Lisa Nunn bought a house in Akron’s West Hill neighborhood in the early 2000s, but the house came with trees that blocked sunlight. So Lisa reached out to Elaine Evans, founder and director of Let’s Grow Akron, about finding another place to garden.
“She invited us to join the intergenerational garden across the street from Saferstein Towers, a senior building,” Lisa recalls. “They were looking for families to come and assist the seniors. We’d walk over every evening after dinner or ride our bicycles. We took our dog. We learned so much from them, being lifetime gardeners, and created some lasting friendships. That’s what exposed me to benefits of community gardening beyond just growing food.”
Today, Lisa is the director of the organization the late Elaine founded back in 1988, long before there was any kind of organized local food movement in Northeast Ohio. Lisa started in 2010 as director of children’s programming and later as program coordinator, then transitioned to director after Elaine’s retirement in November 2012.
Let’s Grow Akron helps to coordinate community gardens and give residents tools to grow and prepare their own food. The organization has partnered with The Ohio State Extension to offer classes to train garden leaders. It has hosted community canning sessions and cooking classes, started a composting cooperative, and sponsors a youth program during the summer.
“Ideally, we want to work hand in hand with groups, getting them started, but we want them to do the work and maintain ownership of the garden,” she says. “People approach us and say, ‘There’s a vacant lot. How do I get started?’ The interest is really growing. It’s a great way to build relationships that ripple out in to the community and break down walls people have.”
The Summit Food Coalition, which works to improve access to healthy foods for that county’s residents, honored Lisa in September 2017 with its inaugural Local Food Hero Award.
“We were looking for someone who has been at the work for a while and maybe hasn’t received the recognition they should have,” says director Beth Knorr. “We were excited to be able to give this award to Lisa. She took over an organization after the founder’s passing and has been able to build its impact in the community.”
“I felt funny being elevated to that status when it’s a pleasure to interact with different people and eat together and work together,” Lisa says. “But I appreciate the opportunity to shed light on the work of Let’s Grow Akron. It’s trendy now, but 30 years ago it’s not what people were doing. [Elaine] was quite a visionary to start this work 30 years ago.”