Community garden offers free gardening classes

Bethany Community Gardens, located 1.8 miles from the University of Indianapolis at 4702 South East Street began their second year of free gardening classes, offered through June, for those interested in gardening, with or without land to do it, and those who want to connect with other gardeners.

Bethany Community Gardens began because of the need for food in the South Indy area, according to Intercom.  Last year, Bethany Lutheran Church received a $2,500 grant through the Purdue University Extension program to create a community garden, according to Bruce Bye, the overseer for the gardens.

The crops produced in the gardens are donated to local food pantries. Bye said that they now have three gardens on the church property, a community garden, individual plots that people can buy to grow whatever they want, and raised beds in the playground that were built partially by students from the University of Indianapolis last year during public health week last year. Students of Beech Grove High School finished the top layer, Bye said.

According to Bye, the community garden is manned by volunteers that help produce the crops for food pantries. Last year, the community garden had 47 volunteers, 44 of those being from the south side of Indianapolis community and only three from the church’s congregation. This produce is distributed amongst the volunteers and two food pantries Hunger Inc. and Servant’s Heart. The pantries were chosen based on the 46227 zip code. According to Bye, Tom Brown, the director at Hunger Inc., volunteers at the community garden on a weekly basis to help grow the food that is being donated to the food pantry.

“Our church wanted to be able to connect with the community—connect is the keyword,” Bye said. “We wanted to reach out and help address a need, so the question is how do you identify the needs? And what we did was to have 24 community interviews with community leaders. We identified over 70 different needs. For instance the elderly, or those without a vehicle needing transportation to be able to get to the grocery store. You have a situation with the homeless and their set of needs, you have refugee families that are wanting to the improve their skills.”

Virginia Roberts, the Urban and School Garden Coordinator for the Horticulture Department for Purdue University Extension, said that one of the departments at Purdue has a special grant to have nutrition and community educators and master gardeners come together and do a garden where food is grown for people that do not necessarily have any.

“We base it [what is grown] on what food pantry clients want,”  Roberts said. “Last year, we did a survey and we grew based on a lot of the stuff they said they would like to have at the pantry. This year will be the same, but we will be putting in some different things, because will have more room so we’ll do bigger crops that we couldn’t do last year.”

According to Roberts, the community garden gives fresh produce to food pantries and the food pantries give the volunteers of the garden recipe suggestions. She said that they share their recipes and even share at the community meal, which is a free meal that the church provides to members of the community. Roberts said, there are multiple gardens that grow produce for food pantries, but this is the only one on the south side and it is also a bigger program than most others.

Graphic by Madison Gomez

“I think that it’s a good program, that they’ve been very intentional and they plan things before hand, before actually starting,” Roberts said. “They spent time really developing a mission, and what they want to see happen and that’s the way to do it.”

According to Elaine McCracken, a volunteer at Bethany Community Gardens, she began coming to the gardening classes because she said “you can only give so many zucchinis away” and also because she liked the idea of coming to volunteer to work in the garden. She was able to bring the items that she had an excess supply of from her own garden to donate.  The supplies that they could use will be donated to the food pantry,  while the items they did not need will go back home with her.

Anne Marie Kiel, another volunteer at Bethany Community Gardens, said she started coming because she has always been someone who enjoys being outdoors and that her first experience with gardening was when she would garden with her dad when she was growing up. Kiel said that the classes and volunteering in the garden was also a great opportunity to meet people, make friends and also learn more about gardening. When she first started to attend the gardening classes and volunteer for the community garden, Kiel said that she just fit right in. According to Kiel, the garden received an award from the Indianapolis Neighborhood Resource Center last year.

“I continue to be thankful for people who are willing to give and thankful for people who care,” Bye said. “What we did was to identify a need, identify how it can be addressed, and [we] asked others to join in to help and it has grown from them. We have volunteers, we have people coming to classes and more people volunteering in the garden this year. This year is going to be better than last [year] and last year was fantastic.”