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Groundwork Indy: Tending Gardens, Nurturing Youth

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KAYTE YOUNG: From WIFU in Bloomington Indiana, I'm Kayte Young, and this is Earth Eats. 

PHYLLIS BOYD: Right, and we're not shooting for perfection, we're shooting for richness of experience.
KAYTE YOUNG: This week on the show we visit with Phyllis Boyd of Groundwork Indy, she gives us a tour of their onsite garden tended by teams of young people in their youth development program. And she shares other community projects in the northwest area of Indianapolis. Plus a story from Harvest Public Media about a beekeeping program in a prison. All that and more coming up on Earth Eats, so stay with us. 

Let's start with a food and farming report from Renee Reed. Hi Renee,
RENEE REED: Hi Kayte. A fungus that attacks vegetables has shown up early this year in Illinois. Harvest Public Media's Jonathan Ahl reports that could threaten the availability of pie at Thanksgiving. 
JONATHAN AHL: Phytophthora Blight is a vine infection that can damage vegetables including peppers, squash, and pumpkins. Mohammad Babadoost is a professor of plant pathology at the University of Illinois. He says the blight usually shows up in late August or early September, but heavy rains lead to its appearance in early July this year. He says it’s a real threat to Illinois that provides more than 90% of the canned pumpkin in the U.S. 

MOHAMMAD BABADOOST: If we do not have enough processing pumpkin, than we may not have enough canned pumpkin let's say for Thanksgiving for the pie pumpkin.
JONATHAN AHL: Babadoost says the damage can be mitigated if growers are on the lookout for it and apply fungicides. Jonathan Ahl, Harvest Public Media. 
RENEE REED: President Joe Biden issued an executive order that aims to increase competition in the meat market. Biden is directing the U.S. Department of Agriculture to create rules to strengthen the packers and stockyards act. That law was made in 1921 to ensure fair competition in the meat market. Tim Gibbons, a spokesperson at the Missouri Rural Crisis Center says the changes are long awaited by farmers and ranchers. 

TIM GIBBONS: Competition in agriculture is necessary in order for family farmers to get paid, not only the cost of production but a living wage on top of that. That is integral the economies of our rural communities and our state and our country as a whole. 

RENEE REED: Biden also directed the USDA to make rules that define when meat can use Product of the USA labels and make it easier for farmers to fix their equipment. Thanks to Harvest Public Media's Seth Bodine and Jonathan Ahl for those reports. For Earth Eats, I'm Renee Reed. 
(News theme)
KAYTE YOUNG: Many people in prison learn trades, like cooking or landscaping. It helps them to prepare for life after they're released. As Harvest Public Media's Katie Peikes reports, some prisons are doing something different, they're training inmates to work with bees. 

KATIE PEIKES: Clarinda Correctional Facility in Southwest Iowa has three large gardens. Darrel is an inmate here and he pulls something out to harvest. 
DARRELL: Wow, look at that. Never in life would I ever think that... I only thought carrots would be yellow and orange!
KATIE PEIKES: Darrell is seeing a black carrot for the very first time. The prison only lets first names be used. Darrel and about a dozen other inmates at the medium security prison are enrolled in an apprenticeship teaching inmates gardening, landscaping, and conservation. The real attraction though is beekeeping. 
Darrell, Jacob and Clinton are dressed head to toe in baggy white protective suits with mesh beekeepers’ hats to protect their faces from a half million bees. 
DARRELL: We're gonna start with this hive. 

INMATE: Try to find the queen. 

DARRELL: Oh yeah we can. 

KATIE PEIKES: They're not harvesting honey; they're just checking on the bees. They pump smoke into the air to calm them. 
DARRELL: So we just kind of smoke them down a little bit to kind of get them off the frame. 
KATIE PEIKES: They're lifting frames out of a white beehive, kind of like pulling files out of a filing cabinet. 
DARRELL: This, well I just get it over there... whoa, heavy! 
KATIE PEIKES: They're looking for the queen bee to make sure she's healthy, but on some of the honeycomb filled frames, they see the tasty reward they work for. 
DARRELL: That, that's all honey right there. 
INMATES: [together] Honey
INMATE: That's shiny as nectar
KATIE PEIKES: They'll likely harvest the honey in August. The prison brands it as Beehaven Honey. It'll keep some of the honey and give some away to local food pantries. Correctional Officer Gerald Nelson teaches beekeeping at Clarinda. He says a lot of guys are nervous to get near the bees when they first start. But they learn how to be calm and how to work together. 
GERALD NELSON: One of the first things I did when we first started was take the guys down, and say, "Okay now reach down and grab a bee, and pick it up, and not hurt it." 
KATIE PEIKES: Clarinda got its first bees in 2018 and it's one of the more popular programs. It’s also popular in other places, prisons in Missouri and Washington also offer beekeeping programs. Besides learning a new trade, inmates might take away some psychological benefits, responsibility, accountability, and problem solving. 
GERALD NELSON: There's a number of them that we've had leave here and when they earn my respect they've done a real good job. 
KATIE PEIKES: One of those people is Newt Wright, he was in prison when the beekeeping program got started. Now he has a hive at his family farm about an hour northwest of Clarinda. He had two hives, but one didn't make it through the winter. 
NEWT WRIGHT: And I had to get a new queen, put it in here, but this hive's doing pretty good still. 
KATIE PEIKES: The prison mailed him a beekeeping suit after he was released. That's something they offer for others enrolled in the program. Wright says beekeeping is like having 50,000 pets to care for. 

