THE URBAN FARMER: Ephraim Smiley, Jr.
Local hunger relief farmer and community activist, Ephraim Smiley, Jr., has organically grown vegetables for more than 40 years to assuage the hunger of Fort Wayne's citizens in need. Smiley was recently recognized for his efforts and teachings which have benefited thousands of area families, children, churches, shelters, and food banks. In addition to his gardening, Smiley is widely known for his community involvement as a founding member of the Fort Wayne Fishing Derby at Reservoir Park, his work at the former Pontiac Youth Center, work with Fort Wayne Community Schools, and help at Big Brothers Big Sisters of Northeast Indiana. On October 4, 2018 Governor, Eric Holcomb, personally delivered the Indiana Sagamore of the Wabash award to Mr. Smiley. The award is given by the governor to those who have offered distinguished service to the State of Indiana and its residents. The award ceremony was held at Fellowship Missionary Church on Tillman Road. For many years the church has provided land free of charge where Smiley's community garden is located, and they've assisted in caring for crops.
Our farm is a 17-acre hunger relief farm with a history of 20 years. We’ve brought vegetables to food banks and various neighborhoods. We also encourage people to come pick fresh organic vegetables from the farm for their family and neighbors. We aim to feed people with needs, senior citizens, the disabled, under-served individuals and more, to achieve a sense of well-being and accomplishment in the community.
The hunger relief farm concept started with a suggestion from Renetta Williams from Health Visions-Fort Wayne to grow a garden for the senior citizens. We started at Anthony and Sandy Payton’s house farm about 20 years ago, then moved to the current land donated by Fellowship Missionary Church. We are grateful for all the support from many individuals, organizations, churches, and local government over the years.
History and Special Thanks
My name is Ephraim Smiley. The original idea of running a hunger relief farm came from Renetta Williams of Health Visions-Fort Wayne. Health Visions is an agency designed to help under-served individuals, to educate them about their health needs, and serve as their voice in the community. They originally asked me to run a 2-acre farm next to Reverend Anthony Payton’s house. That’s when I started to learn the importance of fresh green vegetables for people who were “medically at risk.” They can’t afford fresh vegetable due to their medical expenses.
About 10 years later, we developed a strong relationship with Pastor Dave Deselm, the founding pastor of Fellowship Missionary Church, and moved to the 17-acre land next to the church on East Tillman Road. Originally the Burmese community started gardening on the land. They didn’t have much farming equipment, so the church asked me whether I was interested in taking over the responsibility of taking care of the farm. I accepted. I worked at the Maplewood School at that time, and the current farm became known as Maplewood School Garden Angel Farm.
Now we have been here for about 10 years, working closely with Pastor Joe Johns of Fellowship Missionary Church. The whole community of the church ordained the farm. They believe the farm will help the south side of Fort Wayne.
We plant many vegetables on the farm, green beans, tomatoes, okra, squash, collard greens and more. We always plan ahead, from early spring to late fall. We use ash dust out of the fireplace, water, and compost for the plants. We only do organic gardening. The focus is to try to mimic nature when we address nature, working with nature, not against nature. Thousands of pounds of vegetables are harvested each season. We take food to food banks, food services, families, churches. Also, people can come to pick up the food themselves. Hunger relief agencies can contact us and get the vegetables.