By Katie Sobiech
Julie Costello, owner of Ms. Julie’s Kitchen, recently broke ground on a new garden to help supply the opening of a second vegan restaurant. Julie Costello, owner of Ms. Julie’s Kitchen, recently broke ground on a new garden to help supply the opening of a second vegan restaurant.
Local food enthusiast, prison/re-entry ministry team up for garden, staffing
With the first signs of spring and early sun shining down on the endeavors of one local woman, daring to make a difference, it was a good day. Julie Costell, owner of Ms. Julie’s Kitchen — a local, organic vegan restaurant — is turning her dreams into a reality.
Costell started her newest endeavor this spring, which left many passersby scratching their heads and doing double takes. It’s not every day that you see two large horses plowing the ground in the city. It didn’t take long for the word to spread and neighborhood children to come running out of their houses, watching from their porch steps, and shouting to others to take a look at what was going on.
Vehicles pulled over to the side of the road, and some even parked for the rare sight. One young boy was climbing a tree in his backyard, when he noticed the horses and came running over to take photos.
No ordinary farm
From the start, it is evident that this is no ordinary farm. It will serve many purposes. Costell has joined forces with Truly Reaching You Ministries (T.R.Y.), and Janet Paul, Summit County Women’s Chaplain, to offer a strong set of support services for ex-felons. The women will take care of tasks on the farm, and at Ms. Julies Kitchen, which will offer a peaceful transition back into society. The men will focus on physical labor.
“They’ll be doing a lot of prep in the kitchen, taking the greens off the stems. We sit on the bench out front (of the restaurant) and it’s just beautiful. It’s always nice when women gather to talk about their families and lives,” Costell said.
As for their new location on the farm Costell says, “It’s a beautiful space with the fresh air and sunshine. I think it will be a blessing for all of us.” The farm will help provide food for Ms. Julie’s second restaurant, which will open near at 446 E. Exchange St. near The University of Akron in late April.
The beautiful thing is that the farm land is on the property of Costell’s new home.
“I had been looking for a house and kept thinking ‘if only I could find a place to grow food’, because we don’t have enough growers right now and I’ve got plenty of young kids interested in and wanting to farm, and the whole community gardening thing is coming along. So I thought ‘why not combine my rent with a place where I can grow stuff’? It just made sense,” she said of her ‘ah-ha’ moment.
She began asking around and was told to call a man named Perry Clark, founder and president of T.R.Y.
“Three days later I go to church and we have a gathering. We’re getting to know each other and finding out how we can do great things together, and who’s sitting across from me but this man who hands me a business card named Perry Clark,” Costell said.
“So I asked him if he had anything available and he said ‘yeah, East Crosier.’ You always know God is in it when things click like that,” she continued. So, here she is now, starting her farm on T.R.Y. property, and rehabbing a once vacant home.
“It’s a small world. It’s about people we know, community, and building and doing great things together,” Costell smiled.
T.R.Y. employs, houses and has created a working system for men coming out of jail and prison, and is now opening their doors to women. The “T.R.Y. Guys” which the men are referred to, showed up in their truck and got busy digging. It was truly a great community effort put on by those from all walks of life. What started out looking like a normal yard quickly began to change as the horses began plowing the earth.
“It makes sense because what’s wrong with inner city and poverty is they don’t have enough healthy food and lifestyles, so re-entry, not having healthy food and lifestyles, going to prison, obesity…all of it has to do with the health of the inner city,” Steve Wewer, Chief Operating Officer of T.R.Y., said.
“A lot of things can be conquered with food and love. It’s beautiful,” Costell said.
Alcon, the manufacturing company located right next door, is even part of this. The owner of Alcon is a farmer himself, in Medina. He gave T.R.Y. their office space, 3 lots for just $1 a year, and is on the board of T.R.Y. and the Countryside Conservancy, the organization that put all of the farms into the Cuyahoga Valley Park.
What is also special about this farm is that they will be growing things that they’re having a hard time getting from local farmers. This includes English shelling peas, Swiss chard, kale, collard greens, corn, flowers and more.
“I make this really good broccoli pea salad that everybody loves and we always sell out because we can’t get enough peas,” Costell said.
The kale will be for Ms. Julie’s famous kale chips, “Cause we sell a bazillion of those,” she said.
“It’s going to be my dream farm with little, cut flowers. And the backyard is going to be my personal heirloom and kitchen garden. I’ve got farmers starting really beautiful stuff for me all over the place,” Costell said.
Spencer Cutlip, one of the farmers, also coined “Kale Chip King,” shared the joy. “It’s all towards sustainability, that’s the key. I’ve been working with Julie for 2 years now, doing great things with Akron, for Akron, and just making people healthy. Our whole focus is locally supported agriculture and that’s what we’re here to teach people,” Cutlip said.
“I’m a true believer in reducing food miles and reducing dependency on outside forces for things,” he continued.
Sharing the health
Costell, who had a heart attack at just 35 years of age, is determined to help others share in a healthy lifestyle. Her own health issues inspired her to open up Ms. Julies Kitchen in 2010, and her second kitchen is now open and thriving.
She also sells at the Countryside Conservancy Farmers Market and is trying to gather the finances to purchase coolers so that she can be a part of the local Cornerstore Project. This project seeks to make healthy, fresh produce available at corner stores and places in Akron that might not normally have the best food choices.
“We want to get some stuff in the neighborhoods that the people will really enjoy,” Costell said.
“It’s hard work, but that’s what keeps us healthy, happy and out of trouble,” she smiled.