Meet Me in the Garden — Jill

It’s hard to believe that just little over a year ago my back yard screamed… “parking lot!” 

It was a chemically treated lawn with a SPACIOUS slab of concrete butting up against the back of the house.  Not a flower, tree, or dandelion in sight.  My decision to move to Akron (DREAD….the BIG city) and my choice of a postage stamp sized lawn already taxed my imagination and the mere weight of it all caused my shoulders to round and my head to slump forward as I surveyed this barren landscape that accompanied the sweet little house I had decided to buy.  Limited funds coupled with a perplexing lack of creative imagination hung over me all last summer the way the death of a good friend lingers long after the bustle of everyday life has gladly resumed.  And I slogged my way through those hot dry days, dragging my lounge chair onto that concrete slab only a handful of times before admitting defeat…. By last summer’s end I had resolved that cash was going to be needed if there was any hope of turning this black hole into the refuge I had allowed myself to hope for……

But practicality has a way of leaning into our preconceived notions of how life ought to be…AND of circuitously leading us elsewhere….. ONLY a TRUE VISIONARY could forge such a path anyway… where human coveting could truly reach a balanced symbiotic relationship with the needs of the natural world and on such a minuscule spot of  land …… and I in my moment of self-absorption for material wealth could not claim such insight.…But, alas, there was no money for my extravaganza…… and hallelujah for that….. for the best was yet to come……  

So, instead of my imagined refuge for solitude-  a little pagoda SURROUNDED BY LUSH GARDENS and encapsulated within a matching privacy fence……I opted for a sailcloth and three raised garden beds…… an alternative inspired by my new fellow UUCA friends and our COMMUNITY GARDEN PROJECT that I am so fond of being a part of.  And just as the UUCA garden project has inspired a plethora of community energy, my little brainstorm has also brought me closer to my own neighbors in ways that I had only imagined…

As I cobbled together 4 by 2’s, hired help to move the soil that Earth-n-Wood had delivered (couldn’t do the shoveling myself because of a shoulder injury), and had my contractor ‘saw’ a hole in the concrete for a post to hang my sailcloth on,…. my neighbors began erecting their own raised beds….and we have shared in our collective progress, failed mishaps,… and obvious gaps from ignorance….remaining clueless about why some plants have thrived while others limp along, but vowing to try and bridge the gap for next year…..

Though rain and the elevated heat have kept our outdoor communications to a minimum, it has brought me closer to feeling in community with my neighbors.  One morning as I gazed out from under my sailcloth refuge, drinking my coffee and admiring my lush little garden, 5 children made their way into the yard just to see how the garden was doing……and next door the honeyrock and watermelons left me wondering what I will plant next year.  In addition to sharing this space with the children, their parents, and family pets, I am happy to report that the dandelions and clover that now blanket my yard are very popular with the bees……plus,  there are tasty fat little worms for the birds…….of the organic variety!  I might add…….. and for the homeowner? ….a wide open space for all concerned!






What is a GMO? Speaker: Susan Schmidt, M.S. & Pathway Challenge Midpoint Potluck

Please join the Food Justice Ministry in welcoming Susan Schmidt, M.S. She is an organic farmer who will speak about the documented health risks of genetically modified (GM) foods. The presentation is based on the work of Jeffery Smith and the Institute of Responsible Technology (
Topics to be covered include:
  • What is a GMO?, how they are created, what are the documented risks
  • FDA policy on GMOs and safety testing
  • How to avoid eating GM foods
  • How we can fairly easily remove GM foods from our food supply
Free and open to all. Potluck at 6 o’clock, and speaker at 7 o’clock.

