By Nancy Price
A degree in social work can lead to a variety of career paths, including case management, counseling, community outreach and social justice.
In Amy Matthews’ case, the degree led her to urban farming.
Matthews, a native of Perry Township, worked with food banks and anti-hunger organizations after graduating college and learned about gardening as a community development tool. She worked as an apprentice at a small family farm in Montana and traveled to Cleveland and Chicago, where she discovered urban farming. She toured Thailand and Nepal, learning about gravity irrigation and using cow manure as a fuel source. “The holistic ways farmers work with the earth in their communities was really eye-opening,” she said.
Matthews realized that she enjoyed working outdoors, being her own boss and using the principles of holistic farm management. In 2011 she partnered with a nonprofit community that had recently purchased 1 ½ acres of land on South Meridian Street. “They wanted to use it for urban farming,”
she said. Matthews rented the land, calling it South Circle Farm. As she grew the business, she partnered with Matthew Jose, who farmed on the east side of Indy, and the two combined their markets. They found a third partner, rural farmer Leslie Gottschalk and created Mad Farmers Collective. Since then two more farmers have joined the business: Molly Bergen and Jonah Tabb.
Mad Farmers Collective uses only organic farming methods. “It’s definitely a choice made intentionally,” Matthews said. “Our crops and soil are really healthy. We’re learning how to manage pests and diseases in an organic way. We have a whole toolbox of techniques to make sure the crops thrive and survive using organic methods.”
A wide variety of vegetables are grown throughout the year, including spinach, swiss chard, peas, carrots, greens, scallions, peppers and onions. “We also grow and provide transplants for customers to start their own gardens,” Matthews said.
Mad Farmers Collective has a strong Southside presence. Produce is sold at Wildwood Markets in Fountain Square and Garfield Park Farmer’s Market. The business also partners with local restaurants, including Amelia’s, Milktooth and Turchetti’s.
The pandemic created a challenge for the farm this spring as local restaurants make up nearly half of its business. Yet, Matthews has online ordering for customers to pick up produce at the farm. “That’s been a really good evolution for us, and we will continue to do that even when we get back to the
farmer’s markets,” she said. Mad Farmers Collective also educates the community on farming through tours, internships, dining events and partnerships.
Chin Gardening Project
“Amy and I began working more closely together as we began to discover the love ofgardening that the Chin refugees have here on the Southside,” said Linda Adams, community wellness coordinator with the Purdue University Extension Service. “I began to see that it would be wonderful to be able to bring the resources of Purdue Extension to the Chin community. Not being a gardener myself, I relied heavily on Amy Matthews to guide our planning with the Chin community for what type of educational workshops and projects might be most helpful Amy’s knowledge of small-scale farming, farmer’s market vending and local food distribution networks and needs have been key. Amy confidently laid out the best plan for us to start the Chin training garden, which is a demonstration garden project that we started at the Falam Christian Church.”
Mad Farmers Collective has plans to add a production business on a couple of acres near Adrian Orchards next summer. “We have a lot of work to do to get it in production,” Matthews
said. ‘We’re excited to have a home base and expand what we do. We’ll have more plants for
spring and fall gardens, we’ll transplant vegetables and we’re excited what that brings.”
For more information about Mad Farmers Collective, visit southcirclefarm.com or go to Facebook.
Mad Farmers Collective Online Store
Visit the online store to order fresh greens, herbs, plants for your garden and a selection of the season’s best.
Can be placed Sunday through Tuesday for pick up on the farm Wednesday (10 a.m. to 1 p.m.) or Thursday through Friday for pick up Saturday (10 a.m. to 1 p.m.) Online ordering is “closed” Wednesdays and Saturdays to allow time to access the week’s harvest and adjust items.
On-farm pick up is at 2048 S. Meridian St.