Lessons in Food & Farming: Park intended to pay homage to city’s agricultural roots

Jonathan and Amanda Lawler_Brandywine Creek Farms_AgriparProceeding along 113th Street in Fishers, Indiana, is a journey though Midwestern suburbia. The street is almost completely lined on both sides by nice housing additions, and while a little bit of farm ground can still be found, you get the distinct impression that within a few years, most of it will be converted into yet more nice housing additions.

But there is at least one piece of farm ground that this won’t happen to, and that’s Fishers Agripark, a 32-acre tract that has been turned into what the city of Fishers and the farm’s operators are calling the largest urban farm in the United States. The park features crop production (primarily fruits and vegetables) and livestock, as well as areas for educational programming.

It’s operated by Brandywine Creek Farms, a non-profit founded by Hancock County farmers Jonathan and Amanda Lawler. While Fishers Agripark park hasn’t officially opened to the public yet, 2018 was its first growing season, and it produced thousands of pounds of tomatoes, peppers, melons, cucumbers and squash, which were donated to charities in Marion, Hamilton, Hancock and Shelby counties.

Agripark is “an opportunity to learn how food is produced – how hard farmers work,” Jonathan said.

But it’s also a way to feed people who are hungry, he added. When the Lawlers first started thinking about food pantries and of forming their nonprofit, “We thought we would take the produce downtown ‘where the hungry people are,’” he said. But people who are hungry live in Hancock County and Fishers, too, he noted.

The park isn’t the Lawlers’ only experience in supplying food pantries with fresh produce. Providing affordable or free produce to people in need is in fact the overall mission of Brandywine Creek Farms, the nonprofit the family formed in late 2015. Brandywine Creek’s first growing season was in 2016, and starting then, the farm has donated produce to food pantries and other hunger-relief organizations across central Indiana in addition to Good Samaritan Network, including food pantries in Shelbyville, the Edna Martin Christian Center and Flanner House in Indianapolis, and Community Health Network. In other cases, the produce is sold for a nominal price, such as $1 for a sizeable bag, while in others, the produce is sold and the profits are donated to a charitable organization.

“Our mission is to inject healthy, locally raised food into food deserts across central Indiana while establishing sustainable food systems in the areas with the most need,” says Brandywine Creek’s website.

AgriparkWhile providing free or low-cost food to the community also is part of Agripark’s mission, the park has additional goals, including connecting the public to agriculture, said Ashley Elrod, communication director for the city of Fishers. Scott Fadness, the mayor of Fishers, grew up on a farm in North Dakota, Elrod noted, and he thinks it’s important for his son and other kids in Fishers to have a little bit of that experience, too.

The park also offers volunteer and educational opportunities.                            

“We’re really excited about it,” Elrod said, adding that the current plan is for the park to open in early summer of 2019.

Jonathan added that he, too, has other goals for Agripark, including providing job training to veterans and to at-risk youth while at the same time giving the public a taste of real agriculture.

“When we wash out a tank, we do it right out in front of everybody,” he said. “We want visitors to see what farmers do.”