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Victor Garcia, Food Bank of NWI Executive Director (left) presents a plaque to Rev. Curtis Whittaker

FAITH Farms and Foodbank NWI partner to do more than put food on the table

Contributed By: The 411 News

Feeding the hungry and changing economics in the Emerson neighborhood

The urban farm movement continues, in Gary, of all places and offers more than just putting food on the table.

Evidence of that was Monday's 'Seed Planting' ceremony at FAITH (Families Anchored in Total Harmony) Farms, next door to Progressive Community Church, on 6th and Carolina in the Emerson neighborhood. Rev. Curtis Whittaker, the church pastor, called it another step in seeing neighborhoods change and agriculture as the reason for that change.

"The grounds you are standing and seated on were abandoned homes 9 years ago," Rev. Whittaker said. "Today, those plots of ground are producing 15,000 pounds of fresh food a year."

Whittaker was surrounded by representatives from nonprofits, supporters, volunteers, and elected officials, some who have been on the journey with the farm since its birth in 2013. They had gathered for the announcement that FAITH Community Development Corporation had received a $425,000 grant for farm expansion and the creation of a freezing operation to extend the life of fresh produce grown at FAITH Farms.

"What we plan to do with this grant from the Feeding America Food Security Equity Impact Fund and our partnership with the Food Bank of Northwest Indiana is to raise $3-$5 million for what we call FAITH Fresh Frozen Foundation. This initiative gives us the ability to take these greens, those Brussels sprouts, tomatoes, and any other thing grown around here before they spoil, and flash freeze them," Rev. Whittaker said.

An old home in the next block, at 576 Carolina, will be turned into the freezing operations. "That's where we'll place all of the equipment we purchase to flash freeze food. We're going to take the flash frozen produce, bag and label it," Rev. Whittaker said. "We're going to give 20 percent of it to the Food Bank to help eradicate hunger in northwest Indiana."

The other 80 percent is for a micro business to impact social change. Part of the grant will be used to hire people and put them to work. It will pay the salaries of part-time employees and contractors on the project.

Whittaker described his Emerson neighborhood as deeply rooted in poverty with a yearly median household income of $13,000. "We have the ability to pay our part-time employees $20,000 per year. We want to be able to lift the economics in this neighborhood."

"One of the few African-American female general contractors in the state of Indiana will work on the project. Everyone who works here will look like me and the people in this neighborhood,” Whittaker said and he asked the crowd to chant "We need to have black people in Gary working on projects we control."

The pastor said FAITH CDC couldn't have done it without people working together, like those from the Legacy Foundation, Indiana University's Northwest and Bloomington campuses. He added that a gift of $125,000 came to FAITH CDC from a Gary family, Linda and Mike Mussallem; $75,000 of that will go to the FAITH Fresh Frozen initiative, bringing a total of $500,000 for the project. The remainder of the gift funds other farm projects.

And that's the only way for neighborhoods to change, Whittaker said, by working together. "It's time for us to get out of our own way to make Gary the city it can be."

Story Posted:09/29/2022

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