Sowing Peace One Garden at a Time

Global Peace Initiatives, Inc. (GPI) was started by Linda Proffitt in 2006 as a way to promote peace through positive community action. Starting with Peace Hikes at Eagle Creek and on the grounds of the Indianapolis Museum of Art, the founders wanted to share the peace that comes with being part of nature.
“Seeds of Peace came next. We knocked on people’s doors in the St. Clair neighborhood, handing out sunflower seeds. We told people ‘We want to share a little love with you’ and gave them sunflower seeds to plant. At the time, the area was 60 percent abandoned homes, empty lots. As we were walking, someone said, ‘Hey, we could build gardens on these empty lots,’” Proffitt said. Another kind of seed was planted with that comment and first Peace Garden was created by volunteers in the 400 block of Tacoma. Filled with vegetables to feed the area’s hungry, the notion of a Peace Garden grew — now there are 46 Peace Gardens in the area all with the goal of feeding people’s bellies, and their hearts.
The next step was to create Peaceful Grounds a few years ago. The vision was to build a center for agriculture and sustainable living, where people could learn about growing food and living in peace and harmony with the world. Proffitt also noted that there is a strong social entrepreneurial component of what is offered. After some difficulty finding a home, Peaceful Grounds has settled into the Marion County Fairgrounds on the southeast side of Indianapolis last year, taking over the old Cattle Barn.
“We moved in a little last year during the Marion County Fair,” Proffitt said. “We had a Dr. Worm booth that was very well received. Moving to the fairgrounds fits in beautifully with their mission and ours.” GPI and the Fairgrounds have a memorandum of understanding, with GPI sharing profits from their sales of soil amendments.
All winter, Proffitt said she and artist Bart Simpson (who builds the Children’s Museum’s Haunted House every year) have been working on the interior of the Cattle Barn, repurposing the wooden stalls and everything else they can lay their hands on to create the Peaceful Grounds Village, which will debut at the Marion County Fair June 20-29. Boasting a large stage for a variety of entertainment, the Village will have lots of space for audiences. “I don’t have to tell you it was cold this winter, but we kept working,” she said. “It was brutal.”

Ethel Winslow/Weekly ViewOne of the millions of worms working to turn waste into fertile soil.

Ethel Winslow/Weekly View
One of the millions of worms working to turn waste into fertile soil.

Never mind the weather, many volunteers and helpers came to continue the work of GPI, including the continuing vermiculture production — also known as the worm farms in the massive piles of compost behind the Poultry Barn and out in the fields of the fairgrounds. Built from the donated leftover mash from local brewers Black Acre Brewing and Rock Bottom Brewing, plus  dehydrated food waste from Eskenazi Hospital, plus wood chips from Stewart’s Tree Service, millions of worms live inside the piles, eating and breaking them down into fertile soil. The worms also generate “castings” (worm manure), an organic fertilizer and exceptional soil conditioner coveted by gardeners, which is sifted and sold to gardeners. “A tablespoon of castings will feed a plant for two months,” Proffitt said. GPI sells the castings, plus a less digested version of the compost in large bags. Proceeds from the sales go back into GPI to fund their programs. GPI also has sustainable working farm at the fairgrounds, including chickens, a future hop garden, straw bale gardens, microgreens, and a greenhouse with seedlings started with soil created by the worms.
Another fundraiser for GPI will be begin with a Farm & Arts Market beginning Sunday, June 1 at the Fairgrounds. Vendors pay a $25 table fee, and will need to make reservations by calling 222-1556 or e-mail at Proffitt is excited about the prospect of holding a market that can help boost local growers and artists. “We’ll be getting into high gear during the Marion County Fair, so this will be a soft opening. It’s very exciting.” GPI will have seedlings and castings available for sale.
Funded partly by the Efroymson Fund and the Herbert Simon Family Fund, GPI relies on the work of volunteers. Students from IUPUI, Marian University, and the University of Indianapolis come every week, and other volunteers come to pitch in and learn. It isn’t all hard work, though, Proffitt stresses. “We encourage creativity, and we do have fun. We have regular volunteers who started with us eight years ago.” Volunteer training takes place on Saturdays, and everyone is welcome. Call 222-1556 to volunteer or find out more.
Will Allen and his team at Growing Power, the “father of urban farming,” selected GPI to lead their regional training center programs in Central Indiana. Allen, a former professional basketball player, is now a farmer and leading authority on urban farms and food policy. Proffitt, who traveled to Milwaukee, Wisconsin to study with Allen, said that he was impressed with the scope of what GPI had accomplished. “We’re the quietest up-and-coming organizations in Central Indiana in this field.”