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Monday, May 27, 2024

Growing Places Indy ushers spring into the circle city

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As the weather warms and the trees bloom, community gardens around central Indiana begin their annual task of preparing their spaces for their upcoming planting season.

Growing Places Indy (GPI) is one such cultivator, owning and operating two of the city’s most well-known community gardens – one in White River State Park, the other at the Boner Fitness and Learning Center.

An Indianapolis-based nonprofit, Growing Places Indy cultivates wellness through their central ideas of growing well, eating well, living well, and being well. Through their initiatives, events, farmers markets and other projects around the city, their team seeks to cultivate wellness through agriculture and mind-body education.

“Growing Places is not just about giving the community access to food, it’s about building a community and creating shared spaces. It’s about more intangible things than just produce,” said Nick Schwaberow, director of farm operations.

Both Growing Places Indy farm locations provide spaces for the community to take part in learning activities and growing their own food. They also offer produce to the public. Through the “grow getters” program, local community members can apply to lend 12 hours of their time from April-December to participate in the planting process. The program features activities such as classroom lessons with guest experts, field trips and hands-on work throughout the growing season.

“The volunteers start the seeds, they transplant them, they take care of the gardens. We are just here to give them direction,” said Schwaberow.

Growing Places’ hub is located at their Boner Fitness and Learning Center (BFLC) Garden, which features in-ground planting, raised beds, and two 1,000 square-foot greenhouses. In partnership with The Boner Center and Arsenal Tech, these greenhouses serve as a seedling starter area and home of their hydroponic lettuce, both of which are sold to the public and at local schools in early spring.

Starting their work at BFLC in 2010, GPI expanded their center to feature 2,500 square feet of herbs, flowers and roots, and 13,000 square feet of direct planting area. In the summer months, this space hosts the Indy Summer Farmers Market every Saturday from May to October where consumers can purchase fresh vegetables at a lower cost.

Aside from their main hub, Growing Places Indy’s White River State Park location is a u-pick garden containing a diverse array of crops such as collards, melons, summer squash, okra and more. Patrons are encouraged to walk carefully through their gardens and harvest the produce using their own tools and bags.

The summer also ushers in the beginning of several other programs hosted by GPI such as the Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) program, the Growing Community Practitioner Program, several farm stands, and Move & Groove classes to encourage healthy living alongside healthy eating.

The CSA program consists of a 20-week long membership that provides each member with a box of fresh produce items. The contents can range from week to week, but will typically include vegetables, herbs and plant starts. Supporting small-scale farmers, the upfront $300 fee goes directly to supporting and minimizing risks for farmers and strengthening local food systems.

In addition to the CSA program, Growing Places also offers a paid practitioner training program that intends to expand city-based food production and increase access to food in Indianapolis. Seeking participants who are passionate about ending food apartheids and cultivating food justice and equity, the program seeks to connect individuals to the agricultural workforce to form meaningful connections to complete their goals. The program is a part-time course running from April to December and pays $20 per hour for those who have been selected.

In the off season, Growing Places Indy operates the Indy Winter Farmers Market every Saturday from 9 a.m-12:30 p.m. at The AMP Marketplace at 16 Tech. The winter market runs from early November until April 27, and sees more than 20,000 visitors each growing season. With nearly 90 vendors registered, their market is one of the largest of its kind, and features events such as weekly walking groups and Spanish and English language practice.

“[The Indy Winter Farmer’s Market] has given me great exposure for my business. It’s given me more brand recognition and a place for customers to come back to,” said Randi Alexander, owner of Naima Naturals, a plant-based skin and body care company that has been a vendor at the market for three seasons.

For those looking to snag their own garden and do some planting, plots are available to purchase for the upcoming season. If you’re local, a $100 fee will provide you with access to your own 4.5×10 foot raised garden bed, water, gardening tools, a selection of seeds and seedlings, on-site support from the farm team, and seasonal workshops/community gatherings.

“It’s definitely a team effort,” said Schwaberow.

For more information about their many programs and community gardens visit www.growingplacesindy.com to learn more about Growing Places. For a list of community gardens throughout the city, visit indy.gov to find one near you.

Contact Staff Writer Hanna Rauworth at 317.762.7854 or follow her at @hanna.rauworth 

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