Plant it Forward, open to all Indianapolis residents, community organizations, schools and churches is an across-the-board resource for growing a vegetable garden and preparing healthy foods with harvested produce.

Planted Forward is a program of Growing Places Indy.

“The goal of Plant It Forward is to support the vitality and sustainability of the region’s agriculture, build long term economic self-reliance and food security, and expand access to high-quality foods in underserved areas through locally grown foods," according to Jackie Lee, Growing Places Indy (GPI) communications coordinator. "The program also aims to educate those who are interested in sustainably grown foods and connect gardeners and advocates working to promote urban agriculture with one another.”

Under the program, up to 25 Plant it Forward Program participants will receive everything they need to start a vegetable garden.

Applications are now open for this newly created annual program here.

I recently talked with Growing Places Indy executive director Victoria Beaty about Plant it Forward and the organization as a whole.

RITA KOHN: What kind of application story will glow when received by GPI?

VICTORIA BEATY: The application process is simple. We are looking for applicants interested in learning how to grow their own food for their family, community, or just for themselves. The applicants do not have to write a full story to receive a Plant it Forward Kit but have to show interest in attending free workshops and being a part of a community that cares about growing food locally. 

KOHN: Is there a long-term commitment you expect?

BEATY: The Plant it Forward Program provides families, individuals, and community organizations with free seeds, plants, and small hand tools, as well as free gardening  workshops. There will be a variety of classes available for free to the program participants we select. We hope to inspire a new generation of gardeners who inspire others to grow their own fruits and vegetables. 

KOHN: GPI has had an exciting roster of community outreach initiatives. What's the history you most proudly share? 

BEATY: Growing Places Indy was founded in the fall of 2009 by Laura Henderson. The first growing season began in the summer of 2010 with Laura and three college students and two high school students; this was the initial programming effort of Growing Places Indy. 

In 2009, the White River State Park, with Laura Henderson, developed a gardening space.  Growing Places Indy joined the Chase Near Eastside Legacy Center as an agricultural partner in 2012. We are agricultural partners of both the Chase Near Eastside Legacy Center and Arsenal Tech High School, where we manage a 1,000-square-foot greenhouse and 2,500 square and raised beds. Since 2009, our operations have expanded to: 

Four urban farms across Indianapolis equal nearly two acres and two greenhouses in year-round production.

A summer farm stand, the Indy Winter Farmers Market, a CSA program, an on-site farm stand, and an online store.

Offer free education for experienced farmers of all ages, including after-school and summer camp programs, family cooking and nutrition classes, hands-on volunteer opportunities, tours, workshops.

One of our most significant initiatives that is happening right now is our Indy Winter Farmers Market, which takes place every Saturday at the Circle City Industrial Complex, from 9 a.m.-12: 30 p.m. Since opening in 2008, the Indy Winter Farmers Market (IWFM) has helped bridge the gap between the local community and Indiana farmers and food producers. The market provides a venue for Indiana's sustainability-minded family farms and food producers to sell products throughout the fall and winter, improving the community's year-round access to fresh, local foods.  

As an initiative of Growing Places Indy Inc., the IWFM is more than a typical farmers market. The market works in tandem with Growing Places Indy's vision to build a more just and equitable food system in Indianapolis through urban farming, food access, mind-body education, and entrepreneurship. The market has long served to increase food access in the Near Eastside, which is considered a low-income area and supports small farmers and local businesses while bolstering a healthy, locally empowering economy.

Unique to the IWFM, we offer the Triple-Match SNAP Program, made possible by donors and community partners, donations from our yoga classes, and individuals who care about seeing the program succeed. The Triple-Match SNAP program allows us to turn $20 into $60 for SNAP recipients. That means when a person comes to the IWFM and swipes their SNAP card for $20; they receive an additional $20 of market tokens and $20 of Fresh Bucks checks. The first $20 can be spent on any SNAP-eligible item, and $20 of Fresh Bucks can be spent on produce.

Another new program we are excited about is our Grow Getters Program, which we recently launched and is made possible through a grant we received through United Way's Social Innovation Fund. Our vision is to create a more just and equitable food system by eliminating barriers for new, beginning, and underrepresented farmers by providing them with the resources to build sustainable and prosperous urban farms. 

The Grow Getter's Program brings to life our vision by offering needed resources for aspiring urban farmers. This year-long program will provide on-hand farm job training, land access, equipment, mentoring, and other business development assistance to new, beginning, and underrepresented farmers. Applications must be 18 years or older and can learn more or apply here

KOHN: What uptick is GPI expecting regarding nutrition growth for the 25 applicants who gain access to full-scope gardening expertise?

How can this column help draw attention to what makes a city's culture affirming with organizational leadership for cost equity for quality food in all venues [including culture and the arts],  to help lead a life of the mind, to caring for one’s body? 

BEATY: I don’t think it’s just cultural and arts organizations venues that offer high-calorie foods at a lower cost —  you can even see that at your local grocery store. I think you will notice that it is a problem in most places that a burger through a fast-food drive-through is cheaper than salad on the menu — however, there several reasons why processed foods are inexpensive. No one organization or person can take leadership, but it will be on the consumers/community to better understand the food system and demand better. We see the younger generation are more interested in what they are consuming and where it comes from. Inequities and cracks in the global food system’s have long been apparent, but COVID-19 exposed them for the world to see. 

KOHN: What else do NUVO readers need to know about proactive food equity?

BEATY: We could not do our important work without the help of our donors and volunteers. If people are interested in volunteering or donating to one of our programs, please visit our website https://www.growingplacesindy.org.

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