The fate of a westside urban gardening program for kids looked bleak this spring after city officials hauled away a large pile of mulch needed to create growing beds on vacant lots.
But Mother Love’s Garden is in the midst of another bountiful summer thanks, in part, to community support following an IndyStar story about the program’s unexpected challenge.
Tysha Ahmad, who operates the garden and camp, said after word spread about the mulch removal, a landscaping company, Heath Outdoor, donated mulch to the gardens and two other loads were delivered through ChipDrop. A private resident also donated $250.
“We needed so much because we just redid the garden beds,” Ahmad told IndyStar. “We’ll utilize all of it within the next few weeks.”
The city does not allow the long-term storage of mulch due to public health concerns, a spokesperson for the Health and Hospital Corporation of Marion County told IndyStar in May.
Losing wood chips:Health department takes nonprofit, urban gardening program’s mulch in enforcement mix-up
City code classifies large piles of anything on a lot as junk or debris, and a violator will receive a notice and ultimately a citation if the items are not cleared away. The city cited Ahmad for various rubbish, including some home appliances, and a pile of mulch on one of her lots. Ahmad had cleared the rubbish, but left the mulch after contacting the city and coming to the understanding that was OK.
There must have been a mix up in the city offices, because trucks eventually came and hauled away her mulch.
But now, flush with a new supply of donated woodchips, Ahmad and 12 of her students were able to transform an empty lot overrun with weeds into a fresh garden beds. The garden uses a “lasagna-style” technique where the wood chips are layered between cardboard, which will all eventually breakdown to create a good base for growing.
“We use chips all the time,” Ahmad said, “Next year, we’ll have to put down another layer and just keep adding layers.”
The lot’s garden beds are now filled with tomato plants on trellises, eggplants, peppers and a variety of herbs.
These growing beds allow Ahmad to teach her dozen or so students to become junior master gardeners. Mothers Love Garden has been active for the past six years and Ahmad attributes the rising success of the gardens to God’s grace, her community and Groundwork Indy.
“There’s classroom time along with actual work in garden,” Ahmad said of the program. “We start the day out working in the garden because it’s cooler, then around 10:30, while the kids are eating lunch, we get ready for a lesson where kids learn about nutrition, healthy eating and the relationship between humans and plants.”
Those growing lessons culminate into the real-world business of selling the produce at farmers markets and the Mothers Love Garden produce stand.
Ahmad and one of her students, 14-year-old Aeriana Grigsby, set up the garden’s first stand of the year Aug. 3 at North United Methodist Church off 38th Street. The student and teacher were selling garlic, cucumbers, bell peppers and bundles of fresh herbs.
Grigsby’s been a student of Ahmad’s since 2020 and likes the work because she likes to get outside and enjoys the harvest. Since she’s older than most of the other kids at camp, she acts as a kind of camp counselor by stepping into more of a leadership role, Ahmad said.
Mothers Love Garden isn’t just sticking to farmers markets this year. Every Monday, Wednesday and Friday, from 4:30–7:30 p.m., they’ll have their own farm stand at 1002 West 33rd St.
“The customers pick and choose what they want,” Ahmad said. “As we get more produce and everything comes in, we want to have seniors call in and request what they want and then the kids can drop the items off.”
The stand will operate through early December and Ahmad said she’s considering setting up a table at the Winter Market at The AMP over on Waterway Blvd.
IndyStar’s environmental reporting project is made possible through the generous support of the nonprofit Nina Mason Pulliam Charitable Trust.