Farms on wheels to deliver in Indianapolis food deserts
MAUREEN C. GILMER
Jul. 05, 2017
INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Jonathan Lawler planted a seed a year ago that has multiplied into so much goodness even he is surprised.
The Greenfield farmer decided last spring to turn a chunk of his livelihood into a nonprofit with the goal to feed the community. Brandywine Creek Farms was a leap of faith, but its yield is poised to touch all corners of Central Indiana.
"My job as a farmer is to feed the world, and we have people going hungry in my backyard," Lawler said at that time.
Now, he has partnered with two local hospitals to take his farm on the road.
The Rolling Harvest Food Truck, sponsored by Community Health Network, will take fresh, locally produced food into communities where it is scarce, particularly on the city's east side. It will be offered at little to no cost to those it aims to serve.
"Jonathan came to us with his mission of improving access to food for those in food deserts," said Priscilla Keith, the hospital's executive director for community benefit. "But in addition to providing food, he also wants to educate the community, particularly children, about how food is grown, what kinds of food grow here and to let them know fresh food is best if you can get it."
The 30-foot trailer packed with 6,000 to 7,000 pounds of fresh produce harvested at Lawler's Greenfield farm and at an urban farm on the east side will make weekly (or more frequent) stops at four east-side locations: Community Hospital East, 1500 N. Ritter Ave.; Community Alliance of the Far East Side Farmers Market (CAFÉ), 8902 E. 38th St.; The Cupboard Pantry, 7101 Pendleton Pike; and Shepherd Community Center, 4107 E. Washington St.
Eventually, the program could be expanded to the hospital's north and south sites.
Community pitched in $25,000 for some of the pilot program's expenses, while Lawler has invested his time, his expertise and, above all, his heart.
"I've come to the conclusion that hunger is a business for some organizations, and as an American farmer, I want it to be a thing of the past in this country," said the 40-year-old father of three. "I want to see more farmers come together to end hunger because we are the ones who can do it."
Lawler is working with Hancock Health on a similar program dubbed Healthy Harvest, which will travel into Hancock, Madison, Henry and Shelby counties. Hospital CEO Steve Long said the initiative is part of the Healthy 365 movement in Hancock County.
Both harvest trucks will help chip away at food access problems and point people back to the country's agrarian roots through education, Lawler said.
Inside the temperature-controlled Rolling Harvest trailer are vertical growing towers, so visitors can learn how food grows without going to the farm. An educational staffer will be on site at each stop to talk about the benefits of fresh food.
"Food is actually growing in the dirt; it's as fresh as fresh can be," he said. "The towers will be unloaded at every market, and people will be able to see their food growing and harvest it right there."
Keith said the partnership will help address some of the social determinants that affect the health of the hospital's patients and the larger community, and it advances Community's goal of treating patients more holistically.
"We are really encouraged that we have had not just one, but two health partners who now share the philosophy that real food is the best medicine," Lawler said.
Walkscore.com ranked Indianapolis last among major U.S. cities for access to healthy foods in a 2014 study. Only 5 percent of residents live within a five-minute walk of a grocery store. The lack of access to healthy food on the east side has recently become more acute with the closings of the Marsh grocery stores at 21st Street and Post Road and at Irvington Plaza.
This summer, Lawler also is working with Flanner House community center on the northwest side to establish a working urban farm to feed the neighborhood. Flanner Farms sprouted from a dream of center director Brandon Cosby and food justice coordinator Mat Davis to ease the food insecurity that threatened to rob the neighborhood residents of their independence.
"After looking at the food desert issue, we decided to encompass education more into our mission, along with distribution," Lawler said. "Almost everything our society is doing to address hunger is acting as a Band-Aid. I believe that education and local agriculture can be a solution."
Source: The Indianapolis Star, http://indy.st/2tu2Jbv
Information from: The Indianapolis Star, http://www.indystar.com