Planting season is underway at city gardens around Indianapolis and so is the effort to provide more people with fresh produce.
At Fall Creek Gardens, on Indy’s near north side, some early spring crops are already peeking through the soil of the raised beds.
"One of my gardeners got started really early and he has a bunch of cabbage and it looks like broccoli, and I know he left this for his kids to plant," explains Maggie Goeglin Hanna, executive director of the gardens.
A few years ago, this corner lot at 30th Street and Central Avenue was vacant, the site of a former dry cleaners and the soil was contaminated.
"This is an important thing for people to know, that a lot of times the long human history on the land means there might be something that's actually not healthy to be gardening in," says Goeglin Hanna.
The Unleavened Bread Café next door serves as a kind of unofficial office for the gardens. Owner Elease Womack has her own plot for vegetables and herbs and rain from the café’s roof drains into a cistern. When people want information about the garden, they come inside and ask.
"They always come in here and want to find out what they can learn about the garden," says Womack, "they want to find out about the classes she's having."
The project started in 2012, after residents of the Mapleton Fall Creek neighborhood said they wanted a community garden.
"Gardening came up over and over again as something people were actively engaged in and wanted to learn more about," explains Goeglin Hanna.
Now in its third season, it has taken time for people in this neighborhood to understand that a community garden is not a free garden. After fruit and veggies kept getting stolen, gardeners had to decide whether to build a fence.
"We voted on it and they said 'no, we want it to be a place that looks like you can come and visit' and we expected there to be some stuff that disappeared and we're o.k. with that," says Goeglin Hanna.
This cooperative helps address a lack of food access that faces more than a third of Marion county residents. People living in so-called food deserts have an especially hard time getting ahold of fresh produce if they don't have a car.
"How much would you like to go and do your week's worth of grocery shopping and then carry it all on a bus, with or without little kids or if you're older and can't haul a bunch of bags," says Goeglin Hanna, "it's really important in the city to have accessible, fresh food nearby."
Tedd Grain with the Local Initiatives Support Corporation (LISC) says the garden provides a catalyst for neighborhood development.
"If you create great places that have access to great food, good jobs and a sense of pride and place which comes sometime from a community garden," says Grain, "those places can thrive and the people there can thrive too."
LISC helped organize the Indy Food Council, a relatively new public/private partnership working to connect people with healthy food while creating other opportunities like employment.
Awarding grants for the first time last year, the Indy Food Council’s fund helped support eleven local food projects, including the teaching garden at Fall Creek.
But building gardens, setting up farmers markets and opening healthy food stores is only the first step. Grain says there also needs to be a focus on educating people about what to do with fresh produce.
"We've kind of lost our knowledge of how to prepare food and we've also lost the ability within our lives to take the time to prepare food and have that be a part of our daily lives," says Grain.
Recently, the City of Indianapolis’s Office of Sustainability announced another $45,000 allocated for future food access ideas. The Indy Food Fund money is awarded yearly to collaborative, innovative projects that increase the amount of and demand for locally grown food.