Why I’d So Much Rather Live in Indianapolis Than Portland

I love this! Check out this video from Crafted Spoon, all about the Indy food scene, featuring Growing Places Indy and Amy Matthews from South Circle Farm, where we got married, among many others in our community. Chris and I had talked about moving somewhere like Portland or Asheville (and the latter may still happen at some point – hello, alpaca and bee farm in the Smokies), but in a place like Indianapolis, you aren’t preaching to the choir. There’s room for so much growth, and I think this video does a nice job of highlighting exactly how much room for growth there is.

(Sorry, you’ll have to click on the video to view it on Vimeo):

FarmCity from Craftedspoon on Vimeo.

Fast forward to 17:30 to meet Amy, the farmer at South Circle Farms who is the hardest working and one of the kindest women I know. Or fast forward to 19:40 to see the Indy Winter Farmers Market and my boss, Laura. 🙂

Seriously, this video makes me feel all the feels about my little pocket of the world.

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A Year Later: Checking in on That Whole “Life Plan” Thing

I’ve never really been one to have what you might call a “plan” for my life. I cringe at the “where do you want to be in five years” question, so popular among motivational speakers and prospective employers. The only grand vision I have ever had of my life is to have it be a happy and fulfilling one. What does that actually look like? Well, that’s a moving target, always shifting, which I like to think keeps things interesting.

20131020. Our fall garden, half deconstructed.

Our fall garden – beginning to harvest and prune and clean up.

With that in mind, though, I realized recently that I did set a new “life plan” for myself, just a smidge over a year ago. It is amazing to me to see what has come of that one simple proclamation in such a short amount of time.

20131020. Little Red amongst the leaves.

Little Red amongst the leaves in the chicken run.

From September 22, 2012:

However, a new life plan has manifested itself as of late, and I think it’s a damn good one. My new plan is to offer whatever services I can (aka whore myself out) to all the people I think are doing super-fantastic things in this town until one of them either hires me or adopts me… OR I learn enough that I decide I can move forward with my own thing. At the very least, I will meet people who I think are doing awesome things, learn a ton from them, and maybe, just maybe, make something out of it. At the worst? Well, I don’t really think there’s a downside, to be honest.

So yeah – new life plan: surround myself with awesome people, doing awesome things that I want to be doing, too. Seems simple, right? How did it take me so long to get here?

20131020. Birdie, totally tuckered.

Our exceedingly cuddly animals continue being exceedingly sweet.

So where am I today? Things are different and wonderful and surprising and awesome. I’m getting to create and make and grow for myself, my friends, and organizations I believe in and want to be a part of. I have a husband and a dog and a baby on the way. I am really excited for the future and to see where me and my little family are a year from now.

20131020. Prolific peppers.

The year of the prolific pepper.

In short, exciting things are happening, and they all stem back to that simple decision to just reach out and do something. I love it when positive actions receive smashingly positive results. It doesn’t always happen – at least, not to this extent – but man, is it ever cool when it does.

20131020. Fall basil.

Even the basil is ready for fall and new things to come.

 

Oh, It’s Such a Perfect Day

If my day had a theme song, it would be this:

Today, I got to plant the first fall crop of seeds in Fall Creek Gardens’ new Stone Soup Kitchen Garden. I somehow lucked into being the “garden manager intern” for this awesome new project, funded in part by the Indy Food Fund, which awarded for the first time ever nearly $50,000 in grants to 11 organizations in Indianapolis. Now that the Growing Places Indy summer farming apprenticeship is over, I am able to fully jump in and start dreaming and scheming what we can do with the space. And I LOVE it!

And, oh, is there ever space. I should know the exact square footage, but I don’t have that committed to memory just yet. I would estimate we have about 175′ of 4′-wide beds – and that’s with only HALF of the entire project completed!

20130806. Fall Creek Gardens' kitchen demonstration beds.

During the last week of our apprenticeship, we helped out in filling up most of the kitchen garden beds. This gives a little bit of a sense of scale!

