Suburban “agrihood” proposed near Des Moines


High_Point_community_garden
The proposed development would feature community gardens and organic farming (Wikimedia Commons).

Julia Poska | February 15, 2019

A tiny Iowa town may soon get an unprecedented expansion. Diligent Development wants to build Iowa’s first “agrihood” on 400 acres just south of Cumming, bringing food and outdoors living to the center of a relocalized community.

According to the Des Moines Register, which featured Diligent’s plans yesterday, over 200 such communities already exist elsewhere in the U.S.. Agrihoods bring the country closer to the city, integrating food production and nature into suburban areas without spreading neighbors too far apart or committing them to a fully rural lifestyle.

The Register reports that the Cumming agrihood could bring over 1,800 new residents into the 400-person town with mixed housing; apartments, condos, townhomes and single-family homes would all surround a large organic vegetable farm.  Farmers would sell through subscription-based services or at local stands, and residents would maintain smaller community gardens as well.

Residents would have easy access to parks and green space too, as the Great Western Trail. The community would also feature a craft brewery, an orchard and retail space.

Cumming is 20 minutes southwest of Des Moines, close to Interstate Highway 35 and Iowa Highway 5. The development would cost about $260 million and is awaiting approval by the Cumming City Council.

Climate Narrative Project – Spring 2015


(Photo gallery by Bethany Nelson)

Nick Fetty | May 9, 2015

Fellows with the spring 2015 Climate Narrative Project presented their works on Thursday night at Art Building West on the University of Iowa campus.

The Climate Narrative Project is “a special media arts initiative in the Office of Sustainability at the University of Iowa, designed to reach across academic disciplines and chronicle regenerative approaches to energy, food, agriculture, water and waste management, community planning and transportation.” Fellows participate in a semester-long graduate-level workshop where they developed ideas ranging from documentary films to dance performances. This semester the fellows focused on “regenerative agriculture, urban farming and food policy, with a special focus on schools.”

During Thursday night’s event – Urban Farms, Real Food, Edible Campus: An Evening of Film, Art, Dance and Storytelling – I was the first one to present with a documentary entitled “Soil Mate: It Takes A Teacher.” The film focused on Iowa City soil educator Scott Koepke and the influence he has had on children in the area. Koepke stresses with his students the importance of organic gardening techniques, composting, and healthy eating.

Anna Kilzer (Photo by Bethany Nelson)
Anna Kilzer talked about possibilities for an edible campus concept at the University of Iowa (Photo by Bethany Nelson)

Anna Kilzer presented next with her project “Edible Campus: Beyond a Public Health Building” in which she laid out ideas for planting vegetables and other plants near the UI’s new College of Public Health building with the hope that the rest of the campus would eventual embrace this concept. Kilzer presented her project in the form of a monologue, describing what the UI’s campus would look like if it emulated edible campus models such as the University of Massachusetts-Amherst.

“I can see Pawpaw trees and raspberry bushes outside McBride Hall stretching down the sidewalk like a corridor to Clinton street. The wind carries the aroma of basil, thyme and rosemary, as leafy greens reached out of raised beds with the gentle pokes of kale, spinach, and arugula. . Students swing in the Hammocks studying and napping between classes. And those famous writers at their workshop – they were meeting in the middle of rooted vegetables and walnut trees, bookended by pages of lettuce. Engineering students argue over the water irrigation system, as the math assistants measured the perfect amount of water to each vegetation. The PE students lounged on the chairs and benches designed by the 3D design students on display for the general public to enjoy. And down below, the Iowa River teems with life and as the boats cart the boxes of fresh veggies, and food carts and truck lined up with the fervency of filling sand bags–though this time, filling bags of real food from the Edible Campus to feed students, faculty and community members of Iowa City.”

Sophia Finster produced a dance project in which the characters debated over processed versus unprocessed foods. (Photo by Bethany Nelson)
Sophia Finster produced a dance project in which the characters debated over processed versus unprocessed foods. (Photo by Bethany Nelson)

Sophia Finster then took the stage for a dance performance entitled “The Dinner Party: Processed vs. Unprocessed Food.” The performance consisted of four dancers and their struggles to eat healthy unprocessed food when faced with the monetary constraints and the busy lifestyle of being a college student. The story was told through the medium of dance but also used statistics and facts about the environmental impact of processed foods.

“Forty percent of food grown, processed, and transported in the U.S. will never be consumed. Every year 60 million tons of food waste is generated in the U.S. and nearly 40 million tons of that goes to the landfill. Unprocessed food often has much less packaging than processed food and around 45% of our food system’s carbon emissions arises from the production of food that is never eaten. But that’s another conversation for another time. What’s really in our food, safely sealed up in crinkly bags and flashy boxes?”

Audience members to the stage at the end of Sophia Finster's performance to enjoy some locally- and -organically-grown produce. (Photo by Sarah Nagengast)
Audience members to the stage at the end of Sophia Finster’s performance to enjoy some locally- and -organically-grown produce. (Photo by Sarah Nagengast)

The night concluded with Bridget Fonseca and her project “Don’t Let Your Children Grow Up to Be Farmers: Women Farmers Respond,” a question and answer session between herself (an aspiring farmer) and four characters who played the role of real-life female farmers in the Iowa City area. Fonseca asked the farmers about monetary and other struggles they face to maintain a sustainable operation. At the end, she reflected on her project and reevaluated whether or not she wanted to pursue a career in farming.

