Akron Cooperative Farms Named One of 16 Gannett Grant Winners

The Akron Cooperative Farms complex is nestled in the North Hill neighborhood, a diverse community where refugees and immigrants from around the world come to seek refuge, acceptance and safety from persecution. An area that once served as baseball diamonds in Patterson Park is now a 4.5-acre parcel where community members can farm, share their crops with others, and develop a sense of community.

The organization receives an extra boost to support these goals as one of 16 grant recipients nationwide through the Gannett Foundation’s A Community Thrives program.

The $25,000 grant will support the completion of a market pavilion to provide shelter for farmers in inclement weather as well as space for community education programs. Renovations include completing electrical work, installing a new pizza oven, exterior siding, car washes, and expanding the front porch to provide more shade for vendors.

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Currently, more than 120 farmers tend to more than 140 plots in Akron’s largest community garden at 743 Gaylan Drive. The majority of the farmers are from the Nepalese, Burmese and Congolese communities that populate the surrounding North Hill district.

“I had previously been involved with the refugee community here in North Hill, and I wanted to provide hope and meaning to those immigrants and refugees who came to Akron and had difficulty adjusting,” said Douglas Wurtz, Executive Director and Founder. Akron Cooperative Farms.

Friday, a newly constructed shelter for community gardeners at Akron Cooperative Farms in Akron.

“Although we sometimes have language barriers that we have to overcome, the love and passion for gardening that we share is universal and goes beyond traditional spoken language,” Wurtz said.

Akron Cooperative Farms, which began licensing the purchase and use of plots in 2019, has partnered with ASIA Inc. (Asian Services in Akron) to host an annual Farmer’s Market during the summer months, and is also associated with other Akron organizations such as Akron Public Schools.

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“The partnerships we have developed with other community organizations and institutions have been extremely valuable to refugees and community members who want a shared and safe space; we have a great relationship with the City of Akron and those relationships ultimately allow us to add more amenities to the farms, which we hope will better serve the public,” Wurtz said.

Douglas Wurtz, executive director of Akron Cooperative Farms, looks inside one of the hoop-shaped houses where broccolini and other vegetables grow in Akron on Friday.

More than 760 organizations from 45 states submitted applications for this year’s A Community Thrives grants.

National project grant winners have received amounts ranging from $25,000 to $100,000. Akron Cooperative Farms was one of two Ohio organizations selected; OpenDoor-Columbus, a women’s drug rehabilitation center in Columbus, was also chosen.

The family of community gardener Padan Bhujel, second from left, from Bhutan, stand by their garden at Akron Cooperative Farms on Friday.

“We are thrilled to be able to receive this grant from the Gannett Foundation and to use these funds to have a fully functional pavilion,” Wurtz said. “We would really like to expand what we do here by bringing different community groups and being able to have functions here and this grant helps us accomplish that.”

“We are proud of the work that Akron Cooperative Farms does to improve lives in Akron, Ohio. At Gannett, we are proud to support organizations that have a positive impact on their communities. Through A Community Thrivs, we bring financial support for this purpose as well as rallying the entire community to champion a good and meaningful cause,” Gannett CEO and President Mike Reed said in a press release.

A pumpkin grows on what was once a baseball diamond fence at Akron Cooperative Farms.

More than $6 million was awarded through the Community Thrives program this year, including $800,000 in national project grants, $1.3 million in local operating grants and $200,000 in development grants. fundraising incentive. An additional crowdfunding effort raised $3.7 million for the program to allocate.

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The Grantmaking and Crowdfunding Program, supported by the Gannett Foundation and the USA TODAY NETWORK, of which the Akron Beacon Journal is a part, has been awarding grants to national nonprofits since 2017. Since then, more of $23 million were awarded.

A bee pollinates a flower in a community member's garden plot Friday at Akron Cooperative Farms.

For a full list of 2022 A Community Thrivs Program grant recipients, please visit www.gannettfoundation.org/act/

Anthony Thompson can be reached at[email protected]

Virginia S. Braud