Laura Henderson's proximity to her food source is apparent as soon as you see her backyard, a thriving vegetable garden of squash, eggplant and other earthly delights. Not all of us can be so close to our produce, especially in the winter, and the Indianapolis Winter Farmers Market (IWFM), which opens Nov. 14 at the Chatham Center, is aiming to change that by bringing producers and consumers together in an environment where conscious eating and local produce reign supreme.
Henderson founded the IWFM in 2008. Inspired to action by a yoga training program and a desire to make Indianapolis a better place for herself and others, Henderson materialized her dream of providing local winter produce into a reality.
After shopping at farmers markets and other local distributors, Henderson quickly realized that local fruits and vegetables were not as readily available in the winter, even though farmers had winter produce they could sell.
Henderson is also concerned with the lack of connection between people and their produce.
"Food has become something that we do because we have to eat rather than something that we do because it's part of culture or tradition or, you know, the pleasure of socialization," says Henderson during an interview in her garden.
The IWFM is a grower/producer market, which means the farmers produce everything they are selling. During IWFM's first season last year, Henderson quickly found out that people were curious about where and how their food was being produced.
If you are looking for certified organic food, you might miss the fact that some farmers who grow beyond that standard are avoiding expenses and bureaucracy by not getting certified, she says. Unless we talk to the farmer, for example, it is hard for us to understand the difference between grass fed and corn fed beef.
"If we're going to make those choices to consume meat, then there is a whole range of how good that meat is for your health as well as responsibility to the environment in how it's raised and produced," says Henderson.
Stopping meat consumption is not Henderson's motivation. Nor is she trying to remove items that do not grow in Indiana from our dinner tables. Her main concern is the taste and variety of food we consume, and to bring awareness to our consumption habits. The by-product of being closer to our food sources is people who are healthier and more environmentally conscious.
"Regardless of whether science has proven whether organic or sustainably grown food is more nutrient dense or not, the taste is different... why would we continue to eat potatoes that have been treated with all kinds of chemicals from Iowa, or wherever, when we can eat delicious potatoes from Indiana?" says Henderson.
A longer season
Henderson's success with last year's market, which was supposed to last seven weeks but was open for five and a half months, spurred her to make this year's market more ambitious. This season, IWFM will be open for 24 weeks and they will have close to 60 vendors over the course of the season. Before settling on the Chatham Center location, WFM turned down offers for space by more than a dozen organizations and building owners.
The strategy, according to Henderson, necessitated a location that is appealing to consumers and vendors. The Chatham Center provides a fitting downtown location, and curious pedestrians will be able to see vendors and patrons through the large windows.
"If you say you're going to have a winter farmer's market and the options are less than impressive, you're not doing much for the local slow food movement," says Henderson.
In the spirit of promoting positive community ideals, this year's IWFM adopted steps to reduce waste and expand community involvement. Composting and recycling will be common themes at the market. Each week the WFM will reserve a table for a local business or restaurant. A community action table will feature local sustainability groups and non-profit organizations.
"If people are looking for things they might want to be involved in or didn't know were happenings in Indianapolis, they might be able to learn about these things," says Henderson.
Having enough food for last year's market came as a stroke of luck. The produce was primarily squash, potatoes, apples and root vegetables. Farmers grew a surplus of these winter storage crops. This year, according to Henderson, farmers planned ahead to supply the market, and vendors have been encouraging their peers to apply for participation.
Many Indiana crops are allowed to grow late into the season because of "season extensions" like green houses and other barriers that protect vegetables against winter. Meat, on the other hand, is frozen as soon as it is butchered. Beef, lamb, poultry and possibly duck will be found at WFM this year as well as fresh-roasted coffee, tea and prepared foods like soups and pies.
The human component
As the sun beats down on her garden, Henderson is as close to her food source as you can get. Having her food at her fingertips does not isolate her from the world, but rather, inspires her to share her way of life with others. She wants to give everyone the opportunity to shake the dirt-covered hand that planted their food.
"I hope that what we're starting to realize, both in the collapse of the economy and concerns about climate change, and more awareness of consumption, and air quality and water quality, is that that human component is really... crucial. And so, my hope is that we look at our growth and sustainable development for the future and that we look a little more at how we used to do things and bring that human component back in," says Henderson.
Editors note: Laura Henderson is involved in this year's Spirit and Place Festival. Among other events, she will participate in the in the event titled "Local Food Trends: Growing Community, Economy and Mutual Delight," taking place on the site of last year's WFM, 2442 N. Central Ave.