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Gardens grow along with community

BY RAPHAEL GELFAND | JUNE 16, 2015 5:00 AM

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While some out-of-staters might think all the streets of Iowa are lined with corn, to locals, the sight of corn growing in streets of eastern residential Iowa City is quite unusual — that is, unless you live near 1920 Friendship St.

Chadek Greens, a 5.2-acre park with a portion of the southeast corner of the park converted to a community garden, sits there.

Because the Chadek Greens community garden was only opened last spring, this is the first crop the soil will see, and walking through the garden, it is immediately clear that every single one of the 36 plots is being used.

Some plots have fruits such strawberries and raspberries, others contain tomatoes, squash, carrots, and, of course, sweet corn.

The garden is run by Iowa City, which is no stranger to community garden plots; Wetherby Park, south of U.S. Highway 6, has more than 100.

“I live in this area,” resident Steven Letts said. “I come here to walk my dog, so for me [Chadek] is a much more ideal location, because my wife and I live in an apartment.”

Many in the community originally had high hopes that a majority of the park would be converted to the community garden, but according to the Iowa City Parks and Recreation Department, the current plan is to expand the garden area in subsequent years.

“This is the first year, and everyone wants to take things slowly,” said Fred Meyer, the founder and director of Backyard Abundance.

Backyard Abundance is a nonprofit group that works with landscapes and horticultre to promote environmental education.

The reason the Chadek garden is so small compared with Wetherby is because it’s in a trial period.
However, Parks and Recreation said, the current plan is to develop the park and expand the garden in subsequent years.

“Get a community garden established and the infrastructure put in place,” Meyer said, “Community gardens can be uncomfortable plots of barren soil that are modeled after current industrialized food systems.”

Backyard Abundance works with Parks and Recreation to design and grow an edible “food forest” in the Wetherby Park.

The New Pioneer Co-op’s own community garden program, Earth Source Gardens, started out at Wetherby and eventually moved to a different location.

However, the Co-Op is no longer continuing its initiative in order to focus on its new project, New Pioneer Soilmates, said Theresa Carbrey, the outreach coordinator and educator for the Co-Op.

“It was sad to see [the gardens] go,” Carbrey said. “Our lease on the land was up, and there weren’t any community garden plots close enough to the store.”

Soilmates partners with schools in Iowa City, Coralville, and Cedar Rapids to provide an interactive organic-education service designed to help students and teachers learn about soil fertility, gardening techniques, and vegetable health.

“As we grow and develop our community into a stronger, healthier and happier place to live, community gardens and education will be two fundamental parts of that success,” Meyer said, “The growth of places such as Chadek Green Community Gardens is just the start.”


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