As part of our Healthy & Whole series, we are thrilled to bring you this interview with farmer Amy Matthews and Program Coordinator Sarah Mullin of South Circle Farm. They are both dear friends and South Circle Farm is one of the preeminent farms here in Indianapolis. We’re impressed both by their devotion to the work and dedication to bringing local whole foods to our city. Check out the interviews below for Amy and Sarah’s unique perspectives on why they do what they do and why eating healthy, whole foods is so important.
The first time Alex and I set foot on South Circle Farm, we knew it was special. Here was an empty lot in downtown Indianapolis, surrounded by scrapyards and concrete, transformed into beautiful green space. Bees were buzzing, sunflowers blowing in the wind, and Amy was harvesting onions. The farm stand was brimming with tomatoes, eggplant, and zucchini, and busy with customers.
South Circle Farm is one of a handful of urban farms in Indy: it’s a 3-year old small business that grows fresh, healthy food using organic methods. We caught up with Amy and Sarah to understand more about why they’re so passionate about growing food in the middle of the city, their favorite farm-fresh eats, and what’s next for South Circle Farm.
Amy Matthews, Urban Farmer
What inspired you to become a farmer?
Desperate to shake off 16 years of school-book learning and a short stint in an office, I jumped at the chance to work for a friend’s family out on their organic farm in Montana. There began my real learning. I started eating real food and my taste buds changed, started working hard and my body changed, started experiencing farm life and my mind changed. From Montana, I worked in Chicago and Cleveland for non-profit farms with social programs and then managed a garden for chefs in Alaska, with many travels in between. I landed in Indy 4 years ago to start South Circle Farm.
Being a farmer is hard work and you work some long hours. What keeps you going?
What keeps me going is the constant evolution of the farm. There is always a new solution to a problem to try, a new trick to learn, a new season approaching. Just about the time you get so fed up with the spring flea beetle pests, or the summer zucchini flood, or the freezing fingers of the fall greens harvest, then a new season appears. Right now in mid-August, I am tired of long, late, hot work days. But I am beginning to notice the promise of fall in the slightly later sunrises and germinating carrot seedlings.
What goals and dreams do you have for South Circle Farm?
My goal is that South Circle Farm can create enough energy and resiliency to sustain itself ecologically, economically, and in the community. As the farmer, I need to manage the land to create maximum bounty within the natural limits. With even the best growing techniques of the day (still working on that!), a farm of this scale cannot survive and thrive without the dedication of a community of people. A main goal of South Circle Farm is that all the humans involved–farmers, farm workers, customers, family, friends, and the overall community–will be (literally) fed enough by the farm that they are inspired to keep “feeding” back into the farm. This human energy is our most important input.
Do you eat your produce regularly? What are some go to meals you eat in the summer?
I eat my produce every day. With out much time for cooking, I rely on garden snacks throughout the day! Right now the treat is the first crop of raspberries ripening every day.
At South Circle, we aim to demonstrate that with a little space and a lot of will power, small urban farms can improve our food system, beautify neighborhoods, enhance health, stimulate local economies, and create educational opportunities for our community.
Sarah Mullin, Program Coordinator
How would you describe the farm to someone who has never visited?
I can feel the impact of the farm’s presence right here on Meridian Street when I stop to imagine standing in this same place 5 years ago. Looking around, there is a small neighborhood whose only view was industry and an abandoned lot. What was once an abandoned lot is now a beautiful , green 2 acres full of life: healthy soils, delicious fruits, vegetables, herbs and flowers, happy chickens, buzzing bees, inquisitive school children, and customers reconnecting to the rich flavors of seasonal produce. Come see the farm for yourself on Saturdays during our farm stand and to try some of our produce! The flavors and the feeling of the farm do it much more justice than a verbal description.
Where do you see South Circle Farm in a few years?
Of course, first of all, we’d like to see South Circle Farm be a firmly established, thriving business, with a lot of interest and momentum from the community propelling it forward. We also hope that South Circle Farm will eventually be looked to as a model for re-purposing abandoned spaces and contributing to the revitalization of neighborhoods. At South Circle, we aim to demonstrate that with a little space and a lot of will power, small urban farms can improve our food system, beautify neighborhoods, enhance health, stimulate local economies, and create educational opportunities for our community.
Why are you passionate about food and healthy living? How did you become interested and what keeps you going now?
I think that good, healthy, whole foods help us enjoy life. They help us feel energized, they can be healing, and a sense of community can be formed around good food. I’ve been interested in sustainable, fair food since my teenage days of listening to punk rock and protesting meat’s ecological footprint by ordering a McDonald’s cheeseburger, no meat! ? My thoughts on the subject evolved through living in a vegetarian-centric, activist-type dorm in college, through great jobs at a food bank and another conducting environmental research, working in Indianapolis schools, and especially through my work with migrant farm workers.
I love all of the happenstance that has led me to this work now. I’m so grateful to be able to work outdoors, among friends, towards a food system that makes more sense and takes better care of people and the earth. I feel energized when our customers come out to the market in absolutely treacherous weather because they need their groceries from us, or when they tell us stories of gathering friends and family around good food that we grow at the farm, or tell us how changing their diet has helped improve their health and overall quality of life. I feel encouraged when small business owners choose to buy good quality produce from us, when it would be easier and cheaper to buy from a wholesaler. And when I see interest from kids who come to visit the farm with family or to participate in our educational programs, I feel hopeful about the future of the farm and all the possibilities there still are for us to make an impact in our community.
What are some go to meals you eat with the summer produce from the farm?
For quick dishes, our lettuce mix saves me… sometimes I’ll top it with a lot of seasonal farm goodies (I’ve been really enjoying our sweet peppers right now), grains, beans and maybe an egg, but in a pinch I just add some dried fruit, nuts and cheese. Summer grilled veggies – squash, zucchini , eggplant and peppers (plain, over pasta, or on a sandwich with pesto) are another must-have summer treat.
This summer I’ve been obsessed with my own version of “agua de pepino” (cucumber water). I just blend water, honey, and cucumber and it makes the most refreshing drink! I also love baking! Some of my signature items are breakfast muffins using all sorts of farm produce, and a zucchini crisp (that tastes like apple crisp) during the summer zucchini flood.