There was a collective sigh of relief Wednesday at Fruit Loop Acres after city officials toured the facility on North Hamilton Avenue.
The tour was the follow-up to a weed violation letter the Department of Code Enforcement had sent to property owners Kay Grimm and Sue Spicer last month. After two re-scheduled dates (one because DCE needed a Public Information Officer to talk to people like me and the second because of severe thunderstorms in the area), a large group of officials representing various aspects of the city descended on Fruit Loop Acres to learn more about the permaculture urban farm.
Slideshow: Fruit Loop Acres Update
Officials from Code Enforcement and the Office of Sustainability toured Fruit Loop Acres to get a feel for how their permaculture farm operates.
Present from the Department of Code Enforcement were Property Safety and Maintenance Services Supervisor Toby Thompson, Environmental Services Administrator Jennifer Schick, and Public Information Officer Adam Baker. The entourage also included Senior Ecologist Brenda Howard from the Department of Public Works and two liaisons from the Mayor’s office. All were present to learn more about the property to determine what, if any, action is warranted.
“The Department of Code Enforcement conducted over 20,000 inspections last year,” said Baker. The inspections are in accordance with the high weeds and grass provision of the Environmental Public Nuisance Ordinance for the city. “Some of those inspections are proactive where we go out and actively inspect areas we find while others are complaint-driven.”
The letter and resulting tour at Fruit Loop Acres was initiated by a complaint.
“However, our goal [in the Department of Code Enforcement] is to work with property owners,” explained Baker. “We want a positive outcome.”
The tour through the property took over an hour. It was quickly realized that Fruit Loop Acres is more than just a permaculture (which stands for permanent agriculture) farm, but an arboretum, a museum of Indiana plant life, a plan for neighborhood revitalization, an art gallery and a way of life for Grimm and Spicer.
The tour began with a short presentation on when Grimm obtained the property and how she expanded over 20 years. Spicer then presented their neighborhood development plan titled, “Green Picket Fences,” detailing six areas, or principles, of sustainability. Their vision is to have a neighborhood where everything from food to home energy to recreation is completely natural and self-sufficient. They stressed the need for revitalization on Hamilton Avenue and surrounding streets. (In 2006, just two blocks down from Fruit Loop Acres, eleven people were murdered in a home, including three young children.) Grimm noted that the area is prime for people who might want to try their hand at green urban living because of the availability of property (there are numerous abandoned homes in the area) and the low cost of real estate.
From there, Grimm led the group through the property, explaining every plant by name (both scientific and common), from where it was obtained (many plants are the result of cuttings taken from other properties around the city), and its function in their groomed ecosystem. “Everything here is as God created it,” said Grimm. The property showed some damage from recent storms, with some downed trees and limbs. But, Grimm explained how she was using part of a fallen pine tree to change the ph levels in one area to create soil that would be more conducive for other types of plant life. “The more native you go, the better things will survive climatic changes,” said Grimm.
Spicer took time to explain some of the “holistic” aspects of their home, including the Native American sweat hut that is constructed in a back corner of the lot. “This is how we pray,” she explained, also joking about how they use synthetic tarps to insulate the hut instead of authentic buffalo skins because of the cost.
By the end of the tour, officials were overwhelmed with the details of the property along with the handfuls of fresh black raspberries they were given as parting gifts. “We will meet to discuss what we have seen here today and figure out what, if anything, needs to be done to be in compliance with the city,” said Thompson.
“This truly is an atypical situation,” said Baker towards the end of the tour. “And there is a caveat at the bottom of the notification letter that states the property owner can call us if they have any issues or appeals to the notice. The ladies here did exactly the right thing by contacting us, talking with an administrator and ultimately setting up this tour so we could learn more about it.”
Baker explained that the purpose of the high weed and grass ordinance was to encourage owners to take care of their properties and that overall, the enforcement program has been very successful. “It’s not just about aesthetics,” added Baker. “High weeds and grass are known to cover up illegal activity as well as attract and provide shelter for pests and vermin.”
With a bit of relief that the carefully crafted ecosystem they have worked so hard to create was no longer in jeopardy, Spicer and Grimm took the opportunity to also give some unsolicited advice to Code Enforcement officials.
“There has to be a way to ‘stop the terror’ for residents who receive that letter for the first time,” said Spicer. She gave a hypothetical example of an elderly woman who no longer has a caretaker for her yard or urban farm and is suddenly faced with the code enforcement letter and panics on what to do. “Maybe there could be levels of violations or notifications or something,” said Spicer. “There has to be a way to not scare and punish first time people.”