Build it and they will come, says Gary’s green urbanism advocates - August 22, 2016

Courtesy of The Gary 411 • August 22, 2016

Contributed By:The 411 News

Creating a local foods economy can help neighborhood revitalization

They might be called the vanguard in Gary’s green urbanism movement. Some of them are city residents who took it upon themselves to clean up a vacant lot next door and make it into a green space, not even knowing there was such a movement. Some are church groups and block clubs that have created community gardens from vacant lots.

Brenda Scott-Henry, who heads the city’s Dept. of Environmental Affairs and Green Urbanism, knows them well. “They follow us, attending and participating in our Community Garden Workshops, Clean Water Celebrations, Green Gary Days, and Harvest Fests.”

Those community connections paid off when Gary was one of 26 cities chosen to receive the Local Foods, Local Places grant. The grant is a planning tool; it is not for development. It provides workshops to help communities find ways to support local farmers and businesses that will create economic opportunities to give residents better access to fresh, healthy foods.

The grant is sponsored by several federal agencies, among them the Environmental Protection Agency and the Dept. of Agriculture. Gary fit the grant’s guidelines for being an economically distressed area with many of its neighborhoods lacking access to fresh foods.

Gary held its two-day planning workshop last week at Ivy Tech Community College. The grant helped bring all the interested parties together in one place. A team of technical assistants joined them to help strategize and set goals.

Planning committee members include The Methodist Hospitals, Purdue University, Lake County Minority Health, and the Gary school corporation.

On the first day, the committee toured the Stewart House Urban Farm and Garden, 15th and Massachusetts; the Peace Baptist Church Garden and Farm, 3510 West 15th Avenue, behind the new Family Dollar; the F.A.I.T.H. CDC Urban Farming Project Hoop Houses at 7th and Carolina; and the Trinity United Church of Christ Community Garden at 1276 West 20th Avenue.

Another member is Mama Pearl’s restaurant, 411 East Fifth Avenue, where the committee met for lunch.

LFLP will help play a part in the city’s future demolitions and help determine how vacant lots can be used. The city wants to encourage more community gardens and green spaces, Scott-Henry said, and more churches are asking for vacant lots. “We have to identify the right type of lots for a community garden or community park. We have to backfill it with soils conducive to its next purpose.”

The technical assistance team helped the planning committee understand the barriers to urban agriculture and even the barriers in providing healthy foods to neighborhoods located in food deserts.

At the start of the Stewart House Urban Farm, there was no access to water, even though it was in Gary’s midtown section. The infrastructure was there, but in disrepair. Environmental Affairs and Green Urbanism along with Indiana American Water worked with the community garden to make water available. “The Stewart House is paying for it,” Scott-Henry said.

Alma Wilkes is not a gardener or farmer, but she attended the workshop. “I want to help by providing information on how to help preserve fresh foods.”

Now that the seeds have been planted to create a local foods economy, the planning committee will work on finalizing an action plan. “We will tweak it in conference calls and use other resources provided by the EPA and the agriculture department,” Scott-Henry said.

Story Posted:08/22/2016