Over the past several years grocery stores have exited the Near Eastside for a variety of reasons, but in late 2019, Healthy Harvest Market came into the community with a goal in mind to open a grocery store that provides high-quality food at affordable prices. After operating for several months, the market realized they could do more in the community in the realm of jobs and education about agriculture. In fact, parent organization Brandywine Creek Farms (BCF) was featured in early 2020 on Mike Rowe’s “Returning the Favor”, a show about people who are giving back to their communities.
Brandywine Creek Farms – Farm on a Mission
In 2015, Johnathan and Amanda Lawler were inspired to change their 36-acre for-profit farm when their son told his father that one of his classmates depended on food from food pantries. Then in 2016, the Lawler family founded the nonprofit Brandywine Creek Farms (BCF) with the goal of placing healthy, locally raised food into food deserts across Central Indiana while establishing sustainable food systems in the areas with the most need. The farm has donated over 2 million pounds of produce in Central Indiana in the last three years.
Second Chance Farmers Program
One of the programs operated out of the farm is the Second Chance Farmers program, which provides job training and employment opportunities in agricultural, but also customer service and retail management to people formerly incarcerated or who struggle with addictions.
The program operates with the belief that “agriculture is a good way to remove individuals from their fear of influence, or where they feel like they might get back in trouble,” says Erin Peckinpaugh, BCF Executive Director. The first two seasons of the program the organization partnered with a correctional facility to hire male individuals interested in working at the farm. With 9 months of operating their 5,200 square foot storefront Healthy Harvest Market, the organization is now expanding the third season of the program in the IndyEast Promise Zone.
Asking what inspired the program’s expansion, Executive Director Erin Peckinpaugh responded, “it really came from a place of listening. We aren’t there to just serve our customers, we are there to serve the neighborhood”.
Since farming is physically demanding and not for everyone, individuals interested in the program are employed at the store, where the staff trains and matches participants to various positions. The program lasts between 3 to 6 months, but some people have stayed for a year with job promotions. Job placement is also important, within or outside their organization.
Cartier “Carty” Beatty was a participant in the Second Chance Farmers program. After earning a position at the store and moving to the farm to learn about agriculture, he is now in charge of the program. When asked about his experience he states, “now when I return to the city, I can be a better person to my people”.
The program anticipates expanding to 15 participants by the end of 2020 and 30 by 2021.
BCF also operates another program at the market called “Empower”. The program employs homeless women affected by sex trafficking with the goal to provide stability and help connect them to resources in the neighborhood. Brookside Community Church, located in the Near Eastside, provides housing for participants. As for the youth, Peckinpaugh says the organization will host cooking classes for children and is in the process of implementing a program in schools, once it is safe to do so.