Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Transformation at the Chase Near Eastside Legacy Center

Transformed: Where there was only soil, now there is an engaged space - and engaged people

Transformed. If given one word to describe what has taken place over the past year in front of the Chase Near Eastside Legacy Center (CNELC), a facility of the John H. Boner Community Center, transformed is the word I choose.

It’s easy to see how the word applies to the physical space. What was an open field of rocky compact soil left from the building of the CNELC, is now a vibrant, living, interactive and engaged place with over 10,000 square feet of raised earth growing produce, two re-purposed shipping containers serving for storage and community education space, as well as two covered decks for sheltered outdoor activities. It is nothing short of an urban agriculture center in and of itself. The transformations don’t end with the place though.

Transformed. Kate Franzman! Kate came to Growing Places Indy as a summer apprentice in 2013. She wanted to leave her professional career in advertising, and get back to the land. Kate was different from most apprentices in that her goal was to farm. We have come to learn that when Kate sets her mind to something, she achieves. When Growing Places Indy received a Specialty Crop Block Grant from the Indiana State Department of Agriculture (ISDA) to create this additional urban farm site at the CNELC, we knew Kate was up to the challenge. With barely 6 months training under her belt, Kate fearlessly and fiercely dove into the role of stewarding this site from barren to blossoming. Kate ran the summer farm stand and delighted in welcoming the individuals and families who came for “u-pick” hours. If you walk around the backside of the CNELC today, you’ll see an additional 10,000 square feet wasn’t enough. She’s building out more growing space there for flowers and more vegetables!
The completed outdoor education space by the UPick Site.
Transformed. Students, parents, coaches, friends, fans all pass by this space, as it is located adjacent to the Arsenal Tech High School football stadium. Now they see food growing and people working, learning and purchasing fresh produce. It normalizes gardens and urban farms as part of the urban landscape and invites them to participate as they feel comfortable and curious.

Transformed. Last summer over a dozen families participated in 4-week class series in which they learned to cook fresh veggies and herbs, garden, and do simple yoga stretches and breathing exercises. This summer nearly 20 families will grow together, learning and exploring in the outdoor education space through the Growing Places Indy Family Class Series.
Families got to spend quality time together learning to cook with fresh garden produce and practicing yoga.
Transformed. One day a member of the CNELC stopped on his way out to say, “I’ve been watching you.” He went on to explain how he’d been watching the process we’d used of spreading woodchips 18 inches deep across the whole area, and then building garden beds by layering chopped leaves and compost soil. He went home and applied the same method, and was delighted to share how well his tomato plants were now growing.

Transformed. From June through September, the new growing space made produce available to Near Eastside neighbors through an on-site farm stand on Thursday evenings and Saturday mornings. In addition, customers had the option to “u-pick” available veggies during farm stand hours. This was especially popular with children, such as one little girl who came each week with her mother and delighted in eating the veggies she picked right there and then – even raw eggplant! Also delighted were the individuals who came for our Thursday afternoon by-donation yoga and Ayurveda classes at CNELC. They could double the positive impact of a one-stop trip by combining the class with the farm stand offerings!
Two-year-old Olive enjoys an eggplant fresh off the vine.
Transformed. It is not easy task to spread over 10,000 sq ft with woodchips 18 inches deep, nor to build-out layers of garden beds one wheelbarrow at a time. This project relied on the help of many volunteers who came out and helped wheelbarrow what seemed like endless piles of woodchips and leaves and compost soil into a living urban farm. Some individuals came nearly every week – in the cold, the heat, the sun and the rain - tirelessly contributing to what felt at times like a task that would never be completed. We were transformed by their commitment and their smiles.
Our volunteers hard at work distributing wood chips.
Our vision didn’t end with the transformation of the land. We imagined an outdoor education space for gathering community, a sheltered farm stand, and the addition of so much more growing space necessitated additional storage space, a large walk-in cooler for harvested produce, and a more robust harvest and hydro-cooling station. The John H. Boner Community Center was fully on-board with the vision, and partnered to help us secure funding for the education space through a Lilly Endowment grant. Additional grants from the Indy Food Fund, Subaru of Indiana and Scripps-Howard provided the funding necessary for the additional farm infrastructure. In total, together with the initial farm expansion grant from the ISDA, the project was made possible by $65,200 in grant funding.