Join us for “Fresh, The Movie” — featuring Wil Allen, Michael Pollan and others

“FRESH, The Movie” screening & discussion
Friday, March 22, 7:00 – 9:00 p.m.
Special Guest:
Katie Myers-Griffith
Farmland Programs Manager of the Cuyahoga Valley Countryside Conservancy (CVCC)

Each attendee receives a raffle ticket for items donated by the CVCC

FRESH celebrates the farmers, thinkers and business people across America who are re-inventing our food
system. Each has witnessed the rapid transformation of our agriculture into an industrial model, and confronted the
consequences: food contamination, environmental pollution, depletion of natural resources, and morbid obesity. Forging healthier, sustainable alternatives, they offer a practical vision for a future of our food and our planet.

Growing Hope Food Summit 2013



Over 30 UUCA folks joined us at the first Growing Hope Food Summit in April of 2011 with our very own Suellen Roberts as a speaker and a number of UUCA folks volunteering.  The Summit was aimed at starting a local food movement and the movement has been launched! 

In addition to the work being done regionally due to the Growing Hope Food Summit, 2011, over the last two years, the UUCA has grown in its commitment to local food with scores of you helping with our garden and joining us in the Menu for the Future and Hungry for Change classes and over 80 of you serving hot meals in 2012.  This Summit is a great way to learn more and get tapped into a regional movement!

 The Growing Hope Food Summit 2013 has been designed in response to the shared values participants voiced in 2011.  Locally grown, nutritious, affordable healthy foods were values that were broadly embraced by participants. In addition, an engaged community that is educated and empowered was identified as a top priority.

Please join us for the Growing Hope Food Summit 2013 concentrating on practical hands-on workshops and speakers focusing on growing, preparing, and eating healthy foods.  

It is a two day summit with the premiere of the movie “What’s On Your Plate?” on Friday, April 12, 2013 – 6 pm – 8:30 pm at the Buchtel Community Learning Center and an all-day session at House of the Lord on Saturday, April 13th from 9 am to 4 pm that will include Chef Del Sroufe, Author of “Forks over Knives” Cookbook as the keynote speaker as well as local chefs offering cooking demonstrations and break-out workshop sessions on:

  1. Cooking Demonstration: Making the Transition to Affordable Healthy Non-Meat Meals
  2. Shopping for Healthy Ingredients
  3. Planning Healthy Affordable Meals for the Week
  4. Preventing & Managing Chronic Disease With Lifestyle
  5. Growing/Raising Food for Your Family in Your Yard, On Your Roof, Even in Your Basement!
  6. Creating a Successful Community Garden
  7. Market Gardening: Growing Enough Food to Sell, Urban Agriculture: Can We Grow & Raise a Lot of Food and Create Jobs? Season Extension: Can Ohio Grow Food All Year Long?

Register today!

If you are interested in volunteering, you can contact Tina Ughrin (330-703-6150 or or Katie Fry (330-608-1454 or

Joining Together on the Path Series – Communities

We Seek to Nourish Communities

Together, communities and real people can make a significant difference! We “vote” with the dollars we spend every week. Our weekly choices, in the form of purchases, are studied and analyzed by large agribusiness and food manufacturing companies to determine their future business decisions. When consumers stop buying products, systemic change happens. Remember trans fats? They are practically gone from our supermarket shelves.

This Sunday we will have a chance to reflect on and examine our weekly choices and actions around food. This spring our church community is alive with vibrant energy around the concept of Food Justice, which means different things to different people. Every one is at a different place on that journey, and there is no right or wrong place.

One of the steps our church community has taken together, as part of our Food Justice Ministries, is to endorse the Summit County Community Food Charter. We have joined with the City of Akron, Summit County Council and many other cities and townships in Summit County to take this stand. Sounds positive, but what does that really mean?

The Food Charter was crafted by a group of concerned, volunteer Summit County residents. Their interest grew out of the priorities established at the Growing Hope Food Summit 2011 and the growing global awareness about the fragility and inequities inherent in our local food systems.

The vision of the Food Charter is:

“Everyone in Summit County is able to obtain, afford and knows how to prepare nutritious food; that schools have nutritious food available for student meals; that farmers find outlets and distribution systems to market their produce; and that Summit County fosters sustainable local agriculture and supports an economically viable local food system.”

