By Chad & Elizabeth Heeter
Our family has been away from Indianapolis for five years, living in New York City and then the Middle East, and upon returning, we can’t help but notice what’s taking place: a dynamic and delicious food renaissance.
Like a tourist discovering Indy for the first time, it’s thrilling to read about and experience so much — farmers markets six days a week, Clustertruck events, new breweries, shops stocking locally crafted food items and dozens of new restaurants celebrating fresh, local, seasonal and unique creations.
When we left Indy in 2009, there were definite scents of a burgeoning food interest. But when we moved from California to Indianapolis in 2006, Indy’s food scene offered pretty standard midwestern fare. Our food experiences here were similar to my suburban Kansas City upbringing: strip malls, chain restaurants, big box grocery stores. While we renovated our Irvington home, we ate Kmart’s chicken salad sandwiches and Fritos. A salad at a local restaurant here was typically dominated by iceberg lettuce. We found a couple of innovative restaurants and a small handful of neighborhood gems, but it seemed most places aimed to fill your belly but not necessarily satisfy.
As part of our renovation, we tore up our front lawn and planted some corn and veggies. We were sure we’d rile up the neighbors. Privately, we dubbed it our “Front Yard Farm Initiative.” But we soon discovered that Hoosiers are some of the most down-to-earth, kind-hearted people on the planet. We got a few sideways glances, some questions and plenty of cajoling. We recently came to learn we were known on the block as “The Corn People.”
There were “Chicken People” too. Several Irvington neighbors began building chicken coops and transforming their yards into mini-farms. Their initiative brought neighbors together and made homegrown food the number one over-the-picket-fence conversation topic.
We wanted more food than our garden produced, so we joined one of the few Community Supported Agriculture groups in the area. There was great community spirit as members volunteered to sort and distribute veggies, keep accounts and promote the CSA. At that time, the acronym “CSA” was a mystery to most people and involved at least a paragraph explanation. Today, it’s nearly common vernacular.
Just before we left Indy in 2009, we attended one of the community meetings with the Pogue’s Run founders. There were at least 100 people in attendance and great enthusiasm about launching the project. Today, it’s a vibrant, well-established piece of Indy’s food scene.
The changes are all around us. It’s great to see more and more local restaurants partnering with farms to source seasonal ingredients while more families are becoming involved in local farm education and production. Two family farms — Arlington Farms and Distelrath Farms — are within five minutes of our house, serving the community with a CSA and farm stores. The distance between the producer and the consumer has shrunk to a few blocks in some cases. We’ve met the people who raised the hogs. (And we’ve also — possibly — met the hogs!)
Also since we’ve been away, our friends Charlie and Tiffany McIntosh, along with the Battistas, opened Amelia’s bakery in the Holy Rosary neighborhood. Every week since we’ve been home, we’ve eaten authentic, satsifying bread. And with the completion of the Irvington Streetscape on Washington St., the Kmart deli has at least two fewer customers. Our neighborhood has even more dining options at several family-owned shops, including an awesome sandwich selection at Your Local Deli, delicious regional ice cream at Wyliepalooza, and the small batch brews at Black Acre — and those are in addition to Dufour’s, The Legend and Jockamo’s.
When we left Indy five years ago, we could see the seeds of a food renaissance. We are so happy to be back in town for the bounty. We can’t wait to be a part of the planting and harvesting in these next five years!
Until April 2014, Chad Heeter was the editor-in-chief of the documentary film unit at Qatar Television in Doha, Qatar. His wife, Lisa, is an artist and educator. Combined, they have eaten in over 30 countries, but now are settled back in Historic Irvington with their two children, two cats and three chickens. They recently launched a specialty foods company, Heeter’s Homegrown, and make Garbäage Mediterranean Salsa.