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Paxton Suggs, Farm Director of Stewart House Urban Farm and Garden (left) and Tony Van Gorp visit the Veterans Village garden

Gary believes agriculture is a growth industry

Contributed By:The 411 News

Farmers will bring in dollars to the city that would have been spent elsewhere

If you grow anything – in a pot, a tire, a can, backyard garden or the lot next door to your house – the Gary Urban Farmer’s Initiative wants you, says Tony Van Gorp of Purdue Extension-Lake County and Gary’s official Urban Agriculture Educator.

“We are looking for people who want to become part of our effort, who already grow or who want to learn how to grow more efficiently,” Van Gorp said. “We’ll share our horticulture knowledge with the home gardener, apartment dweller or anyone who wants to grow something – whether it’s flowers, bulbs, micro greens, or herbs.”

The City of Gary believes agriculture can be a growth industry; their vision is ‘build it and they will come.’ “It’s already happening all over the country,” Van Gorp says. “Gary has the land and the agricultural talent.”

Purdue Extension-Lake County also shares that vision and that is why Van Gorp joined the city’s Office of Green Urbanism. Together, they believe fulfilling the need for healthy food and fresh produce in Gary can develop future farmers and jobs. By developing agri-hoods, agri-tourism, aquaponics, hydroponics, vertical farms, and businesses related to agriculture, Gary farmers will bring in dollars to Gary that would have been spent elsewhere.

Gary’s agricultural talent was on display Saturday for the tour Van Gorp led to 3 urban farms.

St. Mary of the Lake Church/Gary Rotary Club Community Garden was the first stop. Only in its 2nd season, its abundance is shared with the church food pantry, the Gary Crisis Center, a veterans shelter, and the neighborhood. The garden is managed by the husband and wife team of Dorreen and Bill Carey, gardeners who are using their backyard growing experiences to help feed the community.

The garden also rents plots to growers.

“We did a survey to see what our community wanted in the garden and it matched up with what’s in the grocery stores. So that’s what we grow,” Dorreen Carey said.

“In June, we donated 80 pounds of produce; last week the harvest was 150 pounds. We’re going to harvest again Monday and take it to the veterans center in Glen Park,” Bill Carey said.

The second tour stop was at the Veterans Village Housing Center on 8th and Massachusetts. There, 2 gardens grow fresh produce to feed the residents and is shared with residents of other vet centers and senior citizens buildings. One garden is at ground level and the second is on the building’s rooftop.

Stewart House Urban Farms and Garden was the last stop. Its garden operates like St. Mary’s. Produce is donated to the community and plots are rented to growers.

One level of cooperation between Purdue Extension and Gary already in place was this summer’s launch of Lake County Eats Local, a partnership with the Legacy Foundation. Growers sell their produce at farmers markets set up in Gary and East Chicago 3-4 days each week. Sellers only have to bring their produce; LCEL delivers the tents, tables and chairs in their On-the-Go Van.

Lupe Valtierra, the former IVTC chancellor is now Purdue Extension’s community development director and helps promote the Gary Urban Farmer’s Initiative. Valtierra was also on the tour. “My job is to find connections across Lake County for the initiative.”

More tours and education programs for growers are coming up for the initiative, including a12-week course in urban agriculture that begins in January 2020. The next tour is Small Farm Education Field Day, a visit to the Purdue Campus in West Lafayette, IN on August 1st.

For more information on the Gary Urban Farmer’s Initiative, Van Gorp’s email is

St. Mary of the Lake Church/Gary Rotary Club Community Garden in Miller

Story Posted:07/21/2019

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