Otherwise known as: Matt decides it’s time he becomes a farmer instead of just talking about.
You may remember from the posts before I quit writing that I was beginning a new job at a non-profit. I was working for Block by Block doing flood recovery in Cedar Rapids from the 2008 flooding. (Even 3 years later there is still a ton of work to do) We’re coming up on 2 years of existence for Block by Block and we’ve completed construction work on around 250 homes, close to 60 of these homes have been complete full house rehabs from the studs up.
Along the way I’ve gotten involved with the Matthew 25 Ministry Hub and their food security program.
Last summer we built a small urban farm on a lot next to the abandoned Boys and Girls club and we grew what we could. The soil isn’t the best and I did a poor job training volunteers and, frankly, I was really busy with Block by Block work, but we got some production and we learned some things. (Gaia is great!) Some produce was sold internally and a fair amount of it was used to create “Local Food Fridays” in our Summer Meals program. (the summer meals program provides meals for people who don’t have a lunch, especially kids since school is out and they aren’t getting their free school breakfast or lunch)
Heading into this summer we are expanding the urban farm operation to include a CSA shares program. We are hoping to have 6 families paying full price and 12 at risk families paying half price for their shares. Along the way we would like to still provide produce to the Summer Meals program, perhaps supply a restaurant, create an in the city pumpkin patch and also train some local youth with the job skills necessary to operate an urban farm. Some of this would be done on this plot and some might be completed on other land that is abandoned.
Our group has also been conditionally awarded a USDA grant to study 6 different ways to bring local food into low income neighborhoods. The way I look at this grant is that it’s sort of like market research. We’ll do all the focus groups, surveys and forums to figure out how the residents want us to bring them local foods and them we go implement the methods that are the most cost effective. I’m pretty darn excited about this
(by the way, excuse me while I do a short plug. I wrote an e-book about how we got this urban farm up and running and some of the things we learned about doing this that may help others you know start up their urban farm. You can purchase the book by following this link to the Urban Farm tab on this blog. You can use PayPal to pay for it and then download the PDF right to your computer. Ok, back to your regularly scheduled blog post.)
Going into next year (and the years after that) we are working to redevelop a 4 block area into an urban eco-village that will encompass some creative reuse of old abandoned industrial buildings, super green energy efficient housing stock (all selling for under $100K) and an operating urban farm that will cover around 1.5 acres that will be a mix of intensive gardening, permaculture, season extension and other ideas. We’re calling it the Ellis Urban Village and you can see if by following the link to our presentation to the City Council’s Development Committee. (I see that WordPress let’s you put pdfs and other files on your blogs now but I have to confess that the file will take up a lot of my allocated space. You’ll have to follow the link. Sorry)
In the long term, maybe our space will include other types of libraries like a bike lending library, perhaps a cannery or other type of shared common space. We’d love to operate some type of co-op in the space and perhaps a coffee house/restaurant that people can walk to in their neighborhood.
I would love for our plan to be the first of many here in Cedar Rapids. There are plenty of places around where you could easily create an urban farm. There are acres and acres of land now that use to have houses on them and now are all grass (that has to be mowed) and they could easily make dozens and dozens of small 1 acre urban farms. Maybe someday we’ll get there.
I’ve had a fair amount of question in the past about why we’re rebuilding in an area that flooded. All the areas we are looking to rebuild in are in the 500 year flood plain, except the flood in 2008 went outside that level even. I just feel like we can’t abandon this central core of our city. In the future, when transportation will be an issue, we can’t afford to have this massive amount of space right in the middle of the city not be used. It won’t be so easy to drive to the heart of the city.
So, that’s what I’ve been up to for the past 18 months or so, professionally. There are lot more moving parts in each little section but hopefully that will give you an overview of what has been going on.