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.

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!

 

The Most Perfect Wedding Location of All Wedding Locations

I am so excited to say that we have a date and location for the wedding! Drum roll, please…

On September 7, 2013, we will be getting married at South Circle Farm! The farm is just south of downtown Indianapolis and uses organic practices to grow fresh food for the farmers market, restaurants, and a CSA. I sort of adore the “captain of the ship” over there, Amy Matthews, and she has graciously given us the go ahead to be wed on her beautiful piece of land.

We’ll be married under their shade awning (built by the People for Urban Progress, which I just learned) amongst the plants and wildflowers and bees and (hopefully) sunshine.

Photos borrowed with love from South Circle Farm: http://www.southcirclefarm.com

I don’t think I could be more excited about our wedding location. I love the work Amy does, and the farm, at around one and a half acres (I think) is a gorgeous example of how once pretty much defunct, unused land can be turned into something amazing. I am just so grateful!

Photos courtesy of South Circle Farm.

Next up: Photographer. Dinner location. Cake/pastries. Officiant. Decorations and sign in book. Get a marriage license (or whatever we need). Mail out invitations (which I printed up last night. Sneak preview: go ahead – put a bird on it). Set up a web page. Flowers. Hotel reservation. And maybe figure out brunch for the next day’s open house. Just a thing or two, you know… no big.

Long story short: WE HAVE A WEDDING LOCATION! Photos courtesy of South Circle Farm.

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.

Peppermint Wishes and Asparagus Dreams

I am trying to soak in every minute of the Growing Places Indy summer apprenticeship. Heaven knows I’m having a hard time writing it all down. By the time I get around to updating ye olde blog, I am either falling asleep on the couch/drooling on my dog or I feel like I’m coming off very Pollyanna about the whole thing.

Fair warning: this entry will be of the Pollyanna variety.

As I process all that we have done over the last three weeks (and oh, we have done a lot), things have shaken out a bit:

  • Week 1: I’ve Got Nothing to Do Today but Smile – I ended the week in a total state of bliss, pinching myself to be sure I wasn’t dreaming.
  • Week 2: Back to Life, Back to Reality – During week 2, the rubber hit the road (figuratively and literally, in terms of my bike traveling 60 miles around Indianapolis in four days). The hard work began, and my body, used to hours sitting in front of a computer, was jolted into a new reality: sunshine and fresh air and work in the dirt among the green things. By the end of the week, I was exhausted, both physically and mentally.
  • Week 3: I Get By With a Little Help from My Friends – This week, I felt comfortable enough in the work that I could expand my gaze to the people around me – the apprentices and leaders of the program – and make the mental space to really talk with them and enjoy their company, building relationships over mulberry trees and Jerusalem artichokes. It has been my favorite week so far for that reason alone.

I’ve also met even more people across Indianapolis who I would like to be when I grow up. I am in awe at the variety of things going on in this fair city and the incredibly open, welcoming, and inspiring people behind them. Just in this past week, we’ve met:

  • Bob Shaver, Karp Resources, about job options in local food economies.
  • Thom England, Ivy Tech Culinary Center, who is passionate about all things local and sustainable, including operating a beautiful state of the art, no-waste culinary school facility. Note: this is no small feat!
  • Amy Matthews, South Circle Farm, who is one of the hardest working women I have ever met. Not only do I want to be her when I grow up in terms of the work she is doing, but her whole demeanor was so kind, welcoming, and chill; I aspire to learn a little something from that, too.
  • Imhotep Adisa and Paulette Fair, KI EcoCenter, who shared so much of their worlds with us. I was inspired by the obvious passion and love they have for their community and especially the kids within it.
  • Sister Faiza, Living Well Community Garden, who recognized a need in her community and, three summers later, has a garden that brings people together to grow, to cook, and to share. I loved hearing how quickly a spark on an idea can become something as wonderful as a community garden.

Before I started the apprenticeship, I was most excited about learning the farming aspects: hands on skills, planning tools, strategies for making a living and bringing food to market, and getting my hands in the dirt. After this week when people ask me about the apprenticeship, I start by gushing about how amazing everyone in the program is, followed quickly by how inspiring the people of Indianapolis are.

I didn’t anticipate that going into this program, but maybe that says more about me and my own headspace than anything else. I always want to know how to get things done and then do it. The more I think about it, though, relationships are perhaps the most important thing we can build and grow – in encouraging a local, sustainable food culture and economy, for sure, but also in everything we do. I feel like I had somehow forgotten that amidst all the to do lists and deadlines and conference calls and tasks that need to be accomplished.

20130613. Asparagus dreams at the Near Eastside Legacy Center.

Speaking of relationships, the beautiful and awesome Elise, one of my fellow apprentices, shot this picture of me on Thursday, tied up in the asparagus fronds. I think this is an accurate depiction about how I feel about all of my new friends, aka the other apprentices in the program, and my general lot in life.

