Project boosts sustainability


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When Kate Giannini traveled to Minnesota in August 2013, she didn’t anticipate returning with an idea to help Iowa City residents understand and appreciate water conservation and local foods.

Giannini, a water-conservation specialist with the Johnson County Soil and Water Conservation District, is one of the key organizers of the Community Meal Project, a multidisciplinary event to incorporate information and ideas surrounding urban conservation.

The project will kick off today; it is set to span two years.

The first month will consist of forums on water conservation, while following months will focus on gardening, food preservation, and social justice. As a culmination of the project, the district will host a community meal for all the participants.

“We’re really trying to cover a broad spectrum … on kind of an urban scale,” said Wren Almitra, a conservation technician with the Johnson County Soil and Water Conservation District. “Because it’s an urban-based initiative, I think we’re really interested in reaching out to people who maybe aren’t in touch with understanding how they affect their natural resources, such as soil and water, so we really want to broaden those horizons.”

The district received a $1,000 grant from ACT, which will cover most expenses, including advertising and community resources, such as a bin to hold garden tools.

Almitra said this process will begin with the Longfellow neighborhood as part of the pilot program.

“The neighborhood focus is so powerful, and it’s just very ready ground,” she said. “There’s a very localized dialogue on these issues.”

She said organizers hope to use the successes and failures from the pilot program to create a project that can be spread to the larger Iowa City area because these are issues affecting all residents but don’t always receive attention.

Almitra said she is hoping this project will encourage people to want to understand what it means to conserve water, plant community gardens, and to “get to know the soil.”

Giannini said understanding where water comes from and goes to is important, especially in Iowa, because it contributes to a lot of water degradation, something prevalent in the state.

Liz Christiansen, the University of Iowa director of the Office of Sustainability, said the event will promote public health as well.

“More and more we’re beginning to understand the importance of local foods, and we’re beginning to understand the impact of the current food systems, which are not always sustainable,” she said.

Christiansen said it is important to create a food system that doesn’t rely so much on processing and transportation.

She also said she is hopeful these ideas will spread after this project.

“I would love to see a discussion regarding urban conservation and local foods spread all over the state,” she said. “I think here in eastern Iowa, we have a great concentration of local food producers.”

The project will begin with a presentation on watershed today from 6:30-7:30 p.m. in the Longfellow School Media Center, 1130 Seymour Ave.

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