That’s a lofty vision. Again, how will that benefit our community?

The Summit County Food Policy Steering Team is suggesting concrete actions organizations and individual can take to support the Food Charter. Examples of individual actions include:

  • Commit to spending a percentage of your weekly food budget on local foods
  • Plant a vegetable garden
  • Grow some vegetables in a container
  • Start a compost pile
  • Ask your grocery store to carry more local food
  • Ask your child’s school to use more local foods
  • Attend classes to learn more about healthy eating or growing food
  • Commit to preserving a percentage of your own winter food supply

Examples of concrete actions for businesses or organizations:

  • Choose healthy vending options
  • Commit to offering healthy food in your food service operations
  • Start a composting program for food waste
  • Increase donations to food banks, free meals and food pantries
  • Support/advocate for policy changes to strengthen our local food system

The Summit County Community Food Charter will come alive and benefit our community one step at a time – one individual, one family, one church, one business, one school at a time, one institution at a time. Together, our choices and actions will strengthen our local food system.

What step will you take on this journey to move us toward a more just and vibrant local food system?

For more information on the Summit County Food Policy Coalition see the website –

 To register for the Growing Hope Food Summit – Growing, Preparing and Eating Healthy Food on April 12 and 13 –




Joining Together on the Path Series — Producers

We Seek to Nourish Producers

Who is responsible for the food on our plates?  In this global food economy, where most of us purchase most of our food rather than grow our own, it is easy to consider it just another product that may have dubious origins.  But what can we do?  We have to eat.  And that is where the rub is, we do have to eat, all of us.  We don’t have to have tennis shoes or small plastic gadgets made in factories with unsafe working conditions.  We can look at those items and painlessly forgo them.  It might leave a want unsatisfied, but not a basic need, like food.

We should question it.  We do need to try to find out if the food that we would like to nourish ourselves and our families is coming to us at the cost of some other person’s health and welfare.  Who should we consider?  The producers of our food are farmers, here and abroad.  They are farm workers, food processing plant workers, and food service workers.  We should ask if they have fair wages, safe work and living conditions, access to health care and freedom from being exposed to dangerous chemicals and equipment, and are they paid fairly for the product that they provide?  Are they exploited because of their immigration status or enslaved to provide for their families?  We should know.

This is the third article in the series that looks at the areas of our food system and how we can make choices that truly nourish Consumers, Communities, Producers and the Earth.  Some suggestions for you are at the bottom of this article.

The UU Church of Akron’s Immigration Group focuses on helping the local Central American immigrant and migrant community. Carol Temerson has provided the following information on thier work and the intersection with the work of Food Justice Ministry.

We offer classes (English, GED, and Citizenship), provide legal support (serve as researchers for Immigrant Worker Project legal cases), provide transportation to and from local court hearings, investigate funding sources for IWP, assist IWP in organizing documents, and provide support for social events.

As part of our classroom work, we visited agricultural workers living in farm camps in Hartville, OH. These visits opened our eyes to the conditions under which agricultural workers live, work, and learn. While the camp we were most closely associated with provided a living wage and allowed workers to come and go freely, other camps did not. Workers on some farms were kept on the property under threat of being fired or deported, some workers were required to buy all their food and other needs through the farm store, and all workers were required to pay extremely high rent on the tiny rooms where they lived on these farms. All workers, even those on the better farms, were taken advantage of in some way.

Take some time to look through the information provided by the Immigration Group regarding the link between food and farmworkers.