“Over this journey, I’ve gained a new perspective on the realities of owning a far. It’s not as flexible [or] glamorous as I initially though. Farming is hard work and the answer is hot that we all have to become farmers to save the food system. What we need is more support for out farmers, for our environment, and for our health.”

Climate Narrative Project fellow Bridget Fonseca presented her project “Don’t Let Your Children Grow Up To Be Farmers: Women Farmers Respond.” (Photo by Bethany Nelson)

The Climate Narrative Project is currently accepting applications for six fellows for the fall semester. Those interested in applying should contact UI writer-in-residence and workshop leader Jeff Biggers (jrbiggers[at]gmail.com).

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Trust aims to preserve Iowa farmland


The Sustainable Iowa Land Trust aims to promote sustainable farming techniques and prevent soil erosion. (Paw Paw/Flickr)
The Sustainable Iowa Land Trust aims to promote sustainable farming techniques and prevent soil erosion as seen on this soybean field in Wisconsin. (Paw Paw/Flickr)

Nick Fetty | February 20, 2015

A recently introduced Iowa program aims to help out first-time farmers as well as those managing organic and sustainable operations.

The Sustainable Iowa Land Trust (SILT) is a private nonprofit land trust dedicated to preserving Iowa’s farmland. Lawmakers have supported this bi-partisan effort with its advisory board including Sen. Joe Bolkcom (D-Iowa City) and Rep. Bobby Kaufmann (R-Wilton). The “working group” will consist of public and private stakeholders with 71-year old Corydon-resident Mary Ellen Miller being the first to donate 40 acres of land to the cause. In November the trust got a $20,000 interest-free loan from the Slow Money National Gathering.

The trust aims to put more emphasis on locally-grown products as Iowa currently imports 90 percent of its edible food. Additionally, the trust aims to promote sustainable agricultural practices to preserve soil as Iowa ranked second in the nation for amount of soil lost due to erosion in 2010, according to the Farmland Information Center. The trust also aims to assist novice farmers who may struggle acquiring land.

“It’s my dream to own an organic, diversified farm. Right now it’s really hard to find land. There’s lots of competition from developers, and some farmers sell land to larger farms. I am hoping I can find something through SILT,” aspiring farmer Kate Mendenhall said in an interview with Iowa Public Radio.

The Farmland Information Center also reports that Iowa is one of 28 states that have programs to protect land.

Edit: This post originally misstated that SILT was introduced by lawmakers.

14th Annual Iowa Organic Conference coming to Iowa City


The 14th Annual Iowa Organic Conference will be held Nov. 16 and 17 on the University of Iowa campus. (Photo courtesy UI Office of Sustainability)
The 14th Annual Iowa Organic Conference will be held Nov. 16 and 17 on the University of Iowa campus. (Photo courtesy UI Office of Sustainability)

Nick Fetty | November 14, 2014

The 14th Annual Iowa Organic Conference will take place November 16 and 17 at the Iowa Memorial Union on the University of Iowa campus.

The conference’s keynote speaker is Mary Berry who is the daughter of Wendell Berry, an American cultural critic, environmental activist, farmer, novelist, and poet. Ms. Berry is the executive director of the Berry Center, an agriculture-focused foundation based in New Castle, Kentucky.

The event will begin with a reception featuring locally and organically grown food and drink beginning at 6 p.m. on Sunday, November 16. Following the reception will be a screening of the movie Fresh which looks at local and organic food markets in the U.S. Sunday night will conclude with a concert by The Slow Draws Band.

The conference will resume at 7:30 a.m. on Monday, November 17 with breakfast. At 8:30 a.m. Ms. Berry will give her presentation, “Rekindling the Light Within: The Art and Science of Organic Farming.” The rest of the day will consist of “breakout sessions” which will include presentations from United States Department of Agriculture representatives, Iowa State Senator Rob Hogg, and others. Lunch will feature a gourmet meal by award-winning UI Executive Chef Barry Greenberg consisting of locally and organically grown produce, meat, and dairy products.

Officials from Iowa State University Extension and Outreach, the ISU Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture, and the UI Office of Sustainability worked together to organize this year’s event.

Cost of attendance is $115 ($35 for students) for anyone who has not already preregistered. For more information visit the UI Office of Sustainability website or contact Kathleen Delate at kdelate@iastate.edu.

Farm bill could lead to less organic agriculture


Photo by Sarah Cady, Flickr.
Photo by Sarah Cady, Flickr.

The new farm bill extension that went into place on January 1st could limit the amount of organic agriculture.

This new legislation cuts most funding for organic agriculture programs. This includes a program that reimburses much of the cost of organic certification.

For many farmers, this means that they will not pay the $800 it costs annually for organic certification.

Listen to the whole story here.