Food insecurity affects families in every nook and corner of Indiana. Digging deeper, 2 of 10 families in 38 of the state’s 92 counties say they have no idea when their next meal will be or where it will come from, affecting more than 300,000 children alone.
These are some of the findings of a study released earlier this month by Feeding Indiana’s Hungry, a state food bank association. Since 2005, the association has been part of Feeding America, which monitors food availability across all 50 states at the county and congressional district level.
Access to food that’s affordable, fresh and locally grown varies throughout Indiana. In Hamilton County, one of the state’s most affluent areas, 8.8 percent of the nearly 310,000 residents struggle with this on a consistent basis. Contrast that to Marion County, where 18.3 percent of the nearly 866,000 residents say they can’t provide food consistently for themselves or their families.
Urban farming and local farmers markets are making a huge difference, though, by helping people learn about where food comes from–how it’s grown and delivered–where and when certain foods are available, and how to make healthy and affordable food choices.
More connections are being made between local growers and the people they want to connect to and need to help—their neighbors. Among these are 11 Indiana food pantries that are part of the growing Feeding America initiative. Urban farming– whether as block-wide community gardens, rooftop gardens and even kitchen countertops– creates gardens and farms within cities and partnerd with local organizations to serve those in need. The farm-to-fork movement also is gaining momentum in Central Indiana.
One urban farm, Farm 360, was established in Indianapolis in 2015 by former prison chaplain and staffing company owner Jim Bloom. Located at 201 S. Rural St. on the city’s east side, Farm 360 hires people who’ve been incarcerated and have difficulty finding work. Working in partnership with Englewood CDC, a neighborhood redevelopment corporation, the farm sells food to Indianapolis restaurants and a large area retailer.
Growing Places Indy is a non-profit organization with the mantra, “Grow Well, Eat Well, Live Well, Be Well.” It consists of three different urban farms, one of which is at the Boner Fitness and Learning Center at 727 N. Oriental St., where anyone can pick their own produce on Thursdays from 4-7 p.m. Growing Places Indy serves fresh produce to 40 Indianapolis restaurants and is a partner in the Indy Winter Farmers Market.
Then there’s Patachou Foundation, whose mission is to feed the hungry and young children. Established in 2013 by Martha Hoover, it provides healthy, nutritious after-school meals and summer meals to children in the greater Indianapolis area. Meals are accompanied by lessons for children on basic nutrition, dining etiquette, how food impacts health, and more. Public Greens Urban Kitchen, located at 900 E. 64th St. in Broad Ripple, is the foundation’s restaurant. It is located on a block-long section of land planted with crops and edible flowers that are used in the restaurant and in the Patachou Foundation feeding program.
Finally, Indy Urban Acres, a project of the Indianapolis Parks Foundation, has served the food-insecure population of Indianapolis since 2011 through four organic farms, used to empower and educate people by providing access to free, high-quality produce.
An additional benefit of supporting farmers markets and urban farms is an economic one. According to the Hoosier Farmers Market Association, when someone goes in to an area Wal-Mart, SuperTarget or Kroger, just 22 cents of every dollar benefits the local economy. But when families buy fresh food from a local farmers market, nearly 70 cents of every dollar directly benefits the local economy.
There are more than 150 farmers markets throughout the state. Click here for a complete list.