Links Between Food We Eat and Workers Who Provide It:

  • Worker Treatment – US farmworkers face extreme poverty punctuated by substandard housing and lack of access to clean water, adequate food, healthcare, and education. Farmworkers represent the backbone of our agricultural economy. Performing some of the most demanding manual labor in any economic sector, farmworkers are also one of the least protected groups in our society.
    • Food Inc site (
      • As we moved to an industry dominated by fast food, people demanded more food at cheaper prices. To meet this demand, companies had to cut costs by lowering wages (includes minimal job security and very little union activity) and speeding up production (workers now had to perform the same tasks again and again to increase efficiency but it also caused an huge increase in industrial accidents).
      • NAFTA (North American Free Trade Agreement) caused corn prices to drop, thus hurting the small farms with little resilience to such changes. In fact, an estimated 1.5 million farm jobs have been lost in Mexico since 1994. The trade agreement has forced small-time farmers to compete with US-subsidized corn producers. When they couldn’t, many displaced farmers and farm workers made their way to the US in search of work, some in response to active recruiting by US corporations.
  • Pesticide Exposure – Pesticides are inherently toxic. They are developed and used to destroy and prevent growth or infestations of unwanted insects, plants, and other pests in agricultural, commercial, industrial, and household settings. Farmworkers face greater risks of becoming poisoned by pesticides because they work with pesticides at their greatest concentrations and strengths. Pesticide exposure causes farmworkers to suffer more chemical-related injuries and illnesses than any other workforce in the nation.
  • Fair Trade ( – Products that are fair trade come from farmers and workers who are justly compensated. They help farmers in developing countries build sustainable businesses that positively influence their communities.

Labor and Working Conditions:

  • Coalition of Immokalee Workers ( is a community-based organization of mainly Latino, Mayan Indian and Haitian immigrants working in low-wage jobs throughout the state of Florida. Their motto is “Consciousness + Commitment = Change”
  • Organic Consumers Association ( OCA is a public interest organization campaigning for health, justice, and sustainability. The OCA deals with crucial issues of food safety, industrial agriculture, genetic engineering, children’s health, corporate accountability, environmental sustainability and other key topics.
  • United Farm Workers site ( provides farm workers and other working people with the inspiration and tools to share in society’s bounty.

Food Service Workers

Food Service Workers in the United States generally make minimum wage or less. President Obama mentioned the minimum wage in his State of the Union address.  Rep Donna Edwards (D-MD) reintroduced the WAGES Act the next day.  This legislation would raise the minimum wage for tipped workers above the $2.13/hour it has been nationally for the past 20 years.  In Ohio, the minimum cash wage for tipped employees $3.50 per hour (plus tips) to $2.93 per hour (plus tips).  The typical wage after any tips in Summit County is $8.57 per hour.  That is less than half of the living wage for a family with one adult and one child.

The Unitarian Universalist Service Committee (UUSC) has partnered with Restaurant Opportunities Center (ROC) United to support this issue and to raise awareness.

For more information on the issues of food service workers and on how to advocate on their behalf (both in terms of our personal choices and through legislative policy), check out Behind the Kitchen Door by Saru Jayaraman.

“Sustainability is about contributing to a society that everybody benefits from, not just going organic because you don’t want to die from cancer or have a difficult pregnancy. What is a sustainable restaurant? It’s one in which as the restaurant grows, the people grow with it.”-from Behind the Kitchen Door

As our church community joins together on the path to food justice, what more can we do?  Here is a list of suggestions that can relate to these areas.  It is certainly not exhaustive, but might be a place to begin to think about a small change that will encourage nourishment of the PRODUCERS of your food.  Please add your own suggestions in the comments.  Consider if one of these will be your commitment for March 10th for UUCA’s Pathway Challenge.  Stop at the Producers info station in the Fellowship Hall that day if you want to talk with others about it or are looking for other suggestions.

