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Purdue Extension: Growing communities one garden at a time

Located within an Indianapolis food desert, 25 volunteers gathered on a hot July day to build six raised garden beds and plant cool-season vegetable crops in a community garden on the campus of HealthNet Martindale-Brightwood Health Center. The volunteers made a vision for quality food access a reality sought by determined HealthNet employees, Martindale-Brightwood residents and the help of Purdue Extension. 

HealthNet is one of Indiana’s largest Federally Qualified Health Centers (FQHC) with a network of nine community-based primary care health centers in Indianapolis and Bloomington, Ind. HealthNet provides health care services to the medically underserved, reaching more than 61,000 residents each year. The health center in the Martindale-Brightwood area serves residents with the highest poverty rate in Marion County who also happen to live in a food desert, meaning access to affordable or good-quality fresh food is severely limited.

The HealthNet CEO joined members of the healthy aging committee, senior leadership team and board, healthcare providers, donors and Heath Outdoor & True North Landscaping LLC to break ground on the new community garden. The HealthNet CEO joined members of the healthy aging committee, senior leadership team and board, healthcare providers, donors and Heath Outdoor & True North Landscaping LLC to break ground on the new community garden.

The original idea to build a community garden came from HealthNet’s healthy aging committee, a diverse group of HealthNet staff and board members that was formed to better serve the patients and community. HealthNet employees Misty Lewis, foundation and external affairs director, and Courtney Barbour, project manager, initially reached out to Nathan Shoaf, Purdue Extension urban agriculture state coordinator, and Brooke Alford, urban agriculture educator for Purdue Extension Marion County, for advice on how to begin the project. 

“We reached out to Purdue Extension because we knew they have helped with other community organizations and have lots of knowledge about community gardens. They also have a strong support system and partners at state and local levels,” said Lewis.

Shoaf and Alford connected Lewis and Barbour with resources to help start the community garden, including Purdue Extension’s guide to starting a community garden in Indianapolis.

“We met a few times and I talked them through the bare bones of how to establish a community garden and encouraged them to have a strong team behind the garden. It’s important to have a strong team of leaders for a community garden to be successful,” said Alford.

Barbour and Lewis admit their limited knowledge of gardening and community gardening planning.

“We walked in without knowing anything. Nathan and Brooke provided a ton of resources and taught us how to build the raised beds, mix compost, conducted soil testing, and walked us through planting guides, among many other things. Brooke even helped us install our water irrigation system. We would not have been able to start this without them and I mean that genuinely,” said Barbour. “We are so thankful to have the tools and long-term sustainable resources now.”

The new garden supports efforts of the Martindale-Brightwood 7 initiative to build a food resource network for area residents. Garden produce will be given away to health center patients and community members this fall. 

“Ultimately our motivation was to do our best to help the community in even the smallest way. I’m hopeful we can yield more produce in the future,” said Barbour.

Looking forward to next year, the team plans to add more raised beds and offer classes in the areas of cooking, health education and urban gardening. The healthy aging committee that started the idea will continue to oversee the garden’s day-to-day operations. The team hopes to one day build a community garden at the HealthNet Barrington Health and Dental Center and expand their harvest for the community. Those that wish to learn more about the HealthNet Community Garden can email Misty Lewis at misty.lewis@indyhealthnet.org or Courtney Barbour at Courtney.barbour@indyhealthnet.org.

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