Youth planting Flanner House’s urban garden to help address food desert

INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. – An area on the near northwest side is one of, if not the, largest food deserts in the city. This summer, an urban garden is becoming part of the solution to bringing healthy food choices to the area.

Youth, between the ages of 16 and 24, began planting in the nearly two-acre garden this week as part of the Flanner House's FEED program. It stands for farming, education, employment, and distribution.

“I like to call our farm the living classroom," said the Flanner House director of food justice, Sibeko Jywanza. "It’s pretty much a space where you can experiment on how to grow different things."

A few years ago, the Double 8 Foods store closed just a few blocks away. Now residents around the Flanner House have to travel some of the furthest distances to get produce, and many can't even afford the asking price.

“There’s 2.5 miles to the nearest grocery, with a car, that’s one thing, if you’re disabled, don’t have a vehicle, if it’s in the dead of winter, that can be an issue," Jywanza said.

The urban garden can change that. So far, kale and collard greens are in the ground. The more than a dozen young people in the FEED program spent most of Wednesday pulling weeds and clearing space for more seeds to go in the ground.

“I feel like growing them is better than getting them from the store," said Toniese Williams, a young gardener in the FEED program.

Soon, the farm will also have tomatoes, peppers, watermelons and cantaloupes.

Williams and other students will continue working at the farm through the end of June. Many already want to use their new skill to grow at home.

“I’m trying to do it so we make less trips to the grocery store, save some money, and just eat healthier," Aaron Burris said.

Later this summer, the Flanner House will open Cleo's Bodega, named after the organization's former executive director, Cleo Blackburn.

A bodega is a small food shop that can be spotted on many corners in larger U.S. cities.

It's received a $400,000 grant from the city to help provide healthier options in the neighborhood.

"They have a small corner shop where you can get sandwiches, fresh fruits and vegetables and something to drink," said Jywanza. "Using that model instead of the big store, being placed in the neighborhood, having these small bodegas on every other corner and have people grow their own food and being able to sell it out would be a sustainable model for this neighborhood."