  • Learn what fair-trade is all about.
  • Replace the coffee or chocolate that you currently buy with Fair Trade designated products.
  • Research working conditions of agricultural workers that pick our vegetables or fruits (i.e., tomatoes in Florida).  Remove an item from your shopping list or buy that item organic or fair trade.
  • Research working conditions of people who work in factory animal farms. Remove and item from your shopping list or the dairy/meat/egg item that is from a farm without these working conditions.
  • Research what steps we as a church would need to take to be a group that endorses the Alliance for Fair Food ( Share what you learned.
  • Write a letter to Wendy’s or large grocery chains to petition them to purchase tomatoes from growers using humane working conditions. (The Coalition of Immokalee
  • Host a watching/discussion party for the Harvest of Shame DVD. You can get a free DVD and guide from the Student Farmworker Alliance (
  • Sign up to help other members of UUCA teach English as a Second Language in Hartville at the work camp to improve the lives of local migrant farm workers.
  • When you eat out ask the manager if the workers have paid time off or health insurance, ask if they are paid more that minimum wage?  Let them know that it matters to you how the workers at this restaurant are treated.

 Resources:  UUA Statement of Conscience 2011 – Ethical Eating:  Food and Environmental Justice

Joining Together on the Path Series — the Earth

We Seek to Nourish the Earth

The Earth and consequently our food system are under intense pressure from many environmental factors.  Climate change, emissions, the quest for alternative fuels, ecological degradation, biodiversity, clean and accessible water, fisheries, and animal welfare are all factors in the food system.  If we seek a food supply that truly nourishes the Earth then all of these must be considered.  But not individually, as the name states, it is a system.

It is very overwhelming.  Really, the first step is just awareness.  Seeing it for what it is and how it relates to our very intimate relationship with our own plates.  Beginning to make choices that consider their effect on the planet we need to nourish us is a first step.  This is the second article in the series that looks at the areas of our food system and how we can make choices that truly nourish Consumers, Communities, Producers and the Earth.  Some suggestions for you are at the bottom of this article.

I cannot begin to add enough detail to all of the areas outlined above in this article to even put a dent in the issue.  There is plenty of information out there.  When it comes to environmental issues, I have found that UUs are well aware and trying to make a difference.  I will touch on them briefly, but the point is to highlight the path to entry that environmentalists have into our Food Justice Ministry at the UU Church of Akron.

Climate change not only threatens agriculture, the way we now farm also threatens the climate.  While not the only contributor to greenhouse gas emissions, nor even the greatest, agriculture accounts for a significant share of the damage: somewhere between 17 and 32 per cent of all human-induced greenhouse gases.  Key drivers are emissions from fertilizer use and from cattle in confined feed operations. Atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gases are already above sustainable levels and continue to rise alarmingly. Changes in temperature and the amount of carbon dioxide (CO2) in the atmosphere could have significant impacts on crop yields. The changes in the frequency and severity of droughts and floods also pose great challenges for farmers and ranchers.  Meanwhile, warmer water temperatures are likely to cause the habitat ranges of many fish and shellfish species to shift, which could disrupt ecosystems.

The search for alternative energy sources is also playing havoc with our food system.  The diversion of food crops to biofuels has created a great deal of volatility in the food market.  Increasing demand for biofuels was estimated to account for about 30 per cent of food price rises over the period since 2008.  The amount of corn diverted to biofuel has soared.  In 2010 nearly 40 per cent of US corn production went into engines rather than stomachs.  This type of crop has escalated the worldwide land grabs and pressure put on the land to produce at all costs, rather than in sustainable fashions.  The biggest contributor, by far, to agricultural emissions is land-use change.  Converting wilderness to agriculture can release large amounts of greenhouse gases, particularly in the case of forests and wetlands.

Water scarcity is growing. Salinization and pollution of water courses and bodies, and degradation of water-related ecosystems are rising.  Groundwater is being pumped intensively and aquifers are becoming increasingly polluted and salinized in some coastal areas.  Runoff from eroding soils is filling reservoirs, reducing hydropower and water supply.

