Reflection on Indianapolis Urban Agriculture Tours by Tom Hartzell

Tom Hartzell is the coordinator of residential undergraduate programs and an environmental science educator at the Merry Lea Environmental Learning Center of Goshen College. Fall Creek Gardens was honored to facilitate tours of urban agriculture in Indianapolis for Tom and some of his students in July. The tours were as fun and inspirational as they were informative, and we thank Tom for this review of the experience.

Peaceful Grounds at the Marion County Fairgrounds

What does a full day in the city look like for you? Shopping, museums, maybe a stop at a nice restaurant? It’s fun to go do things, isn’t it?

A group of students from Goshen College recently spent a full day in the city, but instead of going to do things, they were here to see things that other people are doing. More specifically, these students are a part of the Agroecology Summer Intensive – a symphonious offering of classes, skills training, and field trip experiences that all center on this increasingly important idea of sustainable food systems. So, these students were here to see for themselves the great diversity of urban agriculture in and around Indy. With the invaluable help of Frances and Maggie at Fall Creek Gardens, the students had a comprehensive itinerary set up. Their visits would range from community gardens, to a food distribution service, to a soil production facility with the smallest manufacturing crew you can imagine.

Perhaps we should start at the foundation of agriculture, i.e. the soil. The unfortunate truth about many urban settings is that the soil is unsuitable for growing food. Oftentimes it is too compacted, too contaminated, or simply inaccessible beneath the concrete. That is where Peaceful Grounds comes in. Located at the Marion County Fairgrounds, this place is home to long rows of what appears to be mulch. However, after talking with Executive Director Linda Proffitt, we learned that the rows are a mix of wood mulch, spent grain from local breweries, and millions upon millions of worms! In this process called vermicomposting, those worms are hard at work eating, digesting, and excreting the mulch and grain. The product (castings, a.k.a. worm poop) is perhaps the best soil fertility amendment around. Worm by worm, casting by casting, we saw how Peaceful Grounds is working to provide the people of Indy with a sustainable way to improve their soil.


Talking about biodiversity at Fruit Loop Acres


Another vital cog in the food system machine is distribution. Once the soil is usable and the food is grown, how does the farmer get it to the consumer? The good people at Green B.E.A.N. Delivery help to turn this hurdle into a downright convenience. Their warehouse inventory, replete with fresh produce, meats, cheeses, bulk foods, and other natural grocery items, is available online for browsing. Members then simply place their orders online, which are assembled in green insulated bins. From there, it’s on to the delivery trucks and out into town. 3500 deliveries are made every week directly to customers’ doors! We left feeling impressed by both the large scale and remarkable efficiency with which Green B.E.A.N. operates.

The day was bookended by the importance of working in one’s own community – taking care of your neighbors so that they take care of you. Fall Creek Gardens, Growing Places Indy (Chase Near Eastside Legacy Center location), and Basic Roots Community Foods at Fruit Loop Acres. At all three of these sites, we saw a variety of setups producing many different goods: fruits, vegetables, honey, microgreens, and much more. But the one crop being harvested in spades at all three was hope. Hope grew from the desire of these individuals to provide healthy food to others. Hope grew from the way these places are being embraced by the surrounding community. And hope grew in the hearts of these students, now certain that this field they are studying is growing in every way that matters.

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