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Community gardeners, urban farmers worry about ability to feed community amid heat wave

Indy community gardens and farms supply hundreds of Hoosiers with fresh produce. Now, their yield is threatened due to heat.

INDIANAPOLIS — Community gardens function as critical access points of nutrition for thousands of folks in Indianapolis. 

As a record-breaking heat wave rages, the city's urban gardeners and growers are fighting to produce their usual yield against a toughening climate. 

Danielle Guerin is the executive director of the Soul Food Project, a community farm that focuses on empowering wellness in Indianapolis and educating the next generation of urban gardeners. 

The heat has slowed down production.

"Produce-wise, things are struggling a little bit. Things are slowing down — a lot. They're not used to growing in this heat. And some things aren't even germinating, because it's just too hot," Guerin said.  

Across the farms' three locations in Indianapolis, which distributes food at locations on Keystone and Sherman avenues and on the far east side, Guerin has had to take extra precautions to make sure the outstanding heat does not affect her output. 

"Our yields are lower, and so then we can’t put that money out for the neighbor residents who need the food. We can't serve as many people. So that's concerning for us that we don't have enough food to serve everyone," Guerin said. 

RELATED: Inside Indy food deserts, Black gardeners and farmers grow the freshest greens in town

Across the city, community gardeners and urban growers of all types are feeling the heat. 

At the Fountain Square Community Garden along Virginia Avenue, leaders of an all-volunteer garden say the heat is affecting their ability to feed community members in need.

Tim Dunkel, the garden's co-founder and head gardener, began the project three years ago as a way to bring nutritious food to people living in food deserts. 

While the garden's group of volunteers were able to gather much of their early spring produce and distribute it to community members, he has concerns about vegetables that will need to be harvested later in the summer. 

"A lot of the plants just aren't fit for this. Our kale and broccoli and our peas are pretty much fried now after this, what week-and-a-half, two weeks of this heat wave. They just can't handle the heat. Tomatoes and others, they do a little bit better," Dunkel said.

RELATED: Elephant Gardens provides fresh organic produce on Indy's northeast side

Across the city, Indy's close-knit network of community gardeners and urban farmers are swapping ways to innovate against the brutal heat.

"We are always texting each other like, 'what are you doing? How are you surviving this heat?'" Guerin said.

Right now, their main concern is accessing enough water. Both the Soul Food Project and Fountain Square Community Garden relied on water provided by community members nearby. With rising costs, that water hasn't been given so freely. 

"We've been able to consistently have access to water, which has been very lucky for us. I know in times where that's kind of been in question, it's given us some anxiety," said Stephen Fenton Jr., a director at Fountain Square Community Garden. 

In the meantime, Guerin said she's taken on extra measures to harvest her farms, and even changed some of her tactics. She wakes up around 6 a.m. to tend the vegetables without the heat, and has taken to growing some microgreens indoors with hydroponics.

"We've been up since 6 o'clock this morning, working out in the garden. Harvesting early just to keep it a little bit cooler," she said.

Overall, the gardeners say climate change, and the heat waves that come with it, are at the back of their minds. And they have some advice for how to keep your own garden safe in the wake of this brutal wave. 

"I would say that's the number one priority I follow is trying to get out here early in the morning to get them wet, and watered, before the heat starts coming on," Dunkel said. 


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