This runoff of the topsoil, that results in water pollution and desertification, not only affects our ability to grow food, but is very often a result of the unsustainable agricultural practices that have be used intensively to deplete the nutrients in the soil over the last fifty plus years.  The topsoil is turning to dust. Soil degradation is defined as “a decline in long-term productive potential” of the soil [1].  This occurs when human activity, whether directly, or indirectly causes the soil to become less healthy by pushing production levels beyond the land’s ability to support them resulting in the land becoming less able to support plant and animal growth.  There are three ways in which a soil can degrade.  One way is through a physical, chemical or biological run-down that causes a reduction in plant health by depleting soil nutrients or reducing plant growth.  Soil can also degrade by a reduction in mass and volume through erosion; this reduces the physical size of the soil’s ecosystem.  The third way is due to soil chemicals such as soluble salts or industrial chemicals accumulating to levels that effect plant growth detrimentally [2].   As the issue of soil degradation and what it mean to us becomes increasingly apparent, we would do well to recognize the importance of the dirt we walk on.

Increasing hybridization, monocrop agriculture and development and use of  genetically modified organisms (GMO) threaten the biodiversity of our food supply.  Here are some startling numbers comparing the diversity of seeds cultivated 130 years ago to those available 80 years later in 1983 in parentheses. 408 (79) types of tomato seeds, 285 (16) different cucumber varieties, 288 (17) different types of beets, 307 (12) types of sweet corn, and 341(40) varieties of squash are just some examples.  The number has been considered to be rising again due to efforts of groups such as Slow Food USA helping to create demand and the food awareness movement allowing seed companies to cultivate the near lost varieties.

Animal welfare in our industrialized food production factories is not a consideration.  Animals are castrated, hot-iron branded, de-beaked, de-tailed, packed in cramped cages and feedlots, and fed food that is not natural to their digestive systems which keeps them sick and necessitates prophylactic use of antibiotics, and subjected to inhumane shipping and slaughterhouse practices.  Respect for them and their place in the web of our existence doesn’t come to mind.

As our church community joins together on the path to food justice, what more can we do?  Here is a list of suggestions that can relate to these areas discussed above.  It is certainly not exhaustive, but might be a place to begin to think about a small change that will encourage nourishment of the Earth.  Please add your suggestions in the comments.  Consider if one of these will be your commitment on March 10th for UUCA’s Pathway Challenge.  Stop at the Earth info station in the Fellowship Hall that day if you want to talk with others about it or are looking for other suggestions.

  • Create some rich soil.  Start composting for yourself, a friend, or the church.
  • Plan and start a small garden by yourself or with a friend.
  • Plant heirloom seeds in your garden or non-traditional varieties.
  • Buy pasture-raised meat, dairy or eggs from a local source.
  • Learn how to cook non-traditional vegetables (move away from corn, green beans, broccoli, cauliflower, ice burg lettuce, potatoes, and carrots as your go-to vegetables).  Buy something you have never heard of, and follow/create a recipe to share with others.
  • Recycle plastics, glass, newspapers, and other items.  How hard is it to find places in your community to drop off these items?  Is your town/city recycle-friendly? If not, ask your local government to change.
  • Where does your water come from?  Learn about your local watershed.  Organize your family or group of families to do one action item that will help it, like picking up trash.
  • Research local pick-your-own farms that don’t use pesticides.  Commit to picking something once the produce is available.  Share the results of your research so that others can prepare as well.  Invite a friend to pick with you and tell how you choose that farm.
  • Research and commit to one summer of using an environmentally friendly weed control on your lawn.  Let others know, especially you neighbors, know what you are doing and what worked for you.
  • Commit to help with the UUCA’s produce garden.  From this garden we plan on creating a meal to feed the public in August.  We need help in the spring with planning and planting crops, in the summer with care, maintenance and harvesting, and in the Fall with clean-up.
  • Only buy sustainably harvested seafood.  Use the Monterey Bay Aquarium guide to help you shop.


New Seed Varieties:

Human impact and soil degradation:

Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) Summary Report on The State of the World’s Land and Water Resources for Food and Agriculture:

Agriculture and Food Supply Impacts & Adaptation:

OXFAM GROW Campaign:

Reading list: