Converting city lots into community supported gardens
Over a century ago, the food for the 1 million Indianapolis city-dwellers traveled less than 10 miles on average from farm to a family’s kitchen. In 2007, our food traveled an average of 1,500 to 2,000 miles before reaching grocery store shelves. The environmental impact and our industrial dependency are obvious, but less so are our health and social welfare that have deteriorated accordingly.
So what happened? Where is the disconnect between us and our food? What can we do about it here in Indianapolis?
Everyone knows that land is limited and that everyone is losing more and more open green space to unnecessary developments. Everywhere we turn there are new construction going up and more pavements are laid. In the last 100 years, the loss of agricultural land and urban zoning restrictions on agriculture activities combined with the industrialization of our food products have effectively broken our connection with the farmers – farmers that once defined the Midwestern virtues. In less than 100 years, our consumption pattern have shifted from fresh and bio-diverse produces to refrigerated and chemically recombined material that has unknown side-effects. Billions of dollars from big agri-industrialists are pumped into lobbyists turning out lies to our legislatures so their profit structure would continue . . . until WE finally take action.
Today, cities all over the world are trying to recreate that lost connection with farmers markets and community gardens. Growing food on vacant city lands provides a host of environmental, social, and economic benefits including (but not limited to):
providing vibrant green spaces,
improved air quality,
cooler buildings where Green Space insulations have been integrated into architecture,
reduced energy consumption as food travels a shorter distance between farm/garden and plate,
creating habitats for birds, insects, and native plants,
providing local job opportunities,
creating a beautiful setting where people can socialize and build community,
providing a positive and healthy activity for everyone,
decreasing family food budgets,
raising property values
and MOST IMPORTANTLY: teaching healthy eating habits and sustainable values to our children.
If you look with the intention of making a beautiful spot of ‘green’ in the middle of a neighborhood, city, town circle, on top of a building, etc., you can see there are unlimited possibilities to start a community garden. Community gardens can exist in many different places like vacant lots, building tops, undeveloped regions, and private yards. Together, these spaces constitute a large amount of land that would need our attention, but ultimately could feed a significant portion of urban populations if they are shared and cultivated.
I am part of a group called Indy Backyard Growers Network and we are a group that has come together to help each other - Eat • Share • Grow. Some of us do not have access to land, some of us do. Because the garden work is overwhelming, collaboration and community support is critical and it is what brought us together. We are growing several gardens around town and groups of us are responsible for different tasks. We learn how to garden, do prep work, mulching, planting, weeding, watering, building beds, composting etc. Because of this group effort, not one person feels overwhelmed and we can grow a larger variety on a larger plot. These gardens will yield an abundance of fresh, truly organic (not the government labeled industrialized “Organic” kind) fruits and vegetables for all of our families. At the same time, we are creating a manageable garden maintenance schedule for each individual.
We share in the labor and the rewards! This process helps feed each of our souls. It is something that we all enjoy doing and it creates a fun community environment. From our participations, we immerse ourselves in learning activities and we develop a sense of pride because we can feed our families something that is full of great nutrition less the petro-chemicals.
There are more and more community gardens popping up over the years in Indianapolis. Growing Places Indy, run by Laura Henderson, is a non-profit organization committed to cultivating the “Culture” of food and urban agriculture in the Indianapolis marketplace. This garden is located in Downtown Indy at the White River state park. It is used for many different reasons including: to develop models for urban gardening, to engage community in Indy’s local food systems, and to grow leaders in the local food community. This garden is a great example of a central piece of land that was put to great use for community awareness and participation.
Dewey’s Sunshine Community Garden, located at 1025 N. Beville St. is another community garden that has been around for many years. This garden relies heavily on the younger generation to keep the seasonal vegetables and fruits growing and this teaches the kids about self- reliance and social justice.
I think that gardening can be a daunting task that can be intimidating. But cultivating a garden within a community can lead to many positive things in our lives that can carry on for many generations to come. And remember, at the end of the day, nothing tastes better than something fresh from Mother Earth that you have nurtured. We all need to feed our soul, why not do it one garden at a time!
Eat well • Be well • Live well