By Katie Sobiech
Elaine Evans was known as the woman who “wanted to plant pretty things in pretty spaces and make people feel good,” Sarah Vradenburg, Master Gardener, recalls.
As plain and simple as it sounds; much labor was put into the projects that Evans hoped will continue to live on through Let’s Grow Akron (LGA).
Before her death, Evans “passed the torch” to Lisa Nunn, new Executive Director of LGA, who plans to continue this endeavor, spreading the beauty of gardening to the young and old throughout Akron.
Giving from the Heart
Evans is a good example for us all – a woman who truly cared for our community.
“Elaine had a huge heart for children. There would always be children involved. She just loved kids, so she started several children’s programs,” Nunn recalls of Evans work.
Harvest of Hope was her project for children in the neighborhood who brought to life a beautiful garden where there was once an empty lot.
From young to old, she left her mark.
“Elaine has a circuit of families and seniors that she’s been feeding for years. It’s all very unspoken and unpublicized. She’d just say as she got older and a little less mobile, ‘Oh, take a basket of such and such to Mrs. Whoever’, or, ‘Mrs. so and so loves greens, go take her a big bag of greens’. That’s just the kind of (person she was),” Nunn shared.
The Miller Avenue United Church of Christ has a lunch program that distributes food in the Summit Lake neighborhood, to which LGA donates food, as well.
Evans has also been giving food to the Akron/Canton Regional Foodbank for years.
“She’s given tons and tons of vegetable away over the years,” Nunn said.
Sharing Seeds and Stories
Evans touched every segment of the population, even starting a garden at the John Brown House – apartments for seniors and those with disabilities.
“Elaine got an idea to start an intergenerational garden so that the folks from the Saperstein Towers could interact with families and children who were in the garden and kind of work together,” Nunn said.
Nunn and her children were a part of this venture.
“The first year there was quite a few folks in wheelchairs. My children were a lot younger and were very interactive with the seniors. They may ask the kids to help them pull weeds, or to help them harvest, but also offered gardening advice and would share seeds and stories,” Nunn said.
After Evans worked her magic, it grew from 8 to 18 spots.
“She has always and forever been available for advice. (When people would ask) “Will you come out and look at my potato plants? They look droopy’ or ‘What’s right to plant next to each other?’” Nunn said Evans was who they would call.
“And if your plants weren’t looking right, she’d come over and take a look, making her rounds to many different gardens in the area,” Nunn said.
Great for Kids
LGA has also provided a great learning opportunity for kids, who in a sense have become little farmers and run their own farming businesses around Akron.
“The kids fill out time sheets and keep track of their hours all summer. They plant, weed, and water. Then they sell the vegetables down on the corner of Main and Miller. They set up a little farmer’s market once a week and at the end of the summer they get paid according to their profits and how many hours they worked,” Nunn said.
“They learn about marketing, a little about business and do some math. We had a nutritionist, an AmeriCorps member, who came out and did a nutritional program. Elaine not only educated people about how to grow food, but also gave healthy ways to prepare food and preserve it into the winter months,” Nunn continued.
What it Looks Like Today
Today LGA teaches people how to grow food, cook and preserve it.
They also continue the children’s programs and beautification sites, as well as community organizing.
“(We’re) getting folks together to do these projects. We don’t just go into a neighborhood and do it for them,” Nunn said.
This past summer they started the “Pump House Urban Agricultural Center” located in a Summit Lake apartment complex near the towpath.
“It’s very public. The point is to expose people living in the city to agricultural practices,” Nunn said.
Making Elaine’s Dream Come True
“Ideally what Elaine (wanted) to do is get a committee together to clean up a lot,” Nunn said.
LGA will bring in soil and provide water access, construct the raised beds and even put a fence up if needed.
“Then, ideally, turn it over to the neighbors and let them be in charge of it,” Nunn explained.
“Elaine’s desire is to have a life celebration in lieu of a funeral. She wanted to be cremated and have a life celebration in the garden,” Nunn said of Evans very first children’s garden.
If you are interested in transforming vacant lots and run down places into beautiful spaces, get connected to Let’s Grow Akron! Contact Lisa Nunn at firstname.lastname@example.org