Creative Solutions to Reverse Indianapolis' Healthy Food Accessibility Trends

Progress report for FNC20-1245

Project Type: Farmer/Rancher
Funds awarded in 2020: $23,648.00
Projected End Date: 01/31/2022
Grant Recipient: The Elephant Gardens
Region: North Central
State: Indiana
Project Coordinator:
Joyce Randolph
The Elephant Gardens
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Project Information

Description of operation:

The Elephant Gardens is a family-owned urban farm, led by Joyce Randolph and Vivian Muhammad and consisting of two 1/4 acre lots located in the heart of one of Indianapolis' food deserts. The Elephant Garden provides healthy organic vegetables, some fruits, herbs, and other healthy foods items for the community. What is grown in the garden is grown in ways that nurture and cultivate the earth with the intent of creating sustainable methods of farming which foster Love, respect and a sense of duty towards our Earth. The Elephant Gardens has established a 4-H club called Tomorrowland's Children (TLC) whereby the Junior Master Gardener curriculum is taught during a 6-week summer program for youth ages 9-12. Last year, Joyce and Vivian founded the Black Independent Growers (BIG) organization for the purpose of supporting the local Black farmer and providing avenues by which to sell their produce. To further this purpose and to bring healthy produce options to the areas in most need, the Elephant Gardens, in partnership with BIG members, the Indianapolis Urban League, and two local churches, sponsored two monthly Farmers' Markets wherein Fresh Bucks and EBT were accepted. The Elephant Gardens also provided fresh produce to the Community Health Network pantry and staged a weekly farmers market inside the Community East Hospital. Along with other BIG members, the EG provided produce to fill 1000 produce bags which were given to attendees of the Urban League's national community day event.

Selina Tillman of Prosperity Healing Gardens is the owner of approximately 1/8 acre urban garden located very near the Elephant Gardens. Prosperity Healing Gardens adopted its name due to the scarcity of healthy food in the surrounding area which has lead to many food-related chronic disease issues. A BIG member and 4H volunteer, Selina's goal is to restore, health, hope, and beautification to this area by way of growing organic produce, medicinal flowers and herbs, and hosting educational workshops.

Chuck and Sandy Dailey are the Coordinators and farm managers for the Harvest House Community Center and the 2.5-acre farm and 10-hive apiary located on the grounds of St. Peter's Episcopal Church. Chuck is a master beekeeper and Sandy has been certified to teach and train adult volunteers in the Junior Master Gardener Curriculum. Along with harvesting honey, a variety of vegetable crops, herbs, and medicinal flowers are grown on the St. Peter campus. The Daileys also make value-added products by canning and freeze-drying produce.

Summary:

The food accessibility in Indianapolis is worsening and the chronic health issues that are part and parcel to food deserts are also on the increase. Within the African American community, the statistics relating to both issues are comparatively worse than among White and Hispanic populations. Inasmuch as the Elephant Gardens is located within a designated food desert, we are in a unique position to address these problems by focusing primarily on two vulnerable groups: the Elderly -especially those residing in senior living facilities and the youth -particularly those residing in the Elephant Gardens neighborhood. Our innovative plan involves the establishment of a Mobile Food Farmacy which will bring fresh produce (including educational "produce prescription cards) to 4 senior living facilities within a 5-mile radius of the EG, and an on-site Health and Beauty Bodega. We would expand our TLC 4-H club  Junior Master Gardner curriculum by adding both advanced training for our 4-H volunteers and by exposing the 4-H youth to the entrepreneurial aspects of farming-specifically value-added methods (freeze-drying, dehydration) and products (honey, herbal teas, herbs). Additionally, efforts to grow more nutrient-dense produce by focusing on the "seed-to starter-plant" process, and by incorporating organic soil amendments, will also be employed.

