The Herald Bulletin

April 6, 2013

Farmer, health groups hope organic garden will grow community

By Jack Meyer
For The Herald Bulletin

ANDERSON, Ind. — With support from local health organizations, area native Josh Kirtley plans to give one Anderson neighborhood a fresh opportunity to grow its own organic produce.

Kirtley, a two-year employee of Harvestland Organic Farm on the west side of Anderson, is teaming up with the Anderson Impact Center and Madison Health Partners, which donated $5,000 to get the project off the ground.

“I’ll be able to, on a small scale, use what I’ve learned at Harvestland,” Kirtley said. “It’s an exciting thing for me to ask all the members to come out once a month on the first Saturday to create community and be able to learn together how to grow our own food.”

Kirtley said he has divided the space, an acre-sized plot on property the Impact Center near the corner of 10th and John streets has donated, into 20 plots. Neighborhood residents can rent a plot for $25 per season.

Impact Center Director Sherry Peak-Davis said she saw the project as an opportunity to promote healthy eating and create a greater sense of community in the area.

“We knew gardening was important to the community and sharing produce throughout the community is, too. So that became a natural fit for us,” Peak-Davis said. “Just from my own personal experience with organic produce, you get fewer chemicals that go into growing the crops, so that reduces the possibility of developing illnesses that go with that.”

Peak-Davis said the Impact Center would raise crops of its own on one of the plots and would donate the products of the harvest to local food banks.

Along with financial support from Madison Health Partners, Peak-Davis said, the City of Anderson will provide topsoil for the project and possibly a number of other amenities, including bike racks and picnic tables.

Kirtley said the $5,000 from Madison Health Partners will be used to purchase lumber for raised garden beds, seed and the tools needed to raise and maintain the plots.

Eli Whitesel, a registered nurse who runs community wellness programs at Community Hospital Andeson, said he hopes the program will encourage area residents to be more proactive when thinking about their health.

“There’s so many people in our community and around America in general whose diets are filled with sugary snacks and fried food and pop,” Whitesel said. “So any opportunity for people to grow their own food and eat fresh vegetables or fruit is good for the hospital and for the community.”

Whitsel said he and his wife plan to rent a plot and work with neighborhood kids to grow their own fresh produce.

When up and running, Kirtley’s project will be at least the third of its kind for Anderson. Park Place Community Center and Anderson University operate two other gardens.

With this latest gardening project, Rick Zachary, a Madison Health Partners Executive Board member, said he hopes to bring back a sense of ownership to the surrounding community.

“The other thing we want to do is get some community cohesiveness, some people working together in neighborhoods,” Zachary said. “These days when you go to most neighborhoods, a lot of people don’t even know their next-door neighbors.”

Kirtley said anyone interested in renting a garden plot should contact Buckskin Bikes, located near the Anderson Impact Center, at (765) 889-2453.