Garden project gets grant


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Two empty acres of land in Johnson County will soon be home to a lush garden that will feed the homeless and in-need populations.

On June 10, local food insecurity program Grow: Johnson County, officially received a $23,500 grant from the Wellmark Foundation in a ceremony at the Johnson County Poor Farm, which ended with a tour of the site.

“You get an idea of what the projects are and what they will mean to the community from the grant proposals and the follow-up reports, but actually seeing the project and meeting the people involved is exciting,” said Stephanie Perry, the manager of the Wellmark Foundation.

The grant will enable the project to hire a farm manager, who will oversee the project, possibly as soon as the winter, Grow: Johnson County founder Bob Andrlik said.

“The farm manager will be our boots-on-the-ground person overseeing planting and implementing the vision,” he said.

The project came together when two acres of the Poor Farm opened up, said Andrlik, who is also the executive director of Table to Table, an organization that supplies food to the in-need population.

After that, John Boller, the executive director of the Coralville Ecumenical Food Pantry, and Soilmates garden educator Scott Koepke formed a coalition with Andrlik to create Grow: Johnson County.

“With this, we’d be able to be a part of the process of growing the food that we’re distributing,” Andrlik said. “We came together to grow good produce that people can eat.”

The Johnson County Poor Farm was open from the 1850s to the 1970s as a place for the poor and other individuals with disabilities to live and work. Although it doesn’t currently operate in that capacity anymore, the county is looking for other ways to use it to benefit the community.

“We have a great resource in the land, and we wanted to use it in a way that benefits the county,” said Johnson County Supervisor Rod Sullivan. “We’d definitely like to see more projects like this.”

While the Wellmark grant was specifically given to hire a farm manager, Andrlik hopes to use other funding to incorporate an educational aspect into the program, including “planting and harvesting parties,” he said.

“Part of what we hope to do is teach people how to grow their own food as well,” he said. “Also, in terms of just being able to take care of everything we’re growing out there, we’ll need community involvement.”

Perry said she believes Grow:Johnson County’s educational goals sets the organization apart.

“In today’s busy world, a lot of us really don’t know how to garden, what to grow or what to do with the produce we’ve grown,” she said. “Projects that focus on education are much more successful long-term because they are teaching people now and this knowledge will help them grow their own foods.”

Although Grow: Johnson County planted a cover crop to prepare the land and nurture the soil, the produce was accidentally sprayed and will have to be replanted in August, Andrlik said.

After that, the organization hopes to plant a winter crop and start production for the community next summer.

“The joy [of gardening] is one of the things we want to impart to the community,” Andrlik said. “The overriding goal is to make fresh fruit and vegetables available to people who might not have had access to them before this.”

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