A couple of Fridays ago, roughly 80 volunteers descended on an eight-acre patch of land on the southeast side of Lawrence. The land is owned by Monarch Beverage, which already has an impressive campus just to the north. These eight acres Monarch has pledged not to develop; they are the grounds of the Lawrence Community Gardens, founded and led by Sharonna Moore.
Sharonna Moore is a woman with a vision to bring healthy, fresh, garden-grown produce for free or reduced cost to neighbors on the far east side of Indianapolis who don't normally have access. I have yet to meet someone who doesn't follow up a mention of Sharonna with, "she's amazing." That Friday was the giant volunteer planting day for the Lawrence Community Gardens. Volunteers from the Lawrence Chamber of Commerce, marketing firm Valve and Meter, Lowe's, Community Health Network, LAwrence Township Schools, and of course Monarch Beverage devoted the day to preparing the gardens for the summer. Lead by a team from Purdue Extension, the Marion County Department of Health, and Sharonna, the teams mulched, dug,and planted to grow vegetables, fruits, and herbs that will supply local pantries by mid-June. They'll also have bees and chickens, which will live together. Sharonna says, "They don't seem like they'd have a harmonious relationship, but they do - bees and chickens go together."
Part of the garden will serve as a demonstration garden, part of the Purdue Foodlink program. Beside the different garden offerings will be a QR code that visitors can scan to learn about the food and how to eat and prepare it. Another area in the garden will be reserved as a "Pick-Your-Own" area where residents can come and pick food to take home for free. An additional part of the produce grown will be sold in the Gardens' daily farm stand.
Valve and Meter COO Jen Ramo and her colleagues were hoping to be assigned to the volunteer team creating the bee hives. "This is a beautiful opportunity to enrich our community with a garden and it's a great way to spend time together as a team. We're lucky our company gives us service days to participate and contribute like this." Monarch Beverage's Fred Dufour explained his enthusiasm for the project as well. "We have another 35 acres to develop for buildings for our business; but these eight are dedicated to the Gardens. We'll be creating a 20-space parking lot for the farm stand and as part of permitting, we'll be putting in a sidewalk. It's expensive, but it's great for neighbors to access the Gardens."
Starting next week, dozens of kids ages 12-15 will participate in the Gardens' second annual six-week summer youth program. The kids will work on the Gardens each day and run the farm stand, which opens June 25. Each week the camp will have a different focus so that the kids can learn about everything from backyard chickens to environmental protection/healthy soil, to farm business management. Participation is free for these kids and they earn a weekly stipend for their work on the farm and the farm stand.
The Lawrence Community Gardens are part of Jump IN for Healthy Kids Healthiest Cities and Counties Challenge (HCCC) project. The HCCC project focuses on a four-zip code area that straddles the far eastside of Indianapolis and Lawrence Township. More than 106,000 people (including 33,000 children) live in Greater Lawrence. Profound economic and health disparities exist within the community, including a high prevalence of overweight and obesity among children, greater than 40%. The area also presents serious economic and health disparities between the residents in the northern and southern parts of the community; for example, the poverty and pediatric asthma rates for children in the southern half of Lawrence Township are five times higher than for children who live just a few miles north. Greater Lawrence is home to the largest food desert in the country. The Lawrence Community Gardens is one project working to address these health disparities and offer high-quality, fresh produce in an area where it is often unavailable and expensive to purchase. Jump IN salutes Sharonna Moore, Monarch Beverage, and all the volunteers who make this incredible program possible. If you would like to support her work or volunteer, please connect with the Gardens here.