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Growing Places Indy cultivates wellness 

click to enlarge Apprentices and volunteers putting up stakes to all the plants to be - trellised with string, as well as straw to moisturize the crops. - STEPHANIE DUNCAN
  • Apprentices and volunteers putting up stakes to all the plants to be trellised with string, as well as straw to moisturize the crops.
  • Stephanie Duncan


In line with its goal to help residents "grow well, eat well, live well, and be well," Growing Places Indy, a local urban farming non-profit, has launched a series of initiatives to enrich whole-person health.

The group's "full-circle vision for healthier communities" is well illustrated by a series of interconnected efforts underway this summer. A volunteer-powered garden at White River State Park supplies a food stand held from 4-6 p.m. Thursdays at Chase Near Eastside Legacy Center on the Tech High School campus, and a donation-based yoga class subsidizes purchases for low-income food stand shoppers.

In addition, to these activities, Growing Places Indy is hosting a weekly discussion on food-related issues from 1-2 p.m. on Wednesdays, through Aug. 7, at the Platform at City Market. And the group's cooking classes and apprentice program are booked for the season.

By facilitating the development and growth of the local food and farm network, the group is working to realize its vision of "a sustainable future for urban and farm land ecology, a burgeoning local food economy, and a vibrant and diverse food culture in Indianapolis."

Laura and Tyler Henderson, who are, respectively, the executive director and farm manager of the Growing Places Indy, were involved in Slow Food Indy before branching into their own organization. They had planted urban gardens for R Bistro, Goose the Market, Indiana Humanities, and Black Market before Bob Whitt, executive director of White River State Park, in 2009 asked the Hendersons to develop a garden for the park, now known as the Wishard Slow Food Garden at White River State Park.

The group is also the agricultural programming partner at the Chase Near Eastside Legacy Center where they manage a 1,000-square-foot greenhouse and 2,500 square feet of raised beds. In addition to the farm stand, Growing Places Indy offers a community supported agriculture program, which supplies seasonal subscribers with weekly deliveries of fresh produce - all grown without chemical fertilizers or pesticides.

"We don't have a food culture; we need to reclaim it," Tyler said as he hosted volunteers and apprentices at the White River garden on a recent Wednesday afternoon.

The gardening experience grows produce, along with greater food awareness and mental well-being for the people engaged in the process. Apprentices in the program span generations, though this year's crop has heavy participation from people in their mid-20s.

The apprenticeship is a "wellness boot camp," said Kate, who left her 9-to-5 job and is a part-time freelance writer.

She explained that the experience has led her to consider "how we communicate with each other" and reflect on the ways "things we learn on the farm apply in the real world."

Apprentice Jay also picked up on this theme, noting that working with people on the farm leads to more intimate relationships with others in the community, like "building a family."

The garden supports intentional education for Growing Places Indy's labor force; it also provides serendipitous experiences for people visiting White River State Park, such as William, a child who came running up while volunteers were working last week and was excited to eat a carrot he picked all by himself.

Stretching dollars and bodies

click to enlarge Yoga at the Chase Near East Side Legacy Center - STEPHANIE DUNCAN
  • Yoga at the Chase Near East Side Legacy Center
  • Stephanie Duncan
In a separate but related effort to increase community wellness, Growing Places Indy also works to cultivate connections at the Chase Near Eastside Legacy Center's yoga studio.

On Thursdays from 4-5 p.m., the group hosts donation-based classes taught by a rotating lineup of teachers from studios around the city.

Laura Henderson, who also teaches yoga in addition to shepherding the development of Growing Places Indy, explained that the practice offers a "tool for understanding health on a personal [level] and sustainability as concept." It grants people time for "mindfulness," allowing for "understanding ourselves and sustaining ourselves."

And, Tyler Henderson noted, yoga could be an especially useful tool for farmers because farming is "really labor intensive." Stretching is good, he said, "because [farming] can be quite taxing on the body."

Each class is taught by a new teacher with the intention that students will be inspired to try classes around the city, following instructors they like back to their home studios.

The lessons are free, but donations are accepted and used to help support a food stamp matching program at Growing Places Indy's Legacy Center food stand. The program matches a customer's food stamps purchases up to $6 per week, enabling households that may not otherwise be able to pay for fresh produce greater access to the bounty of the White River garden's harvest.

The effort, Laura Henderson explained, fits with the Growing Places Indy's idea that economic barriers should not prevent access to good, healthy food. The group plans to expand the garden and add "u-pick options" to the Legacy Center operation, which would enable less expensive produce options for people willing to save labor costs by harvesting their own purchases.

Know thy salad

click to enlarge Green Vegetables at the Wishard Slow Food Garden at the White River State Park. - STEPHANIE DUNCAN
  • Green Vegetables at the Wishard Slow Food Garden at the White River State Park.
  • Stephanie Duncan


Growing Places Indy also provides knowledge about the connections between food and wellness to the city's children. In the spring of this year, the non-profit hosted an after school program with fourth graders, beginning each session with yoga to burn excess energy and focus the kids' intentions, and then working on planting projects.

To familiarize the kids with the local vegetables, the class would "try something new every week - and everyone tried it," Laura said. "The last week they ate a salad they made from the plants they grew ... every single one them ate the salad." The children in the program and those who come to the gardens get "excited when they get a treat from the garden," she added.

A grant from the Indy Food Fund will also enable Growing Places Indy to host a summer camp for middle school children.

Tyler Henderson finds he is as enriched by the experience of sharing his agricultural knowledge as those with whom he shares it" Training youth and those who care about their food is great for me," he said.

David Gurecki, an intern at the NUVO news desk, studies psychology at IUPUI.
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