The coolest part of all this is where the produce will go. The garden itself will be used as part of interactive, hands on gardening skill and technique classes, which is awesome on its own. But the produce from the garden will go to three main places:

  • To volunteers or others in the community who help out in growing and maintaining the beds (tentatively 5lbs. of organically grown produce for each hour of work)
  • To the Mid-North Food Pantry, which is a major provider to residents of Mapleton-Fall Creek
  • And anything left will be used in Fall Creek Gardens’ cooking, preserving, and other hands on classes

Today was picture-perfect, thus the inspiration for my day’s theme music. There was a large group working on the gardens’ new sunflower mural, it was beautifully sunny and breezy, and I was armed with friends, helpers, and many, many seed packets. Looking out from the kitchen garden, across the community gardeners beds, so full and vibrant and buzzing with life, and watching the mural grow increasingly more colorful, I couldn’t help but think, “THIS is what it’s all about. Right here with these people on this single corner of Indianapolis on this particular day. THIS.”

20130806. Fall Creek Gardens' kitchen demonstration beds.

Seriously, how did I get to be so lucky? In other news, my baby-related stress dreams have officially been replaced by wedding stress dreams. The wedding is three weeks from today OHHOLYCRAP.

20130817. Wedding mix.

Wedding mixes for our guests.

20130817. Wedding jam. That's a thing, right?

Wedding cinnamon blueberry jam for the guests.

20130817. Birdie has an interest in artichokes.

Our first artichoke! Birdie agrees that it would look fab in a bridal bouquet.

20130816. Baby's first gifts.

And totally unrelated, here are the baby’s very first gifts. Thanks, Sue and Passion!

 

Bust Out the Kleenex!

I am so thankful to Maggie, one of my fellow apprentices, for documenting the inspiring, thoughtful, candid, wonderful human beings I got to spend my summer with during the Growing Places Indy summer apprenticeship. It’s strangely comforting to me that everyone’s mannerisms, their voices, how they talk, their thoughtfulness was captured for me to listen to any time I need it. Which means I’ve watched this video probably about five times today.

I guess what I’m saying is I miss you all already.

Chigger, Please!

Last weekend marked our final one as urban farm apprentices with Growing Places Indy, and in celebration we took a very special trip to Hobbit Gardens Erth Gathering Center to get a tour of extensive herb gardens, participate in a Native American sweat ceremony, and share possibly the most amazing potluck dinner I have ever had. Constance is an herb farmer, which makes for a beautiful, colorful, and delicious smelling place, full of the buzzing of bees, flutter of butterflies, and flowers in every direction.

20130804. Hobbit Gardens.

I would love to sit down with Constance and pick her brain about every plant and its uses and benefits. Her whole demeanor (a ball of energy, quick to laugh, rattling off scientific names like breakfast cereals) and outlook (“gardening is not a benign act”) was a breath of fresh air.

20130804. Hobbit Gardens.

The only downside: by Monday, the chigger bites started showing up. By Tuesday, nearly every single one of us had extensive, itchy bites popping up in all the wrong places. And I mean ALL THE WRONG PLACES. A sampling:

20130807. Chigger, please!

Tomorrow marks our last day as apprentices. I’m a jumble of emotions: sad, nostalgic, missing my new friends already, excited to move forward onto the next adventures, and a whole lot I can’t even put into words.

At one point today, we had about 12 itty bitty kiddos walking through the garden, reminding me of one of the many ways this summer has been so incredibly special. We had a bucket of husk cherries out, and I showed them how to remove the husk and eat the berry inside (they even got to throw their “litter” – the husk – right on the ground). Every kid tried one, some came back for seconds, and only one spit it back out. I call that success!

20130807. I got every kid to try a husk cherry, and only one spit it out. Success!

Squash Bake. Squash Bake. Party Time. Excellent.

Currently, we have a bit of a squash problem – meaning we have seven, count ’em, SEVEN large green and yellow squash taking up half a shelf in our fridge. Keep in mind, this is after pickling five pounds of the beasts, making almost countless loaves of zucchini bread (really, I think we’re up to about eight, at this point), and devouring a previous squash bake.

20130714. So THIS happened: suddenly, it's summer!

When a friend told me her mom makes apple crisp in the summer but replaces apples with summer squash, I was all for it. Health food, it is not. But our house smells of wonderful baking deliciousness and cinnamon right now, and I couldn’t wait to share it with you. Because if you could smell it, you’d be jealous right now.

SQUASH BAKE, SQUASH BAKE, PARTY TIME, EXCELLENT. Helllllooooo, 1992!

