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Tuesday, December 5, 2023

Lead pilot program gives CAFE Indy a new greenspace

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A lead testing program on the far east side will help reduce neighborhood risk of lead exposure for residents and bring a new greenspace to the corner of 38th Street and Post Road providing residents with new sidewalk paths and a community garden.

Thanks to a $10,000 grant from the CareSource Foundation, Keep Indianapolis Beautiful (KIB) and IUPUI will create the Far Eastside Orchard Green Space, 8902 E. 38th St., which will be safe from lead, a problem plaguing many residents on the east side.

According to research conducted by IUPUI professor Gabriel Filippelli, the far east side — much like most of Marion County — shows increased soil lead levels.

“Exposure to environmental contaminants severely impacts brain development of children in many neighborhoods, and this impact is seen disproportionately in lower income communities of color,” Filippelli said.

The project to convert the empty field began in fall 2021 and will continue into the summer, said KIB President and CEO Jeremy Kranowitz. Over time, soil samples will be taken to see if the lead level decreases.

“Our pilot will be testing the hypothesis that the intentional creation of urban green spaces in formerly abandoned or vacant lots will reduce the amount of available lead in the environment,” Kranowitz, said. “Should this pilot project show a demonstrable positive impact, future additional sites will be selected based on priority sites for KIB interventional work.”

The greenspace will eventually have full-grown fruit bearing trees such as pawpaw, persimmon and apples — something community members expressed interest in bringing to their neighborhood, Kranowitz said.

The trees will take three to five years before they produce fruit. Once they do, community members will be able to pick fresh fruits directly from the trees to eat, Cheria Caldwell, vice president of communications for CAFE Indy, said. Basil, cilantro, strawberries and other herbs, fruits and vegetables are growing in the garden now. The garden, Caldwell said, will be able to show community members that they, too, can grow food.

“Obviously these garden beds are not going to feed a ton of people, but it’s going to teach people that they have the ability to have their own garden beds to grow their own fresh produce in their backyard, on their front porch, wherever.” Caldwell said.

Having educational opportunities and a sense of newness will hopefully spark inspiration in community members and let them know that people do care, and things can be done, Caldwell said.

Greenspaces also improve physical and mental health by promoting psychological relaxation, alleviate stress and support physical activity, Kranowitz and Caldwell agree. As an east side resident and community advocate, Caldwell said, people enjoy seeing new things like the greenspace happen because it lets them know that their community matters.

“It’s tough to be in a neighborhood where you see businesses closing, schools closing. And you wonder, what’s going to happen to my neighborhood eventually?” Caldwell said. “So seeing these pockets of prosperity helps to shape some of that negative energy that might creep in.”

Contact staff writer Jayden Kennett at 317-762-7847 or email at jaydenk@indyrecorder.com. Follow her on Twitter @JournoJay.

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