My Little Whirlwind of a Life

I seem to have very little time on the computer these days. This is certainly not a complaint, just an observation. I’ve been on my bike, in the sun, learning, talking, doing – and when I am on the computer, it’s to dedicate some time to my day job, which has so graciously and kindly allowed me to have this summer of awesome.

It’s funny how extracurricular internet is the first thing to go when life gets busy-happy (or, like last night, just plain exhausted… OMG SO EXHAUSTED). Nevertheless, it’s high time for a post about all the awesome goings on over here.

VISITORS FROM AFAR
Over Memorial Day weekend, I hosted two of my favorite ladies – good friends from San Francisco and North Carolina who I wish lived much, much closer. We ate ice cream and delicious food stuffs, played with chickens, napped, watched Sherlock and Portlandia and Jenna Marbles videos on YouTube, visited the butterflies and the meerkats at the zoo, and went to the Indianapolis 500 parade. It was a much-needed weekend of girl check-in and resting time.

The ladies, the ladies!
20130525. Sarah, Carrie, and me. Indianapolis Zoo.

Butterfly cocoons, looking like leaves and beads and the rare jewels that they are.
20130525. Butterfly cocoons. Indianapolis Zoo.

The most pensive meerkat.
20130525. The best meerkat. Indianapolis Zoo.

Petting sharks.
20130525. Shark petting. Indianapolis Zoo.

GROWING PLACES INDY URBAN FARM APPRENTICESHIP: It Is ON!

Our first day: Introductions, bicycles, strawberries and garlic and Jerusalem artichokes, downtown Indy, yoga, rows of greens and clover, chickens, markets, more veggies than I probably know what to do with, and some already stellar people.

20130528. Growing Places Indy.

An overall good motto to live by, right?

We finished our first week, and I can honestly say this is one of the better decisions I have made in my life. It’s on the same level of deciding to go on a solo trip around Europe in my late-20s or transferring schools to Humboldt State in my early-20s. And it’s only the first week! In the past three days, I have harvested mint, oregano, lemon balm, strawberries, chard, kale, radishes, and… a lot more. I have also biked nearly 60 miles in those three days.

Even better, I have eaten some amazing food and have an entire shelf in my fridge dedicated to locally produced or homemade items (some of which was produced in my own kitchen).

My current office.

My current office.

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

The best part of all? My fellow apprentices are pretty fantastic. I’m not surprised at that – I am just so excited about HOW fantastic they really are. I am also super excited that I will get to be the veggie share/CSA coordinator this summer, as well as work on fundraising for next year’s apprentices (a sort of “pay it forward” model) with another of the apprentices. If you have any brilliant fundraising project ideas, let ’em fly!

20130530. What ever could be hiding in that over-stuffed bag?

What ever could be hiding in my ridiculously overstuffed bike bag?

20130530. The sexiest top shelf of a fridge ever - completely local or homemade items.

My first Growing Places Indy CSA share, of course! Our top shelf is nothing but ultra local produce or stuff made by our chickens or me (mmm, apple sauce canned from last fall’s orchard visit).

THE STATE OF THE GARDEN
I would be remiss to not mention the fact that our garden has been off the chain this spring. It has also been a long, cool, wet spring, which means my earlier season plants are rocking my socks off. Let’s just close out this post with a few pretty garden pictures, shall we?

20130529. State of the garden - lettuce.

Some of the lettuce leaves are about a foot long. DINO LETTUCE.

20130529. State of the garden - tomatoes.

Baby cherry tomatoes.

20130529. State of the garden - strawberries and lettuce.

Strawberries and lettuce for last night’s dinner – mint strawberry salad with pea tendrils. Yeah, it didn’t suck.

20130529. State of the garden - tatsoi.

TATSOI!

20130529. State of the garden.

Long view of the garden.

Officially Official!

It’s official! I just sent in my acceptance to be one of eight lucky apprentices at Growing Places Indy’s 2013 summer apprenticeship program. I am so dang excited. DANG excited! It starts the day after Memorial Day and ends in August. The end of May will be here before I know it, but it still feels like forever to wait.

I am also so grateful to my employer for letting me do this. I’ll be taking a part-time sabbatical (and probably working rather strange hours) during this time. I’ll be busy, but I can do anything for 10 weeks, particularly when it’s stuff I really want to be doing. It’s really important to me, too, that I give my employer my all during those 20 hours a week. I never, ever, EVER want them to regret allowing me to take this opportunity.

From Growing Places Indy’s website, here’s the breakdown of what I’ll be doing this summer:

SO! DANG! EXCITED!

In totally unrelated news, yesterday I knitted a hedgehog
20130413. I knitted a hedgehog today.

And bought some splurge yarn to knit this sweater.
20130414. Splurge yarn for splurge sweater.