NEWT WRIGHT: These little guys count on me to make sure that I keep them healthy and if they have mites or something I need to get them treated with some medicine. 
KATIE PEIKES: Wright says beekeeping taught him how to work well with others and there's research that prison animal programs help reduce fights, antisocial behaviors, and the chances of coming back to prison. That's something Philip Tedeschi has studied. He's a clinical professor at University of Denver's Graduate School of social work. He says animal programs put a person's empathy to work. 
PHILIP TEDESCHI: And empathy is also closely connected to the commission of crime, particularly violent crime is that when somebody has stronger capacity for empathy, they're less likely to engage in harmful behaviors towards others. 
KATIE PEIKES: Tedeschi's primarily studied programs where inmates work and live with dogs, but he says there's a parallel to bees. In both inmates learn to care for animals, and that can change their experience in prison and life for the better. Katie Peikes, Harvest Public Media. 
KAYTE YOUNG: Find more from this reporting collective at Coming up we visit the gardens of Groundwork Indy to learn about their youth work program and to talk with director Phyllis Boyd about the role of visioning, designing, and creating for engaging young people in gardening and in community building. That's after a short break, stay with us. 


KAYTE YOUNG: Kayte Young here this is Earth Eats. 

(Sound of car engine turning off, and car door opening)

I've just crossed an expansive boulevard - Burnsville Parkway in Indianapolis and pulled into a parking lot between two green houses and a small stone studded midcentury-style office building. I spot some tall sunflowers not quite in bloom and feathery garden beds on the other side of the building. 

I'm meeting with Phyllis Boyd, she is the executive director of Groundwork Indy. They're are nonprofit organization 1 of 20 independent trust nationwide that are connected to a national groundwork USA Network. Groundwork Indy is tasked with addressing the needs of their community as outlined in a quality-of-life plan that the Northwest area developed prior to 2015.

PHYLLIS BOYD: The Northwest area of Indy, which is now called the near Northwest area, it's been rebranded, but it's basically that beige area on that map. It's got 6 square miles. You can see we've got multiple parks, including Riverside Regional Park that large green linear rectangle there - that's actually larger than Central Park. And we've got three waterways that converge in the area, so there's a lot going on. 

So our task is really supporting the action items at the Arts and Parks and Public Space Action team developed as a part of the quality of life plan. And so those items we add to each year, each month depending on what happens, but we do have some set things that we try to do. 

We have two youth employment programs, the first is our high schoolers Green Team program ages 14-18, for youth enrolled in high school. And then we have program called Ground Core for out-of-school youth and they are anywhere from 16 to 24, and probably ones that are younger in that range, they've dropped out of school, so we can work with them to get enrolled in programs to get their diplomas. Cause we all know that if you have a high school diploma it's really hard to make a living.

KAYTE YOUNG: Groundwork Indy also works to connect the participants to wraparound services. They assist with future job placement but also if someone is facing housing challenges or transportation challenges, they address those issues as well to make sure they can get to work, and those barriers are minimized. The Groundwork office building has an open floor plan with a small kitchen area in front that's always stocked with snacks. Phyllis said they've almost outgrown the building. The garden begins just outside the back door.

PHYLLIS BOYD: Here's the garden that is ours that we manage. We also work in other garden spaces with other community gardens, other nonprofit partners and support their work. Some folks, the places we visit once a week, some places it's just once a month, and other places it might just be at the beginning of the season or at the end of the season to do the prep, or the winter wind down. 

Mostly it's Community Gardens, and that's what this is too. This garden is Community Access, your typical tree in the garden you have people that have plots that they come and work at. We support those as well but this garden here is managed by our youth, and that's Ian Alder over there, he's our garden manager, also our bike coordinator. You'll see that. But this garden really is open to anyone to come into and to pick whatever, they need whenever they need.

KAYTE YOUNG: It's really beautiful, this garden, it's extraordinary.

PHYLLIS BOYD: Initially with our first bed of peas and then now you see, the peas have finished up and the corn is taking over. And we've got beans in there, it's sort of a Three Sisters, Two thirds Three Sisters. And then around the bend here there's a bed that's actually got the corn, and the beans, and the squash, companion planted together. 

KAYTE YOUNG: It's a gorgeous space, wow. 

PHYLLIS BOYD: So it started out when we started in 2015, we didn't have a garden here. It was just lawn from here to the canal. And our first summer program in 2016 we had 10 Green Teamers and they really wanted to have a garden. So we installed two beds on either side of this exit here from the office and every year they made it larger and larger. And last year Ian had the brilliant idea of merging all the beds into one Serpentine bed.

So this used to be discreet rectangles and now they're all together. 

KAYTE YOUNG: That's an interesting modification because you were able to keep the original beds, but just make something more flowing. 

PHYLLIS BOYD: Yeah just to connect them to get more area in garden, and then to really think about this idea of interplanting and diversity in the garden. So we've got flowers here, we've got vegetables here. Try to keep the water off the leaves, Trey! Down on the ground. And it's great for pollinators, and yeah I just think it's really beautiful. 

