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

Elephants are community-focused herbivores and the mission for Elephant Gardens is all in the name.

INDIANAPOLIS — On the northeast side of Indianapolis, there's a fresh market stall called Elephant Gardens. Like elephants, the owners of the family business are community-focused herbivores But it's not just a fresh market. Behind the stand sits an oasis, from which all the fresh produce originates.  

A white picket fence separates the garden from a turquoise blue kiosk on the street. Once behind the picket fence, the sounds of cars rushing down Sherman Avenue evaporate into the beauty of butterflies fluttering and rows of plump vegetables.  

A customer asks matriarch Joyce Randolph if she's the one with the green thumb. Randolph laughs, responding, "It's my daughter."

"Around here, I’m called the garden manager," said Randolph's daughter, Vivian Muhammed.  

The quarter-acre urban garden has rows of peppers, tomatoes, potatoes, and a variety of herbs. In the back, pumpkins are being planted in preparation for the fall.  

"We work really hard to add nutrients to our soil so that our vegetables are as nutrient-dense as possible," said Muhammed as she plucked weeds and watered the plants.  

From a distance, she can be overhead speaking to the plants. "You need this water," she said, "that’s better isn't it?” 

She sawed gently, pushing aside the leaves so that she can quench the thirst of each plant's roots. It's clear tending to the garden is a labor of love. 

"There isn't a grocery store in the neighborhood that sells organic produce unless, of course, they're buying from us," Muhammed said.

About a mile away is Safeway, but it doesn't carry organic produce. There are also some restaurants in the area. But Elephant Garden is filling a need in the area — one they didn't realize was there when they started eight years ago, but it soon became their mission.  

"We wanted a garden to produce the items we eat because we're vegetarians,” said Randolph.

As soon as plants began to sprout, so did the demand from the community. 

"We were working and building the garden, [and] people would be like, 'What are you guys doing? Let me know when you have something available. When can we buy?'" Randolph said.

So they began to sell their produce, but to this family, making sure it's something that's affordable is part of their mission.

"I've lived here for 50 years," Randolph said. She said everyone in the community and neighboring areas are her neighbors and she wants to make sure they can all get the fresh produce they want and need. 

"Tomatoes at $3.50 a pound," Randolph said. She said she's also able to work with customers if they want a little more than they can afford. "We accept WIC. We accept SNAP — all the federal [food] programs," Randolph said.

Elephant Gardens is from the community and for the community. Randolph said customers come from various ZIP codes to buy. 

"I know they grow in the neighborhood and that means a lot," said regular customer Rosie Anderson. 

New customers stopped to visit as well, and said they were excited this garden was in the area. 

"It hasn't been on a truck, it hasn’t been sprayed with pesticides," Randolph said. 

Muhammed said she takes pride in the fact that if a customer wants a different-sized tomato, she can go pick a fresh one for them.  

"We as a community have suffered for years — as a Black community — with high blood pressure, diabetes, and part of it is because of what we eat," Randolph said.

She said she's happy to share different ways the vegetables can be prepared. Randolph has herself learned over the years. 

"I didn't grow up eating like this," she said. "We sell a lot of okra ... okra doesn't always have to be fried," she added.

Randolph said for her and her family, this business isn't about profit but providing nutritious foods to her neighbors.

The Elephant Garden is located at 3348 North Sherman Drive.

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