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FoodCon III: Birth, growth, maturity, death


Maren Bell, "Ripening," from her show "Urban Gardens," part of FoodCon III.
  • Maren Bell, "Ripening," from her show "Urban Gardens," part of FoodCon III.

The mashup of artists, local food enthusiasts, urban farmers and gardeners, exhibitions and displays known as FoodCon returns to the Harrison Center Friday for its third year of celebrating and supporting Indy’s fast-growing sustainable food movement. This year’s theme is the Food Cycle — birth, growth, maturity and death, then how it starts all over again — in the production of sustainable food.

“It’s definitely becoming an institution each year,” says Tim Carter, director of Butler’s Center for Urban Ecology and one of the organizers of FoodCon, which drew 3,000 people last year. ”People love it. It’s a unique way to engage around something that everyone, in one way or another, is engaged in and that’s food. ... It is a celebration. We want it to be fun for people.”

Participating artists include Maren Bell, whose show Urban Gardens includes paintings and an interactive mural in which viewers can create their own urban green spaces on a large city skyline. Christie Anderson, Holly Childress, Erica Cunningham and Carolyn Springer will also have exhibits.

“It’s an unconventional food convention,” says Joanna Taft, executive director of The Harrison Center. “It brings together a lot of artists and spurs a discussion about the foods that we eat. ... In the courtyard we’ll have vendors, or not so much vendors as real, live people and residents of urban neighborhoods doing really interesting things with food.”

They will provide information and displays — several with live animals — on urban farming, animal husbandry, cooperative gardens, beekeeping, chicken coops and more.

Chris Provence, who lives in the Reagan Park neighborhood east of Fall Creek Place, uses hydroponics — the growing of plants in nutrient solutions, with or without soil to provide support — to grow vegetables in his basement. He uses worm casings, basically worm poop, as a nutrient-rich, organic fertilizer. Grow lights fill in for the sun. While there is no dirt used in hydroponics, Provence says it is possible to use all kinds of things in conjunction with the worm casings to grow food.

“I could cut up a NUVO and be able to grow something in it,” he says, adding that he has successfully experimented with using recyclable aluminum Sun King beer cans as containers for food plants.

He grows lettuce, broccoli, corn, radishes, onions, cucumbers, pumpkins and more year round in his basement. Provence, who has been working with hydroponics for the past five years, says that after a little instruction anyone can grow food this way because it is so simple.

“Absolutely it is,” Provence says. “You could set it up and you could be eating food from it in 30 days.”

While hydroponics is a way to produce sustainable food for individuals and families, Provence sees it as an eventual solution to a global food issue. He says its use on a much larger scale could be an answer to food shortages in less-developed parts of the world.

“If we are going to survive as a human race, we have to engage hydroponics, because we just can’t support all of the population with in-the-ground (crops). It’s a proven fact,” he says.

Ben Walker, who lives in Windsor Park, has been using aquaponics to produce food in his basement. Aquaponics is similar to hydroponics in that it uses water rather than dirt. But aquaponics uses fish — Walker has tilapia in his 72-gallon tank — and their waste to provide the nutrients for the plants. This system allows the user to harvest the vegetables and the fish for food.

He also sees this alternative to traditional farming as something with bigger implications for the planet.

“It could be revolutionary,” Walker says.

Mary Streett, an 11-year-old who lives with her family in the Martindale-Brightwood neighborhood, operates on a smaller scale and is already a FoodCon veteran. The Oaks Academy sixth-grader participated in last year’s event with a display that featured baby chicks.

This year she will have a display about urban chicken coops, a fast-growing trend in Indy neighborhoods. They have become so popular, they even have spawned tours of Indy’s backyard chicken coops, similar to the historic home tours many neighborhoods have each year.

Streett has a coop in her backyard with 32 chickens. She has one rooster, nine pullets — those are hens that are less than a year old she patiently explains to an urban-chicken novice who is asking the questions — and 22 hens.

They produce 20 to 30 eggs each day. She collects them and sells them to friends and some of her schoolteachers. Some of the profits from her business pay for her synchronized swimming classes and the rest goes into her savings account.

She insists the operation is so simple — 10 minutes to feed and water the chickens in the morning, another 10 minutes in the evening to check on the food and water and collect the eggs — that anyone can do it. Streett is now thinking about expanding her business to make it easier for chicken-raising rookies to get started.

“We are considering making some mobile coops with two chickens in them,” she says. “So people can just buy these, take them home and have chickens in their backyard.”

You can place your order at FoodCon III.


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