Transformed. Architectural design classes must design buildings and structures that exemplify theories on giving form that transforms spaces into places. Many do not get the opportunity to apply their theoretical designs to real projects and built structures. Three classes of Ball State architecture students worked together to imagine, design and then actually figure out how to transform their theoretical renderings into functional form. We are amazed at the results of their creativity and innovation, and they received a deeper learning experience from working with a real client to implement from design to construction.
One of the first renderings created by the talented Ball State design classes.
Transformed. Two used and slightly damaged shipping containers were donated by Pac-Van for the project, providing a structure to work from in building to our vision. Other donated and re-purposed items were given new life through this project, including former RCA Dome material purchased from People for Urban Progress and transformed by Ball State students into an eye-catching dome cover over the deck of the education space. AAA-Roofing in Cottage Home donated sheets of metal, which contribute to a rainwater catchment system by Circle City Rain Barrels. Tom Battista donated old school chalkboards that Ball State students gave new life as tables and message boards in the education space. Larry Jones donated a three-basin sink for the harvest and hydro-cooling station.
The covering of this structure was made from RCA Dome material.
Transformed. As with every grant-based project I’ve ever worked on with a non-profit, the grant funds never quite match the ideal budget. Just as material donations help to transform shortfall to abundance, so to do community relationships and creativity. For many months, Indianapolis tree companies delivered truckload after truckload of woodchips, used as the base for the growing space. When we got to the infrastructure projects, other relationships helped make ends meet. Walk-in coolers require insulated walls, which had to be built inside the shipping container. The education space needed a durable slip-safe floor for potentially muddy and wet feet traipsing in and out. A visit to Sun King Brewing Co. unexpectedly brought solutions to both, and the walk-in cooler now has the same walls as Sun King’s own beer coolers in the Cole-Noble production facility and the education space has the same durable non-slip flooring!

And as is the case in any transformation process, there are a number of other contributors, influencers, and activators involved in the process. This project has truly been a community effort, made manifest by cumulative efforts and contributions of many. In addition to those who have been mentioned above, RATIO Architects, Inc. - specifically Dustin Eggink - was critical, donating time, expertise, and assistance with the permitting process to keep the project in compliance. Dustin also introduced us to the two phenomenal Ball State professors who took on this project with their classes: Lucas Brown and Tim Gray. Lucas and Tim, together with their band of future architects, dedicated great amounts of time, sweat, and brainpower to this project. The team came up with thoughtful designs and clever uses of materials that will benefit the farmers who work on-site regularly, other visitors and those using the education space, as well as providing inspiration for other urban farmers and garden educators.

Transformed. For Growing Places Indy, this project has already and will continue to transform our potential to provide more fresh produce, more educational programs and more community gatherings. Through this project we have created jobs for a new farmer, for small local businesses that helped with fabrication, for contractors who helped on the nuts and bolts of construction. We have connected with community members in new ways, welcomed new volunteers, and sparked many to imagine new possibilities and new potential to “Grow well, Eat well, Live well, Be well” relevant to their own spheres of influence.

In 2015 the Summer Farm Stand will be open on Thursday evenings from 4-7 p.m. beginning June 18 and continuing weekly through September 24th. Customers can shop from what is already harvested, or “u-pick” selected items each week during farm stand hours. Harvest tools and instruction on how to harvest each crop are provided by GPI staff and volunteers. SNAP benefits are accepted and matched through the Fresh Bucks program. By-donation yoga and Ayurveda classes will be offered again this summer on Thursdays from 4-5 p.m. beginning June 18th and continuing through August 13th.  When the weather is nice, classes will be held outside on the covered deck of the education space.

Watch the Growing Places Indy Calendar and Chase Near Eastside Legacy Center Class Schedule for volunteer, educational and community gathering opportunities at the site in 2015.

Laura Henderson is executive director of Growing Places Indy.

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