabilities, people they can befriend, and they’re integrated into the community”

The Akron Zoo location will employ an additional six employees. One of Hattie’s first garden employees, John, benefited from the vocational program tremendously.

“(John’s) grandpa taught him the love of gardening and it’s followed him his entire life. He wants to get 100 acres and when he gets that 100 acres he wants to give half of it back to Hattie’s (Gardens) so that they can continue their vocational program” said Grexa. “(John) spoke at our Circle of Caring event and he took the crowd by storm. He was incredible. You could see him keep looking for Nathan in the crowd, because Nathan’s his support, Nathan’s his safe place, and that safe harbor was just right there.”

Nathan Edge is Hattie’s Garden Manager, and John’s job coach. Edge was especially interested in providing the tasting garden for the community and also having Hattie’s third garden in a more urban setting.

Through its partnership with the zoo, Hattie’s will encourage kids to eat healthy by marketing to them through their Eat Like An Animal Campaign and also provide fruits and vegetables to the Zoo’s Komodo Kingdom Café for visitors.