Project Objectives:
  1. Increase the accessibility of nutrient-dense produce to urban residents who are most adversely affected by grocery store closures and transportation limitations- with a special focus on residents of senior living facilities.
  2. Increase the knowledge and understanding -of both the young and old- of the health and beauty benefits to eating more fresh, locally grown organic produce.
  3. To expose and educate the youth to the methods and techniques of growing and harvesting nutrient-rich produce, and to also demonstrate the entrepreneurial opportunities of value-added products.
  4. To promote food accessibility, job creation, and neighborhood beautification by inspiring, training others to establish urban farms. 

Cooperators

Click linked name(s) to expand
  • Chuck and Sandy Dailey - Producer
  • Selina Tillman - Producer
  • LaShauna Triplett (Educator)

Research

Materials and methods:
  1. EG soil test 2020Soil enrichment and "Seed-to-Starter Plant" trials:  Research clearly shows that soil quality drastically impacts the ability of plants to fight pests and disease and plant growth potential.  We will use 2-3 organic soil mixtures for our starter plants, logging our observations from germination, to true leaf and beyond, noting any differences in growth rate and appearance. We will also conduct soil tests of our existing soil at both 1/4- acre lots utilizing the guidance and input received from both Kevin (SWC) and Amy (PEMC) to determine what organic amendments we will add to the soil and means by which to test our produce to determine nutrient density. We will test two different soil amendment mixtures and log our observations, noting any difference in growth rate, appearance, and disease resistance. 
  2. Teaching, training classes, and workshops: TLC 4H Club JMG program, workshops and training sessions focusing on a variety of topics from "value-added production" (including bees and honey, dehydration of herbs, and freeze-drying produce), "proper planting methods of starter-plants", and "foods for health and beauty".  "Framing" the conversation of growing and eating more organic produce in terms of entrepreneurial opportunities will foster the desire to become farmers.
  3. Marketing materials: The graphics on the Mobile Farmacy and H&B Bodega will be used to attract and reach our target audience. Posters, recipe/healthy benefits/beauty tip cards, and other farmstand signage will play an important role in conveying the idea that adopting a diet rich in organic fruits and veggies, significantly impacts the health (with emphasis to the diseases prevalent in food desert communities) AND beauty (what foods to eat for hair, skin and nails etc.)Mobile Farmacy/marketingMobile Farmacy/Marketing
    Mobile Farmacy/Marketing
    side view
  4. Contests, videos and questionnaires/surveys: These methods will be used to inspire and excite youth and seniors to focus on the adoption of healthy eating habits and allow project coordinators to measure progress of objectives.
Research results and discussion:

We will still be collecting data for analysis this year.

Participation Summary

Educational & Outreach Activities

Participation Summary:

Education/outreach description:

No outreach activities were able to be completed yet due to COVID.

Learning Outcomes

2 Farmers reported changes in knowledge, attitudes, skills and/or awareness as a result of their participation
Lessons Learned:

Due to the COVID-19 situation during most of the 2020 season, we were not able to complete the majority of the project goals, especially as it pertains to our Senior Living Facility Outreach program and our 4H Club Summer Youth program.   The distribution and/or collection of customer surveys, questionnaires, healthy eating information/recipes and other methods for tracking our progress towards our objectives were not able to be accomplished due to the pandemic. 

We were able to institute new methods of gardening such as limiting the amount of plants per row to allow more growth area for each plant. Also we did more succession planting, which enabled us to have an extended harvest for items such as green beans and okra.

The only advice we would tell other farmers or ranchers is be prepared for the unexpected!! Hopefully COVID-19 has made it's last visit and the coming gardening season will be successful for all who grow food.

Project Outcomes

1 Grant received that built upon this project
2 New working collaborations
Success stories:

We have established a new working relationship with Mackida Loveal and Trip Mentoring Outreach Center wherein we will be responsible for teaching and training approximately 20 of their youth participants about the nutritional value of locally grown organic fruits and vegetables in addition to the entrepreneurial aspects of urban farming. 

We also will partner with Legacy of the Taste Garden located in southern Indiana by the wholesale purchasing of  fruits such as watermelon, cantaloupe, peaches and apples to supplement our market's supply of fresh locally grown items that Elephant Gardens does not produce.

The one grant we received that will assist us in the accomplishment of the above projects was received from The Indy Food Fund.

Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.