Each Tuesday during the Growing Places Indy summer apprenticeship, we learn new farming skills and get to put them to work, either on our gardens or at other locations around the city. This past Tuesday, we had the great pleasure of working at the Felege Hiywot Center.
We started the day with greetings and hugs from the founder and executive director of the center, Aster Bekele. Aster is from Ethiopia and has an amazing energy about her: friendly and motherly, extremely intelligent and well-spoken, and just full of welcoming vibes and warmth. The work was hard, hot, and totally fulfilling: we helped build new garden beds using cinder blocks and weeded and cleaned up the compost area. There was so much compost under all those weeds that we were able to fill almost all of the new garden beds!
Aster, who used to be a chemist at Eli Lilly, explained to us that she had decided she really wanted to teach kids about science. At the same time, she started purchasing empty lots and homes at 17th and Sheldon St. on the near eastside in the Martindale-Brightwood area of Indianapolis. One garden bed grew into many; houses were torn down or renovated to provide cooking and eating space for kids in the neighborhood; and the kids started coming. Through Aster’s programs, youth learn how to grow vegetables, tend land, sell crops, and recycle. In addition to developing their skills and knowledge around nature, the environment, and gardening, kids also get involved in their community, building a sense of place and pride for their community.
I was so inspired by Aster’s story because, in some ways, it seemed so simple and straight forward: she had a dream to teach kids about science and that is exactly what she’s doing. I think it’s so easy to get caught up in the minutiae or to want to have everything planned out before you start something big (at least, I do). But Aster’s case is a great learning example: she had a dream, she realized she could connect with youth through gardening, and it has snowballed from there into year-long programs, summer camps, and employment opportunities.
Not only that, but her place is beautiful. What was once abandoned lots and worn down houses is now something that the community can take pride in. And there are so many empty lots, so many worn down houses where similar things could happen, all around this city.
So my assignment for you all: find one of these special places in your community, and volunteer an afternoon or a day to help them out. I have never felt both so thanked for our efforts and so grateful for the opportunity to help than I did at Felege Hiywot.