"If you spend $100 at a farmers' market, $62 goes back into the local economy, and $99 out of $100 stays in the state." To put that in perspective, if you shop at a grocery store, that number drops to $25 staying in state. Plus, have you ever eaten a fresh vegetable from a farmer's market? The difference is unbelievable. You've never tasted asparagus until you've had it from a local farm, merely days after it has been picked. While Indianapolis has an abundance of farmer's markets, one area is getting its first on May 7 and a group of local Hoosiers are bringing fresh produce to one of our state's many food deserts.
Garfield Park Farmer's Market is the brainchild of Julia Woody and Ashley Brooks. Both women are residents of Garfield Park, which was one of the many catalysts to their starting the market. "We had been hearing from neighbors about poor food access in the area, and with our connection to growers and the food community we decided a farmer's market would be a feasible and welcome addition to the Southeast side," says Woody. "We settled on Garfield Park because it's an underutilized treasure in our city, as well as a beautiful and welcoming setting for a market. This market also fills a geographic gap in Saturday markets in the city, as there's no others between Broad Ripple and Greenwood."
The two women behind the market are the perfect pair to spearhead such a project in the neighborhood. Besides residing there, they both have major ties to the food community. Both women have been on the Slow Food Indy board ("a not for profit promoting the values of 'Good, Clean, and Fair Food for All.'") Brooks, along with her husband Jonathan, owns the popular Fletcher Place eatery Milktooth and Woody managed a hydroponic farm as well as participating multiple local farmers markets. Woody continues, "We both share a passion for local food because it helps the local food economy, has positive environmental impacts, and it's fresher and tastes so much better."
For more than a year they have been working to get the market ready to go. From assembling an "advisory board consisting of neighbors, farmers, food producers, and local food advocates," to getting an impressive list of twenty vendors including Amelia's, Bee Coffee Roasters, and Wildflower Ridge Honey. They are one of the few "producer only" markets — meaning "every single one of our vendors is growing or producing the products they sell themselves" — and they went through an exhaustive system of where, "each vendor has gone through a fairly extensive approval process, and [they] are so proud to offer some of the best local foods available in the city right now."
This market is just as important for vendors as it is for the community. As Woody points out, "[Nearly] every dollar spent at a farmers market goes directly back into the local economy. Without the support vendors get at the farmers market, many of them would not be able to continue producing. It is vital that we all support farmer's markets for the future of our food system." She also, references how this market will positively affect the community by creating "a direct connection between farmers and consumers. This is so important in an era when people have lost touch with where their food comes from. People can come to this farmer's market and ask farmers questions about how their food was raised, and get straight answers back."
An added aspect, to help out the community members of Garfield Park and the surrounding areas who are food insecure, is this market will be accepting SNAP. Julia, Ashley, and the rest of the board see it as an important step for the market to "help income eligible families have fresh local foods to eat." I couldn't agree more. In an era where, for the first time in history, people are obese and also malnourished (due to eating fattening, processed foods with no nutritional value), the importance of all Americans to have access to healthy food has never been at a higher point. Not only are they accepting SNAP, but they have taken it a few steps further. "The most exciting part of this is that we are also participating in the Fresh Bucks program, which is a local initiative that doubles an individual's SNAP dollars (up to $20 per week) to buy fresh produce at the market. We are also working with a local food pantry to use some gleaned products and potentially offer cooking classes."
This market is an incredibly positive step for Garfield Park, an area the USDA considers a moderate food desert, but one that is surrounded by major food deserts. It is in line with the recent steps taken by another group based in the neighborhood, Big Car. Big Car is also helping in a few ways with the market including with marketing and they will be present at a few of the markets with the Wagon of Wonders. The collaboration with Big Car is just one facet of the neighborhood coming together to make this market happen, and I think this is the most important aspect of this venture and a lesson for similar neighborhoods to take away.
This isn't just the work of two women. Yes, their knowledge, connections, and drive have facilitated in bringing this dream to fruition, but it has been a neighborhood effort. In Julia's own words, "The neighborhood has been hugely supportive of this market! We have had hundreds of people respond with their excitement and eagerness to help. This market is really a community effort, and we couldn't do it without the support of the Garfield Park Neighbors Association." From volunteering and helping sell out their fundraiser at Milktooth (which raised nearly half of their operating budget for the season), to simply backing them up through encouragement, the neighborhood has come together to see the importance of this project.
This isn't the first neighborhood farmers market in the city, it surely won't be the last, but it definitely is a testament to what can happen when the people of a neighborhood come together to work on something necessary, something good. It's a story we can all learn from and use in our own lives, in our own neighborhoods. It shows us how we can all take steps to make Indianapolis a better, more communal and collaborative city, one neighborhood at a time.
The Garfield Park Farmer's Market begins Saturday, May 7 at the corner of Shelby Street and E. Southern Avenue. It will be open every Saturday morning from 9 a.m. - 12:30 p.m. For more info on the market, a full listing of all of the vendors, and to sign up to volunteer go to garfieldparkfarmersmarket.com.