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Locals get to the root of their food

BY ALISON SULLIVAN | MARCH 30, 2011 7:20 AM

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Iowa City resident Judy Madsen said she first felt the urge to garden while standing outside her home one day.

“It was just intuitive,” the 56-year old said.

And three years later, with the help of Backyard Abundance — a group that demonstrates the more practical aspects of gardening — she has grown squash, tomatoes, and beans, and she is ready to experiment with leeks.

While University of Iowa students and officials have made efforts to live more sustainably, getting to the root of their food is a fever that’s spreading among Iowa City locals thanks in part to the local nonprofit.

A dozen women tucked themselves into a room of the New Pioneer Administration Building, 523 Iowa Ave., on March 26, to learn the cost-saving tips for growing vegetables from seeds.

Though the women had a wide variety of expertise, all shared memories they had of their interactions with gardening: eating freshly picked green beans or a grandmother scooping up vegetables into her billowing apron.

Surrounded by sprouting plants, seed packets, and buckets of soil, workshop instructors Scott Koepke and Roxane Mitten explained to the group the science of gardening including the true makeup of soil, where to find resources for their gardening excursions, and one of the most important aspect of gardening — observation.

Fred Meyer, the founder of Backyard Abundance, has been connecting people with their own backyards since 2006.

When the organization first started, the main focus was to show the community how accessible the environment is. This spring, Meyer said, group members hope to have landscaping consultants teach people how to manicure their property in a sustainable way.

Meyer said increasing numbers of people are coming to the group’s workshops.

“They are becoming aware that they can make an impact in their own backyard,” he said.

Koepke, who also has a side business of spreading his love of soil to children, said he’s fascinated with microbiological life and the opportunity he has to teach it to “children of all ages” has turned into a lifelong passion.

After the education session, the group filed onto the porch and, following a brief demonstration, got down on their hands and knees and began diligently planting tomato, cauliflower, and eggplant, among other seeds.

“Know yourself and where it is in you. Make that connection,” Mitten said, on all fours, kneading the soil in her hands, gently pressing it down into containers before plopping seeds into the earth.

At the end of the day, the group got to take some of their planted seeds home to kick off the newly arrived spring season.

Member Betsy Kloss said she considers herself a rookie, but she is optimistic about using what she’s learned.

“I like the idea of living off of the land or at least growing my own food,” she said. She and her husband moved to Iowa last fall in effort to start living a more sustainable lifestyle and read about the group on the Internet.

Theresa Carbrey, who works at New Pioneer and attended the event, said she thinks people are out of touch with their food and having a connection with the food source was empowering.

“I find it joyous, delicious, and soul satisfying,” she said.


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