Community is in season.
The Johnnie Mae Farm Market opened Friday and will be open every Friday from 2 to 6 p.m. until early fall.
The market, in the Renaissance Pointe neighborhood at 2518 Winter St., is operated by the city of Fort Wayne and Purdue Extension's Allen County office. It is located at the site of the old fire station No. 9, which has been renovated to include a state-of-the-art kitchen. It offers fresh vegetables for sale every week, grown on-site, and serves free samples from the kitchen.
Terri Theisen, a Purdue Extension horticulture and urban agriculture educator, has been at the market for two years. She said the market provides nutrition for the community, while the nearest grocery store is more than 3 miles away.
“There are corner stores that we have available for the residents here, but it's hard to get the fresh produce,” Theisen said. “If you walk in, you might see a banana on the counter, but a lot of it is potato chips, it's your frozen pizza, it's soda pop.”
She likes that she can make a difference.
“I absolutely adore this project because it goes beyond the traditional understanding of urban agriculture. We're not just growing carrots in the city,” she said. “We are building community.”
The market is funded by the city of Fort Wayne and managed by Purdue employees and volunteers. Theisen said the market primarily serves residents in Renaissance Pointe but is open to everyone.
Because of the coronavirus pandemic, Theisen said the market delayed its opening. Employees decided not to recruit volunteers this year in order to have less contact between individuals and food. Planting was also delayed.
The market has run into other challenges as well. This week, the organization made a Facebook post about having to put a lock on its gates for the first time because someone stole some collard plants.
Theisen said theft is an issue for any community garden and is usually expected, but this case was different because someone took the entire plant rather than just the vegetables, meaning the garden could not continue to harvest from it.
In the future, the market hopes to open earlier and add more opportunities for education, Theisen said.
Donna Dixie, a Fort Wayne resident who visited the market Friday, said she appreciates the community service it provides.
“There's no store around here that sells fresh vegetables or anything like that,” she said, “and the prices are reasonable.”
Marcella Jackson, also a Fort Wayne resident, agrees.
“It's needed because we are all in need right now,” she said. “We're going through hard times, the pandemic. We're here for each other, that's what's going on.”