FORT WAYNE, Ind. (WANE) — More than a ton. Closer to 2,500 pounds.
That’s the amount of fresh food grown last year at the Johnnie Mae Farm, 2518 Winter St. in Fort Wayne.
“This year we’re hoping to exceed that at least by another thousand pounds,” Terri Theisen says optimistically.
“Hopefully, Mother Nature will let us do that.”
As the Purdue Extension Educator in Horticulture/Urban Agriculture, Theisen leads the less obvious part of the farm’s two-fold mission: education. Topics range from gardening and nutrition to finances and cooking.
“We have lots of resources available to be able to provide for the community,” she adds.
One of those is the commercial grade kitchen that makes cooking classes and large meal preparation simple. The kitchen was built into the historic firehouse during a $430,000 renovation by the city in 2015.
“That’s when they started doing farming here,” explains Theisen. “They did two years of farming and they decided on their third year that they wanted to have a farm market so a consistent supply of vegetables were available for the community. But the city recognized that they didn’t quite know what that looked like, so they asked Purdue Extension to come in and help.”
The Extension manages the farm and firehouse on the city’s behalf.
“The first thing that we want to accomplish is provide affordable produce to the residents here in Renaissance Point and the surrounding neighborhoods,” Theisen adds.
That job falls to Ellen Bauman. With the help of a couple of interns, Bauman is the sole full-time employee who grows the food on the 3/4 acres plot.
“I never stop thinking about the plants and what I’m going to do next and just planning for my next moves,” says Bauman.
To yield the most produce, Bauman plants the same space more than once during a growing season.
When asked if growing the food or growing the community is more important, Bauman is torn.
“Both really. I love when the kids come out. We have a family that comes out every Friday, a mom with her two kids, and her two kids are all about growing their own food. They have a little garden at home. The little boy put beans in one of their other plants and mom didn’t know so now they’ve got beans coming up in their pots, and he just thinks that’s the greatest thing. So it’s hard to choose but it’s definitely all about the community.”
The market is open for the season on Fridays from 2 p.m. to 6 p.m. and takes cash and SNAP.
The farm is named after long-time neighborhood advocate Johnnie Mae White.