An Interview with "Barrio Boy" J.P. Hernandez

To celebrate our first Brewing Good Day at the brewpub on Wednesday, May 24, we interviewed one of our employee-owners doing great work in his community. We hope you'll join us at the brewpub to support a good cause! 

At Great Lakes Brewing Company, we’ve been brewing good ever since Co-Owners Pat and Dan Conway opened our doors 35 years ago. Yes, brewing good beer (okay, great beer), but also Brewing Good for our community and our planet. And as an employee-owned company, our staff takes this Brewing Good mission to heart. Among our dedicated employee-owners is J.P. Hernandez, First Shift Bottler and operator of the Barrio Boy Garden, an urban oasis, vibrant community event space, and edible landscape in Cleveland’s near west side. We sat down with J.P. after a recent staff volunteer event at the garden to talk about the history and mission of Barrio Boy, how you can get involved, and more.

J.P., thanks for taking the time to chat about the Barrio Boy Garden. First, a little bit about you. What is your role at GLBC?

I’m a Bottler on First Shift at our Ohio City production facility. It’s a tough job that I’m very proud to do (the bottles of low fill beer don’t hurt either!) I’m also a member of GLBC’s Green Team. 

Oooh, that sounds interesting. Tell me a little bit about the Green Team and what you’re up to.

The Green Team’s goal is to foster and grow GLBC’s sustainability initiatives through action, education, and advocacy. This involves increasing our employee-owners’ participation in sustainability initiatives, continuing to establish our company as a community and industry leader in sustainable practices, and creating systems that will ensure our sustainability efforts across the company have lasting effects.

We’re working on a lot of projects right now! Just a few of our current efforts include streamlining the recycling of glass used in the brewery and brewpub, increasing the brewpub’s composting efforts, and enhancing recycling efforts companywide. We’ve even started a rooftop garden to grow our own hops!

On the community involvement side, we’re instituting a monthly Brewing Good Day, where 10% of each check during a certain date and time will be donated to a local partner. Our first Brewing Good Day is Wednesday, May 24! We’re also conducting monthly staff volunteer events.

GLBC Staff Volunteering at Barrio Boy Garden

GLBC brewery and brewpub staff after a volunteer cleanup event at Barrio Boy Garden

Wow, that’s a lot – and we haven’t even gotten to Barrio Boy yet! Give us the history of the garden, and your involvement in the local community. 

It’s always been a dream of mine to have a community garden. In 2020, during the beginning of the pandemic, I hosted a DJ fundraiser to raise money for art supplies for the Julia De Burgos Cultural Arts Center. I had mentioned to their Executive Director Letitia Lopez that I wanted to start a community garden but didn’t know how. The following week, Ohio Division of Wildlife Officer Scott Denamen unexpectedly showed up at the Center looking for someone to collaborate with on, you guessed it, a community garden! Letitia linked me up with Scott, and the rest is history. 

Barrio Boy Garden’s goal is to illustrate the importance of urban green, from the health of species like the endangered Monarch Butterfly, to the mental and physical health of local neighborhood residents. The garden helps me get involved with my community, whether that be through volunteering with local organizations, speaking to the youth in local schools, or sharing my love of the arts with my neighbors. 

Very cool! What kind of community events does the garden host? 

All kinds… and lot of them! Some events we’ve hosted include the installation of an event space called Rally CLE, a Yoga Flow & Meditation Celebration Event with Yellow Brick Studio where we planted seeds and flowers in the garden, and the performance of A Las Nubes, an original play in Spanish performed by Walton Elementary in collaboration with Cleveland Playhouse. We’ve given away 200 pumpkins with accompanying art kits, had open mic nights with painting and s’mores, and so much more. My personal favorite was Barrio Boy’s first anniversary, where we gave away almost 30 bikes and helmets, 100 bookbags filled with school supplies, and even free haircuts!

We know you’re passionate about GLBC’s sustainability efforts. What are some of the ways you promote sustainability at Barrio Boy?

Barrio Boy is very big on repurposing anything we can. We had 20-foot-long logs donated to us, out of which we created hügelkultur raised beds. These special garden beds hold moisture, build fertility, and maximize surface volume better than regular beds, making them great spaces for growing vegetables and herbs. We’ve also used some of the logs as seats for when we have events in the garden. We also repurposed all the bricks we dug up during one particular gardening project and used them to create a base for a fire pit. The list goes on!

Kickaround POG Tart with a Plant

The colorful Kickaround POG Tart fits right in at the flourishing Barrio Boy Garden

Any particularly touching or fun stories from Barrio Boy? 

During that first anniversary I’m so fond of, a mother of three won a raffle for a bike. When I noticed that she had two other sons, we managed to get another two bikes for the brothers, which was really touching. The mother cried and mentioned how she couldn’t afford to buy even one bike for her kids, let alone three! It’s really cool to see how community involvement can so concretely improve the lives of our fellow humans. We now host the bike giveaway annually.

What is your vision for the future of the garden?

I want to keep showing the community how to repurpose things you think you can’t use, how to live a more sustainable life, and to be an inspiration to my neighbors on the importance that urban green spaces can play. It’s so important for all of us to have a space where art, agriculture, and wildlife can connect. 

How can folks in get involved in supporting Barrio Boy or community gardens near them?

Reach out to the brewery at and ask to be connected with JP and Barrio Boy to see how you can get involved. You can support Barrio Boy directly by coming to our Brewing Good Day on Wednesday, May 24. I hope to see you there!

If you’re looking to establish a community garden in your neighborhood, the best way to get support is to contact your local councilperson and let them know you want to see these urban oases in your area.

Do you have any other hobbies or passions outside of GLBC and Barrio Boy? 

Of course! Some passions of mine include performing poetry at open mics, teaching the youth the art of DJing, and collaborating with artists to create dope events! 

Watermelon Crushworthy with Barrio Boy Logo

Watermelon Crushworthy ready to refresh thirsty GLBC volunteers after cleanup efforts

Before we leave, I have to ask: which GLBC beer pairs best with a day of working and vibing at the garden? 

I’m in the garden from March through October, so I have a few pairings depending on the season. I have to say, I have really been enjoying Vibacious Double IPA this spring! In the summer, Mexican Lager with Lime is the go-to. Then in autumn, I gotta go with the classic cool weather beer, Edmund Fitzgerald Porter.

J.P., thanks so much for taking the time to tell us the great things happening at Barrio Boy, and with the GLBC Green Team! Cheers!

Words: J.P. Hernandez and Michael Williams
Photos: Haven Hodges

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