Story by Connie Williams (Courtesy of the Akronist)
Hattie Larlham will add a vital community service to its garden-to-work training programs, a much needed oasis in the food desert that exists at Akron’s Douglas Street, near the Akron Zoo.
The nonprofit provides a number of residential, work training and recreational services for people with disabilities, but is well known for its local gardens and network of cafes and other means of local food cultivation and distribution.
Hattie’s recently broke ground at 395 Douglas St. on the $1.2 million 4,400-square-foot building project, expected to be finished in March 2016, and should employ at least 12 residents with disabilities. When it opens, the Hub will be a multi-purpose facility that will serve the community in several ways.
First, the facility will be a food processing and washing center for produce grown in Hattie’s Garden, a work-training program. Local farmers also will have the opportunity to use this service.
Secondly, value-added products such as salsa and jam will be prepared at the Hub. These products will then be used in food preparation and will be available for sale at Hattie’s Café & Gifts.
A rendering of the Hattie’s Food Hub, which will process
fresh produce grown at Hattie’s Gardens as well as by
Northeast Ohio farmers and prepared for sale to Akron families.
Third, Hattie’s Food Hub will open a fresh market, selling local produce that will be priced suitably for the community. The market also will accept SNAP and EBT benefits.
Finally, in addition to educating adults with disabilities and providing them with work training, Hattie’s Food Hub also plans to offer educational opportunities for children and families. Members of the community will have the opportunity to learn about nutrition and healthy eating.
Hattie Larlham VP of Vocational & Enterprise Services Dotty Grexa
Dotty Grexa, Hattie Larlham’s vice president of vocational training, is overseeing the project and shared, “Hattie’s Food Hub is the result of listening to the community and rising to meet their needs. I think it will be a great addition to the neighborhood. We’ve so far raised a little over $800,000 of the $1.2 million we need to complete the project.”
She went on to say that she is confident that private and corporate donors will come forward to fund the completion of the Hub.
Akron Planning Director Marco Sommerville
with wife Debbie and their daughter Akron City Council
Member of Ward 3 Margo Sommerville
The project is part of Hattie’s Gardens, a work-training program that teaches adults with developmental disabilities to grow organic, chemical-free, sustainable produce. Working with Hattie Larlham job coaches, employees learn to garden, safely use tools, water plants and cultivate seedlings. Produce harvested from these gardens is used in the two Akron locations of Hattie’s Café & Gifts, another Hattie’s work training program where adults with developmental disabilities learn career skills. Hattie’s Café & Gifts sells jellies, jams and sauces prepared using produce grown in Hattie’s Gardens.
For more information about Hattie’s Food Hub, or to learn how you can make a donation to the project, go to www.hattielarlham.org or contact Dotty Grexa at (800) 233-8611, ext. 7000.