in three easy steps (and help your neighbor too!)

When she saw her neighbors struggling to find food, this Bradley grad stepped up by kneeling in the dirt and growing produce

By Jenevieve Rowley-Davis
All photos courtesy of Kelley Schuyler

Step One: Start from seed

Farming among the lush mountains of Cameroon in west central Africa, Danielle Guerin ’12 realized something that would reframe her life forever: She had grown up smack-dab in the middle of a food desert.

Designated as such due to limited availability of affordable and nutritious food, such deserts fail to provide for the food insecure.

“It’s a systematic thing … Policies have been enacted by governments that hurt neighborhoods and remove access,” she said. “Whether it be not having bus lines, not having good enough jobs in neighborhoods or even not building those neighborhoods to appeal to corporations that could sell their food there, food deserts are a thing that is being created.

“A lot of us call it food apartheid.”

In West Africa as a Peace Corps farm and agribusiness advisor in the mid-2010s, the entrepreneurship major found much of her food was far more nutrient dense than an average meal in the U.S. Nearly every day, she enjoyed fresh produce like avocados, bananas and her favorite crop, tomatoes. The contrast helped bring the issue of food into focus.

“I definitely was naïve and blind to the issues of food security growing up. Now that I’ve seen it firsthand in other parts of the country, in Cameroon, I’m more aware of it.”

Even while she attended Bradley, Guerin admitted to being unaware of the food-related problems affecting Peoria residents. “A lot of it is Black neighborhoods, low-income neighborhoods who are dealing with these situations.”

Guerin didn’t let this realization go to waste. Before she’d even left Cameroon, she was putting wheels in motion to start an urban farm in her hometown of Indianapolis.

Step Two: Prune the Plant

When she found the perfect spot located in the heart of her childhood neighborhood, it was an abandoned lot overgrown with weeds. But, by working full time in the evenings, she freed her mornings for farming. It wasn’t long before word of her hometown venture spread, leading to a proposal: oversee a youth program in exchange for another community garden space.

Up until this point, she had funded the project completely out-of pocket with money from her day job.

“By 2020, I decided to go full time with the garden,” Guerin said, having secured a fiscal sponsor. “Then the pandemic started. I was in a really weird spot where I was unemployed, but the garden was blossoming.

“I was able to put so much time into it without having other responsibilities the entire time. We were able to get a lot of grants that year, and by 2021, I was like, ‘Hey, I’m done working for other people.’”

Step Three: Feed the soul

As her one-woman operation grew into a full-fledged nonprofit, Guerin realized she needed a name to represent the heart of her mission.

“I realized the work I was doing was impacting the soul of the community in the way that food feeds the soul. It was just good food.” Thus, Soul Food Project Indy was born. But the bigger the project became, the more its impact increased in scope.

“Now, we’re shifting more toward the community as a whole, because while we can grow food and that’s great and all, if we’re not good neighbors, what are we here for? If you can pay for food, that’s great. If you can’t pay, here you go. You’re
not going to leave here hungry. Or you can reach out to us if you don’t know where to go for help with your rent, help with transport.”

But what keeps Guerin coming back to the toil and trouble of tending crops in the hot summer?

“It’s something about being in the dirt. It’s therapeutic.”

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