By Camille Sampson
With the stroke of a pen, Jerry Keys, president of the board of the Pleasant Run Food Cooperative, inaugurated a new chapter in Indy’s food history by becoming part of the inaugural cohort of Indy Food Fund grantees. Pleasant Run received $6,000 to aid the creation of a business plan and other financial documents for the still-in-development community grocery.
Keys and Pleasant Run are not alone: they are part of a cohort of 11 projects that received micro-grants from a group that’s been convening for more than a year that calls itself the Food System Action Group. Over the past year, the Food System Action Group has been meeting regularly at different locations across the city, plotting ways to grow a healthier, more sustainable food system for Indy’s residents. They think they hit on a gem with this micro-granting initiative that so far has awarded nearly $50,000. Recipients range from Keys’ Cooperative to Meals on Wheels to a collaboration on the Near Eastside that hopes to provide a closed loop food delivery system with produce grown from vacant lots and delivered on golf carts.
Andrew Brake was another of the recipients. Brake owns Nap Town chickens, a backyard chicken advocacy group. He will use his award to expand his partnerships with Indianapolis public schools and to build an improved curriculum for the school-age recipients of his chicken coops. ”The Food Fund is going to help us build an excellent curriculum, and more importantly it offers us important validation for the work we’re doing at Nap Town Chickens,” said Brake. ”Before, I was just some wacky guy who loved chickens, and now I have meaningful institutional support. That’s just great.”
For the Food System Action Group, it’s really about bringing the Indy food system together in more meaningful ways, fostering community around food, and heightening awareness of food issues. Members of the group are quick to point out the challenges that Indy’s food system has before it. More than 1/3 of Indianapolis residents have low food access and an equal number suffer from diet-related health issues. The group is equally quick to point out, though, the tremendous possibilities for change, change it thinks the Indy Food Fund will help catalyze.
“It’s really been an incredible process, to see all the innovative work being done by Indy’s residents to build from the ground up a food system that works better for our environment, for our economy, and for our communities,” said Dr. Nicolaas Mink, the Urban Sustainable Food Fellow at Butler University and one of the participants in the group. According to Mink, the Food System Action Group has more plans in the works, including the development of a Food Council and year-long fellowships for college students interested in improving the food system. “I think the Food Fund is just the beginning,” said Mink.