By Camille Sampson

Even after years of neglect, the Willard Park neighborhood of southeast Indianapolis continues to show hope for improvement. Indeed, the large neighborhood, just south of Michigan Street between State and Jefferson, might have the potential to be the sustainable food capital of Indianapolis.

Economic struggle reveals its toll on the community in this neighborhood. Shuttered houses, boarded up buildings, and vacant lots abound, many of them deteriorating and confirming the stress of deindustrialization.

Although it may seem like a lost cause, two residents think otherwise, and intend to highlight the value of this historic neighborhood through the food that it can grow for itself.

Kay Grimm and Sue Spicer, Owners of Basic Roots Community Foods’, firmly believe that the neighborhood is slowly approaching its true potential with the help of those willing to get their hands a little dirty.

The two started Basic Roots back in 2005 to address the lack of availability to nutritious, local foods. Supported by a network of 12-15 farmers, Basic Roots provides year round, farm fresh produce to the doors of the Willard Park neighborhood by golf cart. Zipping up and down the streets of Willard Park on Tuesdays and Sundays, Grimm and Spicer provide the community with greens, veggies, and even some berries from their very own Fruit Loop Acres, a Permacultured fruit farm.

Although some may think this must come at an absurd cost, this is not so. The two provide the produce at an appropriate cost that ethically compensates the farmers involved.

And then there’s the taste: as one resident put it, “my daughter doesn’t like these berries, they taste too real! Can you believe that?! They don’t have enough sweetener on them!”

Currently, Grimm and Spicer are also involved in another project developed off the Basic Roots skeleton.

Their idea is called Greenstreets, and will it be a part of the Willard Park Quality of Life Initiative, a project supported by the Willard Park of Holy Cross-Westminister Civic Alliance. With the help of Global Peace Initiatives, five stakeholders within Willard Park will receive hands on training for year round produce production at Peaceful Grounds. With this training, each will return to the Willard Park neighborhood to take leadership over one or two lots to develop an urban garden.

With additional support from the Indy Food Fund, Spicer and Grimm plan to replicate the Basic Roots Community Foods’ business model in efforts to reach a larger portion of the community with the addition of a larger and more efficient vehicle. This development will increase the visual utility of Willard Park and will continue to enhance efforts to develop sustainability practices throughout the community.

And it all begins with healthy, nutritious, locally-grown food.