SQUASH OATMEAL CRISP
Ingredients

  • 1 cup brown sugar
  • 1 cup rolled oats
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup butter, melted
  • 3 cups peeled, chopped squash (1/2″ cubes will do)
  • 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon

Putting It All Together

  • Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Lightly grease an 8-inch square pan.
  • In a large bowl, combine brown sugar, oats, flour, and butter. Mix until crumbly. Lightly press half of crumb mixture into pan.
  • Spread the squash evenly over crumb mixture. Sprinkle with cinnamon, and top with remaining crumb mixture.
  • Bake for 40 to 45 minutes, or until golden brown.

In other news, today was another amazing day at ye olde urban farming apprenticeship. We spent the morning picking onions, weeding, and planting broccoli seedlings with Genesis and Eli, the farmers at Full Hand Farm. On our way out, I told Tyler, part of the Growing Places Indy dynamic duo, that I think I heart Genesis and Eli, and he said, “They make it easy to heart them.”

Check out some beautiful photos of their farm and a little more of their story at Farm Stories, a photography project by local photographer Kelley Jordan.

I am just so continually impressed, inspired, and encouraged by the farmers in this area, their stories, and their advice, wisdom, and knowledge. I get the warm fuzzies every single Tuesday when we visit other farms and community organizations. The willingness to share knowledge and experiences and personal stories with us has been downright heartwarming, and I doubt I will ever have quite this experience to this extent again.

P.S. Click here for a special little snippet of today’s magic, captured by the lovely Kate: Eli playing a squash stalk like a trumpet. Who knew?!

Look, Ma, I’m in the News!

I finally got my hands on the paper version of the Indianapolis Star article on the Growing Places Indy apprenticeship, featuring this here blog, that I mentioned a few days ago. Front page, no less! So what if it’s the front page of the D section. I am just so tickled!

20130709. Front page of the Indianapolis Star! Er, well... the D section.

I’m sure I’m either saying something really profound here or talking about my favorite ice cream store in Indianapolis (Brics, for the record).

20130709. Front page of the Indianapolis Star! Er, well... the D section.

20130709. Front page of the Indianapolis Star! Er, well... the D section.

On that note, if you’d like to support fresh, local, sustainable, beautiful food and help me fund one of next year’s lucky summer apprentices, I just passed the halfway point in reaching my goal! Any contribution is very, very much appreciated. More details here: http://www.razoo.com/story/Christiewahlert2013

Invitation to Help Me Say Thanks and Be a Part of Something Awesome!

This week marks the halfway point in the Growing Places Indy summer apprenticeship, and to say it has been life-changing is no exaggeration. I want to invite you to help me “pay it forward” to give someone else this same experience next year and show my gratitude for being given this opportunity: http://www.razoo.com/story/Christiewahlert2013.

20130620. Growing Places Indy.

The first few weeks, I felt like I was somehow cheating at life and living extremely decadently – but, really, I was just taking care of myself, learning from others, expanding my perspective and horizons, getting totally filthy and exhausted and starving every day, and spending most waking moments outside.

Five weeks later, I have been so grateful to realize that this way of life has become my “norm.” I can only hope that I am able to take this perspective and the skills I’ve learned forward with me in everything I do.

20130625. Laying drip tape at South Circle Farm.

Not only that, but it has given me new ideas and connections to begin making a bigger difference in Indianapolis. I can’t wait for some of my plans to take shape, and I can’t wait to share them with you.

My current office.

I would love if you considered contributing to help give someone else this amazing experience next summer. I am working to both show my gratitude for being able to participate this summer and “pay it forward” by raising $525 to support one of the 2014 Growing Places Indy summer apprentices.

If you’re interested, take a look here: http://www.razoo.com/story/Christiewahlert2013.

Any contribution counts and means you will play a direct part in building the capacity and leadership to Grow Well, Eat Well, Live Well, and Be Well – in this city and around the world. Thank you for your support ALWAYS!

At White River State Park, thinking about a nap under this sign.

Best Week Ever: Felege Hiywot Center

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.

20130618. 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!

20130618. Felege Hiywot Center.

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.

20130618. Felege Hiywot Center.

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.

20130618. Felege Hiywot Center.

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.

20130618. At the Felege Hiywot Center.

Sometimes, I can’t believe this is my life. In a good way.