KAYTE YOUNG: We walked over to a garden bed being tended by Ian the garden manager, and one of the Green Team members Kel.

PHYLLIS BOYD: Hey Kel, what are you working on?

KEL: I'm just cutting these

PHYLLIS BOYD: What are you cutting?

KEL: So this one connect like on this vine, so it's loose on this one over here, so I have to separate it. 

(Sound of garden shears squeaking) 

IAN: These are former pea trellises,


PHYLLIS BOYD: So yeah, constant change in the garden, for sure.

KAYTE YOUNG: [Narrating] Phyllis and I continued on our garden tour.

PHYLLIS BOYD: So there's some squash in here, and some greens.

KAYTE YOUNG: And I love all these narrow pathways with stone and wood and logs and stuff. It's really pretty. 

PHYLLIS BOYD: So Ian has been studying permaculture and just forest ecology and it's so just bringing those principles in here about how you really take care of the soil, and build the ecology in the soil, and the soil health and that is really reliant on having a good substrate for mycorrhizal fungi, and that's where the logs come in. 

But it also helps, you can see that the land to the falls down a little bit, it creates these terraces where we are holding water a little bit better in the beds. Sometimes we're doing is when we’re watering by hand, we have a rain barrel back there. And you see they've gotten a cart and five-gallon buckets where they've gotten water from the rain barrel. Sometimes we'll just take a whole bucket and just pour it onto like one of those logs and let it just sort of seep in slowly.

KAYTE YOUNG: That is really nice, I've never heard of that. It's beautiful, I mean.

PHYLLIS BOYD: Herbs, and lettuce

KAYTE YOUNG: You've got lettuce in the middle of summer, that's impressive. I see all this interplanting so there's peppers, there's lettuce, there's watermelon, some flowers, calendula, I see some amaranth maybe.

PHYLLIS BOYD: We collected some of the calendula flowers like a couple of weeks ago, and they've dried and we're gonna be using them to make a suave with some of the plantain that's growing in the garden as well. 

KAYTE YOUNG: That's great

PHYLLIS BOYD: We've got cabbage interplanted here with dill because it helps to control the cabbage moth and protect them. We had some cabbages that were not plated with the dill, and they just got decimated, they're not even... they're not around anymore. They're just gone.

KAYTE YOUNG: Oh! And I see you have a few chickens walking around.

PHYLLIS BOYD: Yeah, we have a flock, we've got two roosters. I'm actually going to grab a stick because one the rooster's is really... he can be very aggressive, which is his job, but I don't need him attacking us. He's inside the pen right now - the rooster that very protective. 

But we're going to get to more hens, I had a neighbor where I live, just come up last week and say, "Hey! You need more chickens?" I was like, "Uh yeah, but not here but at work." And he's like, "Oh yeah, I've got 20." I'm like, "We'll take 10!" 

So every rooster should have at least six hens, and we had some hens get taken. There's a fox that comes every morning and we catch him on the street cameras. And he visits and some days he gets lucky.

KAYTE YOUNG: So you have what looks like a pretty secure pen for them and then during the day they just kind of walk around? 

PHYLLIS BOYD: They roam around. We added that pen at the end of last summer, right after two dogs just busted into the coop. We thought it was secure, but they just knocked the doors down and got to two more hens. 

So we ended up putting the larger pen around which is more secure, except for there was a gap between the top section and the fence. And the fox climbed up the fence and into that narrow opening and got in the coop and one by one took out three hens. So...

KAYTE YOUNG: And you caught all that on security camera or you just know that's what happened?

PHYLLIS BOYD: They caught it. Because we would have been like, "Where'd they go?!" Because he didn't leave a trace, they were just gone.

KAYTE YOUNG: And so do you get eggs from the chickens?

PHYLLIS BOYD: We do, and either the youth take them home or we run an emergency food pantry that we started at the beginning a covid last year. Mondays and Fridays we'll give out eggs there.

KAYTE YOUNG: And so the youth are also learning about caring for chickens and about their behavior, and all that? 

PHYLLIS BOYD: Yeah, and they take care of them. So caring for chickens is not that hard and because of that, you can get eggs and it's a real sort of low-key way to get a protein source for your family. I haven't really had youth take up having chickens at home, but I've had staff members that now have chickens. So it's good.

KAYTE YOUNG: And you have chickens?

PHYLLIS BOYD: I do have chickens, I love having eggs. And then a couple years ago we planted this native plant border here with the Marion County Soil and Water Conservation District funding. And then we worked with them to actually have different guilds. So the first guild up there is a paw paw guild, and they helped us going to pick the plants to plant with that. This is the plum guild right here. And there's a service Berry guild, and then is elderberry one just past where that utility pole is.

KAYTE YOUNG: And so they help to maintain it or just helped you plant it?

PHYLLIS BOYD: No they just helped us get the plants and then put them in, and then we maintained it. 

KAYTE YOUNG: Wow look at all the pollinators on that. It's like everybody, like bees, wasps, bumblebees, flies, little tiny native bees, that's really cool. 

