By: Katie Sobiech
As the autumn leaves fall, it’s a picture perfect moment at Crown Point Ecology Center (CPEC). With farmland stretching for miles, it welcomes the public to come enjoy all it has to offer.
The property, purchased by The Dominican Sisters of Peace in 1967, offers a vast display of nature’s wonders. Over 10,000 people are touched by this program each year, including many served by the Akron Canton Regional Food Bank.
“Every season is wonderful. One of the neatest things to me is seeing the farm in each of its seasons,” Ellen Otto, Advancement Coordinator, smiled.
This certified organic farm contributes to the community primarily through their Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) program. They also are experts at sparking children’s interest in eating healthy and educating them in gardening.
“One young girl came to our summer farm, picked a squash in the garden and told her mom ‘I love squash’. Her mother was floored because this child would never eat a squash, but you can see how impacting it is. It changed her whole perspective towards veggies,” Otto shared.
History of the Center
“This was originally the Hammond Farm and they were relatives of the Hales. They were the two first major homeowners in the area,” Otto said.
“This property is part of a rich history of the area,” Christopher Norman, Executive Director, shared.
Its name, Crown Point, came from being the second highest spot in Summit County.
“Our mission is to demonstrate the practical applications of ecology, connecting spirituality, social justice and environmental protections,” Norman said.
One of their biggest endeavors was the creation of their Food Bank Farm, growing organic produce for the Akron/Canton Regional Food Bank.
One third of their harvest, or about 20,000 pounds of food, goes to the Food Bank. They’ve donated over a quarter of a million pounds to the Food Bank in total.
“Everyone should have access to fresh food, so we’re really thrilled to be the largest donor of fresh food to the Food Bank,” Otto said.
As mentioned before, their CSA program is also a hit.
“The CSA enables people to buy into a share of the harvest at the beginning of the season. They pay a certain amount of money and then get a share of the harvest each week,” Otto said.
“It’s wonderful because it provides the farm with the money that’s needed at the beginning of the season to make the purchases, to purchase seed and so forth, but in addition these people have an opportunity to really feel that they’re part of the farm,” she continued.
Those involved in the program are also expected to volunteer time on the farm, providing them with a hands-on opportunity.
Still, only 10% of their land is used for farming and gardening.
“Most of it is really about how we care for creation, as far as habitat and places to recreate, hike, and for outdoor environmental kinds of things,” Norman explained.
“What I like best is the connection with the land and interaction with the plants and animals. It’s a nice place to just come, spend some time and renew yourself,” Sister Marguerite Chandler, from Our Lady of the Elms, said, “Everyday is beautiful here.”
Akron Life and Leisure took notice of their Labyrinth, featuring it in their magazine. The Labyrinth encourages meditative walking.
“It’s a prayer place, not a maze,” Chandler said.
“We really encourage people to come and walk the land because even in the winter when there’s lots of snow, it’s still tranquil and restful – a place to kind of get centered,” Otto said.
There’s also hiking around the ponds and in the woods.
The center is open from dawn until dusk everyday, free to the public.
Expanding Kid’s Knowledge
The CPEC highly encourages children to get involved in all aspects of farming. One of the ways they do this is through their Summer Farm and Science Program.
“They can work in the children’s garden, harvesting, planting and tending, and their snack is based on the garden,” Norman said.
The children’s farm is nestled right in with the production farm so they get to see the farmers work.
“The kids will try the stuff because they are like ‘This is my lettuce’, ‘These are my carrots’,” Norman said.
At the end of the week they set up their own farmer’s market in the big red barn.
“The wonderful thing is that many of them are from the inner city and they’ve never been to a farm. Many of them have no sense of the connection between the field and their plate,” Otto shared.
One little boy said, “I didn’t know carrots had green stuff on them.”
“He wouldn’t because he’s probably only seen the little ones in the bags at the grocery stores,” Otto said, “Our hope is, with the concern of childhood obesity, this will help the children appreciate vegetables.”
Working with Local Schools
New initiatives are in the works as well with area schools to help kids better appreciate healthy eating. CPEC hopes to have an impact in lunchrooms, on diets, and they want to build school gardens, like they’ve begun at Our Lady of the Elms.
They’ve begun going offsite to school campuses and community centers, working with United Disability Services, the Boys and Girls Club, and Glovers School.
“Glovers is in a very disadvantaged area and we’re trying to develop funding to work with them,” Otto shared.
They create gardens on site, work with teachers on curriculum and other interactive projects.
Two hundred kids participated in their Summer Farm and Science Program this past summer.
“So many have no experience in the countryside. They need to understand how beautiful and robust it is, and the experiences it can provide, and food that can be grown here,” Otto said.
Future for the Farm
One of their dreams is to start introducing animals to the farm. They’ve started with chickens.
They’re also hoping to have a teaching series this year titled “Designing Your Garden”.
“These workshops are for people who want to know more about home gardening. People are increasingly interested in raising their own produce. It’s such an important message and opportunity we have right now based on all the interest in locally grown food, organic growing, and eating healthy,” Otto said.
“We feel we’re making a good impact, but want to do a lot more,” Otto said.
For more information on CPEC please visit their website at http://www.crownpt.org.