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Xavier Magazine | September 20, 2017

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Urban Farming: Taking Root

By France Griggs Sloat

It’s a chilly morning in early May. Amy Matthews pulls a knit cap over her auburn hair as she moves among the rows of fruits and vegetables on South Circle Farm.

The strawberries are blooming and the kale is coming up. It’s a typical spring day on the farm. But Green Acres this isn’t.

AmyMatthews_origOn the other side of the white picket fence that borders the farm is the clanging of a metal recycling operation and a worn-out series of city blocks. The farm is just south of downtown Indianapolis, a two-acre urban farming oasis grown from abandoned city lots. It also has put Matthews on the forefront of the latest environmental craze and made her a budding rock star in the urban farming community. 

Using strictly organic techniques, she cultivates the space to grow everything from eggplants to onions. Oh, and bees. “Just by growing the food the way I do, I’m doing something healthy,” Matthews says as cars whiz by behind her. “You can’t solve all inner-city problems with an urban farm, but it can be a pretty impactful place in a city.”

She ducks inside the greenhouse. Her calloused fingers are black with soil and her boots are caked with dried mud. But her still-young face looks happy. The location, she says, was perfect for her first farm.

She leases the land from a non-profit community development organization, and they support each other in ways that support the community. A community center up the street brings children to the farm to learn about healthy eating, gardening and cooking. On special days, they bring their parents out to enjoy a healthy meal. Neighborhood volunteers work in exchange for fresh produce.

What she doesn’t cook she sells to a city market, co-op groceries and downtown restaurants. Her Community Supported Agriculture program—members pay for a weekly supply of produce—is growing faster than she can fill orders.

The 2002 social work graduate learned the importance of food to the community at non-profit and foodbank jobs in Cleveland, Arizona, Chicago and Washington, D.C. It complemented the basics of farming she learned about in such out-of-the-way places as Alaska, Montana and even Nepal, where she went during an academic service-learning trip. 

“I saw firsthand how they were using food and agriculture to do social work. It really struck me,” she says. “That’s where I saw my first urban garden.”

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