Cultivating Urban Ag

What is “Fair Food”?

This time of year we tend to think of corn dogs, elephant ears, funnel cakes – really, just about anything you could possibly deep fry, then eat while walking around enjoying the Indiana State Fair. Fair food is a bona-fide Indiana food tradition.

But what is “fair food” the remaining fifty weeks of the year? What makes food fair? Is it affordable food? Is it food you can get to easily? Is it high-quality, nutritious food grown by safe, sustainable methods? Is it food you know how to cook and share with your family and friends?

Fair food is all of those things. But what if you live in an area where the available food is none of those things? In cities across the nation, including Indianapolis, millions of Americans live in “food deserts,” entire communities where there is no access to affordable, fresh, high-quality food.

Even if you live an urban area where you do have access to a variety of foods – say, at a local supermarket – do you really know where that food came from? Do you know who raised it or how it was grown? Do the proceeds of your purchase go back into your community, or do they go into a corporate bank account thousands of miles away?

Growing Places Indy is a local non-profit organization tackling the issue of fair food head-on by cultivating a culture of urban agriculture in the heart of Indianapolis. They farm on five urban micro-farms at unique locations around the city. The produce from these farms is available to local residents through affordable CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) Veggie Shares, the Summer Farm Stand at the Chase Near Eastside Legacy Center, and many local restaurants. They also donate a portion of what they grow to cooking classes at the Chase Near Eastside Legacy Center, Second Helpings, and the Indy Hunger Network Glean Team.

And they do it all on urban land totaling not quite one acre.

Growing Places Indy

Kate Franzman, the Growing Places Indy farmer who manages the Farm U-Pick and Farm Stand at the Chase Near Eastside Legacy Center, puts the organization’s fair food goals into tangible terms:

“I think Growing Places embodies “fair food” in that we try to make fresh produce very accessible by offering it in the middle of a food desert…within a certain amount of walking distance there is access to fresh fruits and vegetables …we’re trying to provide something in a different setting that people can come and also learn about how to grow and pick and store and cook with the fruits and vegetables that they get here.”

In addition to the farm at the Chase Near Eastside Legacy Center, you’ll find Growing Places Indy farming at the Slow Food Garden at White River State Park, and at the Slow Food Garden at Cottage Home. Two additional locations represent exciting and innovative farming practices. The Public Greens Micro-Farm on the Monon Trail supplies produce to the attached Public Greens Restaurant, where all profits support the Patachou Foundation, providing nutritious after school meals to at-risk and food-insecure children in Indianapolis. The Eskanazi Health Sky Farm at the Sidney & Lois Eskenazi Hospital is a rooftop garden that is open to hospital patients, staff and the community. In addition to providing produce to the hospital food service, the garden provides education emphasizing the relationship between food and health.

Visit the Growing Places Indy website and you’ll discover their urban agriculture and wellness programs don’t just put food in empty stomachs; they also feed minds. They open up new possibilities and opportunities for everyone who is interested in fair food and the role of individual wellness in the overall health of an entire community. They do this through an impressive array of education and outreach programs for both youth and adults, including volunteer and apprentice opportunities, cooking and nutrition classes, yoga and meditation classes, and much more. They also manage the Indy Winter Farmers Market (which, by the way, accepts SNAP Benefits), making good, fresh, local foods available to everyone in Indianapolis year round.

Thanks to Growing Places Indy, whenever you see a vacant lot that would be perfect for a neighborhood garden, or admire a thriving vegetable patch in a neighbor’s yard, or visit a local farmer’s market, you may think about how the rise of urban agriculture is affecting the availability of good, safe, nutritious food in our community, how it binds us together, and how it nurtures our health, local economy, and our environment.

That, my friends, is “Fair Food.”

About the Author
Lorrie Wehr is an Indianapolis writer and sometimes-artist who believes sharing good food is the key to a good life.

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