[Narrating] Those guilds that Phyllis pointed out? That refers to a permaculture term for a collection of plants that help each other grow and don't compete for all the same nutrients. The effect is a diverse and floral living fence between the garden space in the road. We approached the shaded lawn area with brightly colored Adirondack chairs arranged in a large circle. I asked Phyllis about it.

PHYLLIS BOYD: So the first year that we started, well we've always wanted to connect and do connect this sort of hands-on work with the idea that it really all starts with visioning. And like what is it that you want to see? And my background is in landscape architecture and I'm an artist, and so it starts with imagining how you want to change your environment and your surroundings to make it better. Or just what's beautiful to you? How do you want to make that manifest? 

And so we work with the youth on not just the hands-on work but then also the visioning and design. And everything from like park spaces, so like Riverside Park plan that you saw, we worked on the park plan as part of the outreach team but then youth also got to give their input on what they wanted to see in the park.

We may, if you have time, go drive over to the Flanner House Community Orchard which we were part of that process in terms of designing that, working with the design team on that. And then now we maintain it. 

So the space here definitely has their imprint on it. They're the ones who decided to create what they wanted to call a Chill Corner over here. It started at first with just a few chairs for community members, but then with covid last year it became our outdoor meeting space. And so every morning we have our morning meeting, and this is where it happens now. And sometimes we end the day with a Closing Circle. It's definitely come where the spaces that helps, I think it like holds the garden. You've got the trail in the one side, the big circle, the office.

KAYTE YOUNG: So for our listeners can you describe what the space looks like?

PHYLLIS BOYD: Yeah so you see a large circle with outdoor chairs, some of them that were constructed by the youth, others by volunteers but they've all been painted in different colors. They pick up the colors from the garden flowers. So there's a chair that's blue and orange, there's one that's turquoise and fuchsia. And there's a couple benches and some logs. And that just becomes really nice sitting space. 

And so we start with the Morning Circle, we do a check in cuz it's important to know how youth are doing when they come in. We ask them either, tell us how you are doing on a scale of 1 to 10. Some circles you have a mood meter sheet of paper, and it's like take two words, and what's your word of the day? Blend it together. And then we have a check in question, and it could be, if you were an animal would you be? Or what's the best piece of advice anyone ever gave you? Something like that, just to kind of connect and learn more about them. 

Then we all stand up and we do a Stretch Circle because the work is very physical, as you can see. And they're young, they're not necessarily used to thinking like, "I've got to really like get my body ready to do this work." But each person gets a chance to lead in a stretch. And it's a very kind of low-key way of having each person take the lead on something, just even for a minute, and just have all eyes on you and then you just lead a stretch and don't say anything. So we try to have opportunities where we build on those small experiences and give folks chances to be leaders and guide their peers and things. 

So we have right now 42 youth in the Green Team program this summer, and they're broken up into three teams. Two of those youth each team are the co-leads, co captains. I try to do male and female, and there are Green Teamers that have been here for at least 2 years. About half of our current Green Teamers are repeats from previous years. And so we have usually way more applicants than we have spaces for. We were able to manage, this is our biggest summer yet since 2016.

KAYTE YOUNG: And so it's a work program, so it's basically a job, they're getting paid and they're learning skills.

PHYLLIS BOYD: So for most of the youth that are new this is their first job ever and so they're getting acquainted with the practice of getting places on time, letting us know if and when they're gonna be late, calling ahead. We have conversations about what does it mean to be a part of a team? How important it is to have a good attitude even when the work is hard. And some days were out here it's sweltering. And how do you work through that even when it's tough? 

And if you talk to each team they're going to tell you they've got the best team. And it's great, and they work well together, they get along they build bonds and part of the skills they're building are ones that are more about just as a human being how do you get along in the world? And what does it mean to build a sense of belonging, to build internal resilience, and so it's the life skills that were working on as well as the job skills. And in some ways the life skills are the most important part of what we do.

KAYTE YOUNG: Right so many of the people who are participating may not pursue careers or jobs in agriculture or in landscaping, or yeah.

PHYLLIS BOYD: They may not. For me, it's great if they want to. The most important thing is they start to really figure out what it is that interests them and to know that they have a space here to kind of start to explore stuff, and talk to us about things, and figure that out.

KAYTE YOUNG: So it’s building other kind of skills besides just learning how to grow stuff.

PHYLLIS BOYD: Absolutely, but the growing stuff is great. The growing stuff for the community, the taking care of community spaces is a great way to build community connections. It's also a great way for them to understand the level of agency that they have in the world, even with these small things that we do, that are really actually quite immense and beautiful.

KAYTE YOUNG: Could you tell me a little bit about how you got involved with this? Or just what inspired you to move in this direction?

PHYLLIS BOYD: I was working for a small landscape architecture and planning firm for about eight years. And we had tried to do projects with youth, involve them in the planning phases of things. But it was really hard to get the project schedule meshed up with the school schedule. And sometimes we would be able to have some interactions that were meaningful but not real deep.

KAYTE YOUNG: To go through a whole process?

PHYLLIS BOYD: To get the whole thing, like just the timing was never quite right. And then so I knew wanted to figure out how to work with youth more in that way. And then my former boss and the owner of the company was wanting to scale down and eventually plan for a retirement and had thought to have myself and another coworker take over the business and buy it from her. We went down that road for about 6 months and then I realized that I was going to be going around the state doing marketing and like, drumming up the business. And that's not really the work that I wanted to do, I wanted to stay working with community more closely and in this community in particular, in Indianapolis which is where I'm from. 

So I decided that was not the route I wanted to go and decided to leave the company. I didn't really know what I was going to do, just that I wanted to figure out how I was gonna work with youth, and then this job came up and it was a good fit.

KAYTE YOUNG: Well it seems like it's maybe helpful to have that national organization that's already kind of set up a structure so you're not just starting just from nothing.

PHYLLIS BOYD: Yeah the great thing about that, oh look there's the great blue heron.

KAYTE YOUNG: [Narrating] A great bird with a long beak and a giant wingspan gilded over the garden as we spoke. 

[To Phyllis] Wow I guess being so close to the canal you get some of those water birds.

PHYLLIS BOYD: Yeah. So yeah with Groundwork USA, the way you get a trust in your city or town, you actually apply to Groundwork USA to do it, and then you have to put together a whole collective of folks to serve as the steering committee to go through this feasibility process to do that. And the steering committee is residents, it's other nonprofits in the area, city government, Municipal folks and then other partners that are stakeholders that are relevant. And obviously at the end of that feasibility process it was decided that any of us could handle another nonprofit, and that the work that was needed to be done was enough to necessitate a Groundwork Indy starting here.

KAYTE YOUNG: And that had already happened before you came on?

PHYLLIS BOYD: Right I came on when that was done, when the first board had already formed, and they issued a job announcement for the executive director.

KAYTE YOUNG: So you're the first executive director for the program?


KAYTE YOUNG: Oh cool. Well that's sort of neat. You're joining something that already has some structure, but you also get to be the visionary too.

PHYLLIS BOYD: Yeah, so we knew we wanted to have our youth program and so we started that off right away. Like I started in August of 2015 we had a first youth program in October. 

This was maybe the beginnings of our forest ecological approach to the gardening here, this tree that died and was cut down last year. And then Ian started excavating around the roots and started planting just sort of this wildness, beautiful wildness. And we've talked to the youth about this whole idea of the hidden life of trees, what's going on under the soil, like how important this thing is that you don't even really see and take for granted, just how alive it is. And you can't have a good garden without good soil. It's a good metaphor for them, there's that saying, if you have a plant that's not growing, the issue isn't with the plant, it's with environment. And so I think that applies to these kids as well.

KAYTE YOUNG: Phyllis tells me that they work with a local arborist who brings them large trunks and branches to incorporate into their gardenwork.

PHYLLIS BOYD: They're great for these mounds that we're doing here. Hugelkultur, it's a German word, I'm sure other cultures have done this as well, but you dig out a shallow pit, you put in all these branches, and then you put the soil back on that you dug out. And then as the wood breaks down it creates that richer soil environment for the mycorrhizal fungi and other things to live, it holds moisture better, plants grow and they're happier. 

So this is the second round of hugelkultur mounds that we've done, the first round are the front ones along the way there and we had just native plants in those. And you see how those are settled in a lot more, but they start this tall, and then this year with all of the extra lumber that we have or wood, we're able to make them a little more substantial. What we like to do, and Ian is really great about this, is we have a lot of seeds inside and when there's a spot that's ready for something new to go in, and he just says, "Go pick something that you wanna grow." And we'll go get a seed pack with seeds. And so it's very hands-on, like we're not... 


PHYLLIS BOYD: Yeah, try it out! I mean that’s what it is, it's an experiment. And if it doesn't work, guess what? You can plant something else there later.

KAYTE YOUNG: Yeah I think that's an important part of working with youth from my own experience, is that you can't have somebody who's too controlling. Because if you want a perfect garden you're gonna not have the right experience for everyone involved.

PHYLLIS BOYD: Right, and we're not shooting for perfection, we're shooting for richness of experience.

KAYTE YOUNG: I'm speaking with Phyllis Boyd at Groundwork Indy. She was just talking about hugelkultur. Hugelkultur mimics the forest floor environment to create rich soil for garden beds. In just a moment we have a story from Harvest Public Media about farmers using the actual forest floor in agriculture. Later in the show Phyllis Boyd takes me on a driving tour of some pocket gardens and art installations throughout the Northwest neighborhood, and a community Orchard created through a partnership with Flanner house. Stay with us. 


Thanks for listening to Earth Eats, I'm Kayte Young. The role of trees in agriculture tends to be viewed as limited to the lumber industry or highly organized orchards to grow fruit. But Harvest Public Media's Jonathan Ahl reports that some farmers are looking to the forest floor to get more people into agriculture, at least part time.

JONATHAN AHL: Dennis Lindberg's five acres in southern Missouri don't look like a farm. After making our way through a fence and past a thicket of sticker bushes, we're in heavily forested area on sloping ground. All around the forest floor are smatterings of small green plants, they're intentional, those are the crops.

DENNIS LINDBERG: Here’s some ginseng here that I planted, I'm taking the seed from it and just planting it right down in here, so it'll spread. But you've got to get the seed in the ground. 
JONATHAN AHL: Lindberg grows ginseng, golden seal and other plants that prosper in the shade. They're used in cooking, medicines, and supplements. He's one of a growing number of people who are doing very small-scale farming in forested areas to serve niche markets. Lindberg says it’s possible to make a decent living this way.

DENNIS LINDBERG: You grow a 100lbs of ginseng root out in the woods, at $500-600 a pound, it's pretty good money.

JONATHAN AHL: It's not quite that easy though, because ginseng needs 7 years to grow before harvest, and it's worth more if you wait longer. Lindberg has been forest farming for almost 40 years and much of that time he's had another job raising hogs. Forest farming advocates say it's an underutilized form of agriculture. Hannah Hemmelgarn is with the university of Missouri center for agroforestry. She says the key is to find the right crops to plant in the right kind of forest.
HANNA HEMMELGARN: And I think that there are ways that people who are doing this are getting really creative, and creating markets, and creating interest in these value-added products especially. 

JONATHAN AHL: Forest farmers are also finding markets for products including black walnuts, witch hazel, and amaranth. The Hellmuth family owns Ozark Forest mushrooms in Missouri. They grow a special variety of shiitake mushrooms on white oak logs. Instead of building shaped shelters they grow them under a stand of yellow pine trees on their land about a hundred fifty miles Southwest St Louis. Stacks of logs under special blankets are covered with mushrooms waiting to be picked. Henry Hellmuth says these mushrooms are in analogous to heirloom tomatoes.

HENRY HELLMUTH: These have a stronger flavor, are more unique, and it's also just a different variety. So you'll see the ones in the store looks slightly different. They've got just as slightly different flavor. 

JONATHAN AHL: Henry Hellmuth is the son the founders of the farm. They harvest between 100 and 500 lb. of mushrooms a week all year round and drive them to St Louis or where they're sold for $10 a pound, wholesale to restaurants in specialty grocery stores, and a couple bucks more at farmers markets. He says this farm is profitable in part because they also have a B&B that is booked months in advance and includes a mushroom tour with the stay.

HENRY HELLMUTH: Not to be too pessimistic but there's many easier ways to make a living. At just any small-scale farming operation you're going to realize it's not that profitable of an endeavor. It's a hard endeavor, seven days a week, always working, but also a lot of people love that lifestyle, feeling connected to your work directly. 

JONATHAN AHL: And that draw to farm and work with the land may get more people in the forest farming, partially because the cost to get into the business is much lower than conventional farming. Hemmelgarn says a few acres and some basic supplies costs far less than hundreds of acres and the high-tech machine we needed to grow row crops like corn or wheat.

HANNAH HEMMELGARN: Keeping trees in the ground, planting trees, and thinking about ways to integrate our livelihoods with tree landscapes, and making a livelihood, or part of your livelihood from the spaces, I hope it's going to be more part of the agricultural landscape moving forward.

JONATHAN AHL: She says another part of the allure to forest farming is the desire to mitigate climate change. More trees means less carbon in the atmosphere. The US Department of Agriculture identifies forest farming is a good alternative to supplement income for farmers and other landowners but stopped short of calling it a full-time occupation. Jonathan Ahl Harvest Public Media.

KAYTE YOUNG: Harvest Public Media covers food and farming in the Heartland, learn more at Earlier in the show we spoke with Phyllis Boyd of Groundwork Indy. We toured their on-site garden where teams of young people tend to the plants and chickens as part of a youth development program. I wanted to hear about the other work that the Green Team's ground core groups and groundwork staff engage in throughout the community.

PHYLLIS BOYD: Right now we have a project called the Community Lead Environmental Action Project, and at the moment that's mostly staff supported, but we're partnering with others in the community to do this. Where we are seeking community input on what are the issues and concerns that people have about the environment? Everything from lead in soils, to what's going on in your house, what's your water quality, what's the air quality outdoors indoors, and sort of just where do we go from here?  There's a lot going on. There's Brownfield property that may or may not have contamination. 

There are a lot of vacant properties. So in this area about a third of the properties are vacant, about a 1/3 are renter occupied, a third are owner occupied. And so that's a lot of vacant properties. And with vacant properties come a lot of issues, including a criminal activity, and then one of the worst ones is just kind of chronic dumping. But it's not the residents that are doing it, it's folks either working for landlords that evicted people and they're just dumping like furniture, or its construction companies dumping construction waste because they don't want to go pay for it at that the landfill. So they'll come find a vacant lot that doesn't have a lot of eyes on it, and then they'll dump on there.

KAYTE YOUNG: And so then you're getting all kinds of contaminants just from that.

PHYLLIS BOYD: Yeah, yeah, and its an ongoing issue. So one of the things we do besides guarding this place as we've activated some vacant properties on the street. 

Before one of the start of connecting projects for us is that before when I was working at the other firm, I worked with a community a safe routes to school plan. And then worked with youth at the two elementary schools nearby, asked them one to map their routes to and from school, how they walk or biked. And then also asked them what is that you like about your walking and bike to school? What do you not like about it? 

And the things that kind of rose to the top in terms of what really was troubling to them, was they were getting chased by dogs, they were not liking the scary kind of abandoned properties that they had to walk by, there were adults that would harass them. And there were some other things that no kid should have to deal with on their way to school. 

And other issues in terms of, and when we did a sidewalk assessment or a pedestrian assessment with them and had them go out in teams. We had three different grades participating, and so one of the grades would take notes, one was taking photos, one grade was like the lookout to make sure that they were safe as they crossed the street. And they were just going around, around the schools, and just marking what sidewalks were in good shape, what ramps, also taking note of how many abandoned properties were around the school. So just in one school alone there were like 70, in the three-block radius around the school there were like 70 abandoned properties.


PHYLLIS BOYD: And so we can take a drive and see. But what we identified with the mapping of the routes was like which are the routes are the kind of collector routes, and that helped us determine where to put the lot activation project. And that was a separate project that I worked on with another artist - LaShawna Lastorm and we got an ArtPlace America Grant to fund that.

KAYTE YOUNG: So what is a lot activation?

PHYLLIS BOYD: It can be anything from a garden, to art, to just putting up a fence and mowing it and making him not look like it's abandoned. But activation, is really for me it's like are you inviting people into it?

KAYTE YOUNG: And I'm making it cared for, caring for it.

PHYLLIS BOYD: Yeah, cared for.

KAYTE YOUNG: When you're having these meetings or discussions or working with the youth, do you ever touch on issues of food justice, environmental justice, those kinds of things?

PHYLLIS BOYD: Absolutely, yeah. So we ground the work in the context of the community. So that includes learning about historical structural racism, institutional racism, why the highway is where it is, why the neighborhood looks like it does. It's not just cuz their parents or grandparents aren't trying or haven't and tried. You look at redlining, the history of redlining and how that is impacted chronic disinvestment in areas, and why we have these vacant properties here. We look at the issue of mass incarceration because that affects them. We've got violence in the community and how that has impacted them. 

So it's super contextualized. There's no work that happens without some explanation of the multiple lies. And also the environmental side of it, like if we're planting a tree we talk about why a tree? What does a tree do? How do trees function? They understand we've got this garden that's got all of all these different plants in it, they get that we're supporting pollinators, that it's important to have biodiversity.

KAYTE YOUNG: And also how some neighborhoods have tree canopies that are mature, and some don't. 

PHYLLIS BOYD: Right, exactly. So the heat island effect, we talked about climate change. Some of the work that we do is super labor-intensive. Like we go round, there's probably a crew out right now that's clearing curbs on Raider Street because one of the issues is we don't have street cleaners come along so the curbs get built up with debris. They're growing plants, the storm drains that blocked, and the streets flood, which means people's basements are getting wet, they're getting in home mildew. So there are all these things that are connected to the urban environment, the herbalogical cycle and we try to make those connections cause nothing is happening in a vacuum. 

I think it's shocking to some of them, particularly things like lead in the soils. Like some of them had no idea, like what. Like this is an issue? And learning about Flint, places like that, environmental justice issues that we have here as well as other places in America. The socio-political stuff that's happening that really does impact them and people that look like them. Most of our youth are youth of color, and they're low income.

Let's take a drive.


PHYLLIS BOYD: And I'll show you Broad Ripple.

KAYTE YOUNG: We took the Groundwork pickup truck to drive around the neighborhood looking at projects.

PHYLLIS BOYD: The canal is the borderline between the Northwest Civic neighborhood and the Riverside neighborhood. I'm just gonna go across the canal so that you can see how beautiful it is. It's a neighborhood in the core of Indianapolis. You can see that there's quite a few vacant properties but then also a lot of actual neighbors that are here and living, and that care about the neighborhood. This is one of the lots that we activated with a fence. This is an intersection that we freshen up every year in partnership with IU Health, for their IU Health days of service.

KAYTE YOUNG: [Narrating] We drove to the Raiders Street Corridor. I saw the vacant lot activation sites with raised garden beds, colorful picket fencing, and art sheds with murals painted by local artists like Metisha Couer 

PHYLLIS BOYD: You could characterize this as an economically struggling neighborhood but then that's only really a part of the story. There are the residents that live here, a lot of them are very engaged and have a lot of gifts and talents. And it's a very rich neighborhood. It might not be economically rich but it's rich in other ways. We'll go back to Raider Street and then... This is the firehouse they're renovating this old fire station.

KAYTE YOUNG: It's a really cool building. 

PHYLLIS BOYD: Let me backup, that house back there across the alley from the Wellness Garden is Inspire house, it's a duplex. And they are turning it into a Potter's House where on one side a ceramicist will have a studio, and then do community classes, and on the other side they'll live. So that's just right there. The Aspire house started by Sharon and Tim Clark, African American couple and it's next to the Wellness Garden, and across the street from the neighborhood park.


PHYLLIS BOYD: Like I said there's a lot going on a lot of people who love this community and are working hard. So this is the Flanner House Community Orchard, it went in a few years ago. The trees are getting mature and they're producing.

KAYTE YOUNG: We arrived at a spacious green space with young fruit trees and gravel paths. The orchard is near the two-acre Flanner Farm and next to Cleo's Bodega with a gorgeous new mural painted across the long side of the building. Flanner House worked with Keep Indianapolis Beautiful or KIB to start the orchard.

PHYLLIS BOYD: For their Green Space Projects they pick a designer to work with. They work with community teams to pick projects, and this was one of the first Community Orchards that they've ever done. And then they worked with our youth to think about the layout, and what kind of spaces were needed in the community orchard, so a fire pit and things like that. So we come back every weekend.

It's an ongoing thing as controlling the weeds in the gravel, cause we're not trying to be mean or spray herbicides and stuff here. So it's just basically hand removal, and it's a constant process. We just work our way around weekly.

This mural was installed for Juneteenth, and there's a big celebration here. It's by Tasha Beckwith, it's gorgeous, and it I love it. The other mural on the other side is looking towards the past, and honoring the past, and this to me is like black futurism and like looking forwards. And it's one of my favorite murals in this city. 

KAYTE YOUNG: That might be a good place for us to end, looking to the future. I've been speaking with Phyllis Boyd, executive director of Groundwork Indy. Please go to our website to learn more about the great work happening in the Northwest area of Indianapolis. That's at 

That's all we have time for today, thanks for joining us.

RENEE REED: The Earth Eats team includes Eobon Binder, Mark Chilla, Toby Foster, Abraham Hill, Payton Knobeloch, Josephine McRobbie, Harvest Public Media and me, Renee Reed. 

KAYTE YOUNG: Special thanks this week to Phyllis Boyd, Ian and Kel, and everyone at Groundwork Indy.
RENEE REED: Our theme music is composed by Erin Tobey and performed by Erin and Matt Tobey. Additional music on the show comes to us from the artist at Universal Productions Music. Earth Eats is produced and edited by Kayte Young and our executive producer is John Bailey.

Phyllis  Boyd standing in the shade with a large stick in her hand, smiling at the camera. A small white building, brightly painted wooden chairs and a lush garden are visible in the background.

Phyllis Boyd stands in the "Chill Corner" of the garden at Groundwork Indy. The garden and office building are visible in the background. Phyllis carries a big stick in case she needs to shoo away the agressive rooster who patrols the garden. (Kayte Young/WFIU)

“We’re not shooting for perfection, we’re shooting for richness of experience.“

This week on the show, we visit Groundwork Indy and speak with Executive Director Phyllis Boyd. She gives us a tour of their on-site garden tended by teams of young people in their youth development program. Then we take a drive around Northwest Indianapolis to see other inspiring projects, including a community orchard.

Plus two stories from Harvest Public Media: one about a beekeeping program in a prison and one about agriculture in the forest.


I crossed an expansive boulevard, Burdsal Parkway in Indianapolis, and pulled into a parking lot between two greenhouses, and a small, stone studded mid-century style office building. I spotted some tall sunflowers, not quite in bloom, and feathery garden beds on the other side of the building. 

I was there to meet with Phyllis Boyd. She is the Executive Director of Groundwork Indy. They are a non-profit organization, one of 20 independent trusts nation wide that are connected to a National Groundwork USA network,.

Groundwork Indy is tasked with addressing the needs of their community as outlined in a Quality of Life Plan, that the Northwest Area developed prior to 2015. Their work includes youth employment, development and maintenance of greeways and parks, addressing brownfields and vacant land, and building healthy communities

Phyllis showed me around their on-site garden, which is maintained by youth in their programs, and we drove around the Northwest area to see a few projects that Phyllis and Groundworks have been involved with. 

a lush garden with flowers and vegetables and a shed with a bright mural painted on it.
This Wellnes Garden, next to the "Potter's House" on Rader St. was originally a RECLAIM vacant lot activation site. Aspire House has transformed the space into a  wellness garden, with extra tall raised beds for elderly gardeners. The mural on the art shed (part of the RECLAIM project) was painted by Mechi Skakur.  Phyllis Boyd started RECLAIM with LaShawnda Crowe Storm.(Kayte Young/WFIU) 
Bright mural painted onto a long building, stylized images of an african american man and woman, with red and black background and sweeping yellow and black lines. raised garden beds and apples on a tree are visible in the foreground.
The mural Gatekeepers, by Tasha Beckwith, was installed on Juneteenth on the side of Cleo's Bodega next to the Flanner House Community Orchard. Youth from Groundwork Indy were part of the design team for the orchard, and they maintain the space weekly. (Kayte Young/ WFIU)

Listen to this week's episode of Earth Eats for the full story. 

Music on this Episode

The Earth Eats theme music is composed by Erin Tobey and performed by Erin and Matt Tobey.

Additional music on this episode from the artists at Universal Production Music.

Stories On This Episode

What Caring For Bees Teaches Inmates About Life Beyond Prison

three people in white protective clothing, including hats with screens, working on a hive box with frames. One person is holding a smoking tool. White stacked hive boxes are visible as well as chainlink fencing topped with razor wire in the backgroun

Many people in prison learn trades -- like cooking or landscaping. It helps prepare them for life after they’re released. Some prisons are doing something different -- they’re training inmates to work with bees.

The Forest Floor May Be Untapped Agricultural Land

cut tree branches, leaning upright, with brown mushrooms growing on them

Trees' role in agriculture tend to be viewed as limited to the lumber industry or highly organized orchards to grow fruits. But some farmers are looking to the forest floor to get more people into agriculture, at least part time.

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