A Jewel in the City: South Circle Farm Models Urban Agriculture
Driving north on Indy's central artery just past Raymond Street, your first glimpse of South Circle Farm is a gleaming white fence enclosing tidy beds loaded with greenery. Trucks rumble by; the jangly song of an ice cream truck vies with birdcalls. But if you venture through the gate, your ears can tune to milder sounds: the humming of bees, the clucking of hens.
South Circle Farm is an organic agricultural enterprise in an unlikely spot, situated on Meridian Street just two miles south of downtown. Bordered by a metal scrapyard and a plastic collection facility, it is a jewel of a farm. Here grow innumerable veggies, from arugula to zucchini, as well as blackberries, strawberries and herbs. The entire ¾-acre growing area is covered with a 24-inch layer of woodchips atop the lot's lead-tainted dirt – a tactic that prevents lead and other contaminants from reaching the produce. Above this slowly decomposing base, food grows in deep topsoil brought in from a south side farm.
The residents of three beehives alight on cucumber and buckwheat blossoms. Young fruit trees and shade trees form a green screen in a previously untended corner. Hens scratch in a handmade pen whose salient feature is its large wheels, repurposed from a thrift store wheelchair.
Presiding over it all is Amy Matthews, a quiet young woman with a vision. She started with a blank canvas and built a working farm unique in its many partnerships. A neighborhood center exposes youngsters to gardening in four wooden raised beds. Keep Indianapolis Beautiful, People for Urban Progress, and Cameron Morris Furniture have also joined forces with Matthews to plant trees, build a shade pavilion from RCA Dome roof fabric and create a one-of-akind outdoor table for events.
Matthews rents the land from a nonprofit community organization. It's an arrangement that suits her well: She'd worked on farms in Montana, Chicago and Cleveland, and wanted to bring her expertise back to her hometown, where the local food movement was just emerging.
"I was excited to take on my own farming enterprise and did not feel ready for the financial burden of it," she explains.
What she was ready for was the freedom that comes with starting from scratch. "It was all pretty much a blank slate. . . . It's been fun to populate it," she says.
Matthews also offers CSA subscriptions and a half dozen of her subscribers work the farm alongside her each week. She's close to compost maker Greencycle, so she's able to supplement from a convenient source. And not only does she live within biking distance, she sells at Stadium Village Market, just a mile away. Matthews likes the fact that many of her customers drive right by South Circle Farm en route to the market, so they connect a farm with their produce.
A half dozen customers work the farm alongside her each week. "They get to make farming part of their daily routine in the city, and I get to benefit from their work in exchange for produce. That's harder to do if the farm is farther away," she says.
She's far from finished with the building phase. She envisions the fence line graced with wildflowers and raspberries, the produce plots expanded all the way to the Bluff Avenue side. Future plans include a major rainwater catchment system, and she'd like to have a worm composting setup.
Above all, she sees her work as a vital piece of the developing urban farming movement, part of an emerging "patchwork of farms" in Marion County. "If Indianapolis had 10 two-acre farms spread across each township, that would provide incredible opportunities to eat better, for education and just for quality of life in our city."
Here at South Circle Farm, there's an excellent model for just that.