INDIANAPOLIS — An Indianapolis nonprofit is working to break the cycle of poverty while exposing students to career opportunities in agriculture and developing a pipeline of trained urban farmers.
"I was already fascinated with gardening and taking care of plants," Shila Neyland said. "I think this is a really important thing especially for people my age to do."
Neyland is a senior at Franklin Central High School and one of 10 participants in Growing Places Indy's Young Grow Getters program.
On the campus of Arsenal Tech High School, students spent six weeks this summer learning how to plant, harvest, and take care of the land at one of four of the non-profit's urban farms.
"I've learned a lot about tomatoes, which are my favorite, I help with my mom with tomatoes in her garden," Neyland said. "To me, it's really relaxing and mindful. It's a place for me to just focus on one thing and let go of everything else, it's almost therapeutic, it's really nice."
The goal of Young Grow Getters is for students to gain career skills working alongside farmers to better understand the local food system.
"Responsibility, time management, career choices, the difference between a career path and a career, a job and a career," Young Grow Getters student, Emily Khemir said. "It made me think more towards what I want to do in the future and that's something I've kind of been keeping it back in my mind since then."
Growing Places Indy has run a summer urban farming apprenticeship program for the past 10 years, aside from 2020 during the pandemic.
It relaunched this year allowing students to get paid for their work. Growing Places Indy Executive Director Victoria Beaty says throughout the program students have the opportunity to learn from other organizations in the city that are doing impactful work in the food system.
"I didn't have any concept of what a real food look like," Beaty said. "I grew up in a neighborhood that was a food desert. We didn't have a grocery store to shop with so as an adult I really wanted to learn how to grow my own food and I actually learned that through this organization before I became the executive director."
During the pandemic, Growing Places Indy began donating 50% of the food they grow back into the community. The other half is sold to support programs like Young Grow Getters.
"At my age we are pretty detached as to how our food comes to be, a lot of people don't understand what meat really comes from or what a salad really is and I feel like it's very important to work here to know. Every time I eat something now I'm like dang, I'm so grateful for the people who helped harvest all this," Khemir said.
Leaders hope that by equipping students with skills they need to grow their own food, it will help break the cycle of poverty and expose them to careers in agriculture.
"With climate change and food deserts and stuff like that I'd like to be a big help with that even though this is small it means a lot to me," Neyland said.
Growing Places Indy is working to improve access to fresh local food and mind-body education in Indianapolis through other programs, such as Plant it Forward, Grow Getters, The Indy Night Market and the Indy Winter Farmers Market.
Their goal is to create a healthy and thriving community, but they can't do it without community support. To donate and support these programs, click here.