"Since that time, most of the lots have been transferred to someone else," Gates said. "But we have others scattered around the city. There are a couple in the 1700 block of West Main [Street], and we have some tucked away behind a stand of trees on North Clay Street. There are all kinds of properties the city has held for a long time, but they haven't been able to sell them for any particular use."
In the past, Marshall Dias has asked the city about purchasing vacant lots for community gardens, though his idea stemmed from a beautification standpoint rather than food insecurity.
"This is a way of finding an alternative use for those empty lots the city is spending a tremendous amount of money on maintaining," Dias said. "We don't do enough of that old-fashioned, Mother Earth, 'get your hands dirty' kind of stuff."
Ottumwa Community Outreach Ministry director Yvonne Baldwin-Greene said community gardens have been on her brain for the past couple of years.
"This is something that could both teach the clients we serve as well as build a supplement for more nutritious meals," she said. "The people we're serving could learn how to garden, then do it in their own backyards."
Several others came with the idea of helping feed Wapello County seniors.
"I have a vision that we could have a large garden project at the airport involving Job Corps and the Master Gardeners of Wapello County," said Ron Brickey, