The Ottumwa Courier

Wapello County

April 9, 2013

Beating hunger through community gardens

OTTUMWA — Ideas for community gardens have taken root.

Nearly 30 people interested in community gardens, farmers' markets and fresh-food projects gathered at the United Way of Wapello County Monday morning to brainstorm ideas for projects focused on food availability and sustainability in the area.

Three ideas stuck: a senior program, revamping vacant city lots as community gardens and reviving old raised beds in the industrial park north of town.

The meeting was the first of several to focus on solving food insecurity, said UWWC President and CEO Desiree Johnson, who noted that 14.8 percent of Wapello County residents are food insecure and 24 percent of local children are food insecure.

"By coming together as a community and working on this, we'll make our community a healthier place, a much more productive place and more cohesive," she said.

Several ways to battle hunger were thrown on the table. While Chuck Bates could not attend the meeting, he gave the group a starting point: raised beds at the industrial park.

"He had a plot up north in the industrial park that he [maintained] for three years," said UWWC community impact associate Marie Zoromski. "It's currently still fenced in, and there are hoses underground. He did raised beds, but they're disintegrated now."

Wapello County's community transformation grant now has to take a new direction since Ottumwa was not awarded a Blue Zones designation.

"We have several lots that are abandoned, and I think the city is interested in donating those for a community garden project," said Joni Elder, the grant's program director. "The conversation has snowballed since it began three days ago."

Jody Gates, city director of health, inspections and solid waste, said several years ago she worked with a faith-based group on a community garden project as well as the parks department to see that water be installed in those areas on the west end of town.

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