Indy Urban Acres: Growing Neighborhoods
A stone’s throw from an interstate, where loud semis and cars find their way in and out of the hustle and bustle of Indianapolis’ heart, is Indy Urban Acres. This eight-acre tract of organic farmland is conspicuously, yet unexpectedly, located on the eastside of Indianapolis on 21st Street.
It was founded in 2011 by the Indianapolis Parks Foundation with the goal of feeding low-income, food insecure Hoosiers with what most of us take for granted each day: healthy and fresh fruits and vegetables. This important mission is driven with the help of community-focused organizations like Gleaners Food Bank, Indy Parks, the Glick Fund and Foundation, IU Health and many others with huge hearts and understanding. And, of course, as at all farms, there would be no food without a farmer.
Indy Urban Acres’ farm manager is Muncie native Tyler Gouth. He was introduced to the world of feeding others when he was a young boy, by way of a community garden. The son and grandson of preachers, he can remember his dad tilling a piece of land behind his family’s church to use as a garden for parishioners. This childhood education blossomed into his current belief that we should take care of our own, and a large part of that is feeding healthy food to those who deserve it, no matter where they live or how much money they make.
The farm features row crops on the back of the land, along with a few chickens and bees, 70 fruit trees close to the front of the property and, in the very front alongside 21st Street, boxes filled with 24 varieties of fruits and vegetables. The boxes are open to community picking and feature signage on what everything is and how to grow it.
And while 24 varieties may seem like a lot for an eight-acre farm, it’s just a fraction of what’s been planted so far. Since the farm’s inception, Gouth, with the help of staff and over 100 volunteers and workers, has planted 43 varieties of fruits and vegetables.
“We plant everything in Indiana you can, from A to Z—artichoke to zucchini,” he said.
Gouth and his team harvest six days a week year round. During colder months, they grow crops like lettuce in a greenhouse located on site. All of the harvested food is donated to three local food pantries: The Bethel Food Pantry, Indianapolis Public School 14, which is taken to the school by Gleaners Food Bank, and Sharing Place. The farm uses surveys and visits the pantries regularly to determine what is most popular to grow.
The Bethel food pantry, the second-largest food pantry in Indianapolis, is walking distance to Indy Urban Acres so farm teams walk the food there. Gouth says they could always load the food onto trucks and drive it down the street, but his hope is by physically walking produce to the pantry local residents “can see how close the food is grown, they can see there’s somebody out there that cares about their situation and wants to change it.”
Indy Urban Acres also serves as an education center, reaching thousands of youth who tour the farm each year, particularly during summer months. They come from a wide variety of places, including schools, the Boys Scouts, Big Sisters and the YMCA. The front of the farm is their first stop.
“That’s where tours start. The bus pulls in, they get out [of] the bus and we can immediately talk about 24 varieties of things and kids can pull cherry tomatoes off right on the spot.”
The farm is particularly important for the education of inner city youth, said Gouth, because many have never been to a farm and don’t know where food comes from or what it looks like in its natural state. With this in mind, each child touring the farm receives a young farmer’s activity book, which features how-to tips from worms to composting, and a two-gallon non-biodegradable bag filled with dirt so they can grow green beans at home. Most importantly, groups are educated about hunger in their area.
“That’s the first thing we talk about: our mission. The fact that we have hungry children in our community … it’s mind-blowing to me and not acceptable. If we can come together as a community to fix that problem, it’s gonna get solved.”
Not only is the farm visited by area youth, teenagers assist on the farm for six weeks during the summer months. They come from TeenWorks, a nonprofit created and funded by the Glick Foundation. When Gouth was first approached about the idea he was skeptical, but the results have been nothing but positive. So far, over 50 teens have come to the farm over the last two summers to work six-week paid stints. They learn how to farm—each teen is assigned their own crop to supervise—and they gain valuable leadership and public speaking skills by sharing what they’ve learned about their crop with others.
While the farm is free for anyone to visit, some schools struggle to afford transportation costs. This burden has been somewhat lessened by IndyGo, Indianapolis’ public transit system, which last year piloted a program to bring groups to the farm for free. This year, the program will be expanded and IndyGo will offer 400 free bus passes for Indy Urban Acres to distribute.
As to whether more urban farms are on the horizon for the Indianapolis Parks Foundation, it recognizes the interest and need in the Indianapolis area and receives new ideas on a regular basis, according to Gouth. For now, Indy Urban Acres has set an exceptional example for future urban farms that feed surrounding, low-income residents. The message is strong and passionate when Gouth speaks for the farm and the community it serves.
“It’s not just getting them food, it’s a source of neighborhood pride and there are so many neighborhoods in Indianapolis that need that—that need something to be proud of, a way to give back and a way to help people.”