St. Alban’s Peace Garden is located at the intersection of East 46th Street and North Emerson Avenue in Indianapolis. We believe our intersection represents the crossroads of food insecurity and high homicide rates — and our faith in the resurrection, in hope, in peace and in everlasting life.
Church leadership recognized the challenges faced by those living on the east side of Indy. Our area is one of the most severe food deserts in Indiana, especially for fresh produce. And, in 2014, Indianapolis’ per capita murder rate was higher than that of Chicago’s. Indy has since set murder records each of the last several years. The church’s location, and its large lot size, was determined to be an ideal opportunity to provide fresh produce and raise awareness of violence.
A handful of volunteers, led by Deacon Mike Scime and Sarah Archer:
- Cultivated a 50-foot square plot in late May and planted watermelons and cantaloupes in early June. We did this to have a tangible beginning for this project in 2015 and to test the capacity of the soil. The fruit produced was distributed in September and early October to local homeless shelters.
- Created a sign for the garden that reads: St. Alban’s Peace Garden Swords into Plowshares (Micah 4:3). Designed, constructed, and painted six Religious Symbol plaques to promote inclusivity.
- Twenty-five people from St. Alban’s congregation and Grace and Mercy congregation, which shares our church home, plowed the area for the garden and sowed oats as a winter ground cover.
Thanks to a generous grant from the United Thank Offering (UTO), St. Alban’s created a full half acre functioning farm complete with a full-time garden manager, Tate Nielsen. Tate was responsible for designing a plan for what, where and when to plant seeds or seedlings. Tate also coordinated
volunteers, tracked harvest numbers. The results were astonishing:
- Gardeners raised nearly 10,000 pounds of vegetables, equal to 70,732 servings, that were contributed to area food pantries.
- 86 volunteers contributed nearly 900 hours of time.
- As we built white crosses for every homicide victim in Indianapolis that were placed in the garden as row markers and plant stakes, we mourned 148 homicide victims.
Year two. We did it again! Despite some changes, we raised nearly the same amount of vegetables, proving we can sustain the garden. We named our steadily growing cadre of volunteers as “the Order of the Green Thumb” holding a welcoming ceremony for each new volunteer. Our funders were parishioners and grant funds from Trinity Episcopal Church, Christ Church Cathedral Women, and The Glick Fund of the Central Indiana Community Foundation. Research with food pantries helped us refine what crops were planted. Tate continued as part-time garden manager.
- Gardeners raised 8,074 pounds of vegetables (70,736 servings) that were contributed to area food pantries.
- 94 volunteers contributed over 800 hours of time.
- We mourned 154 homicide victims.
Year three. We have always enjoyed a relationship with Indy Urban Acres, which provides greenhouse space and other resources. Since 2016, we’ve also benefited from a wonderful relationship with local farmers who have supplied manure and hay (both for soil health). We faced some funding and volunteer challenges this year, so we reduced the size of the garden slightly. Tate continues as part-time garden manager. Once again, we were blessed with a generous grant from the The Glick Fund of the Central Indiana Community Foundation, as well as contributions from our parishioners. Thanks also to the Marion County Soil and Water district for a small grant.
The garden was grown with volunteer assistance from a number of groups, including: Worthmore Academy, the Junior League and Lutheran Middle School. Our primary food pantry distribution partner in 2018 shifted to the Cupboard of Lawrence Township which received 75% of weekly contributions. Other partners were Breakfast Buddies, Carriage House East and Sharing Place.
- Gardeners raised 6,548 pounds of vegetables (50,715 servings) that were contributed to area food pantries.
- More than 80 volunteers contributed over 800 hours of service.
- We mourned 159 homicide victims (4th consecutive record number of annual homicides).
Year four. We’re being recognized! We received an award for being a River Friendly Farmer from the Marion County Soil and Water Conservation District, which recognizes our practices of no-till farming, limited organic chemical use, cover cropping, and crop rotation. It also recognizes planting native Indiana perennials, which attracts native and beneficial insects.
Our partnership continues with Indy Urban Acres and local farmers, as well as wonderful volunteer partner organizations, especially the Society of St Andrew, which regularly sent 3-5 volunteers to harvest over half of our total produce, and Worthmore Academy and Lutheran Middle School.
- Gardeners raised 7,468 pounds of vegetables that were contributed to area food pantries. It was a great year for tomatoes and we grew cucumbers, which were very productive and popular.
- More than 60 volunteers contributed over 800 hours of service.
- We mourned 152 homicide victims.
Year five. The year kicks off with new funding partners, and a renewed sense of excitement to make a difference for people in need of healthy food choices!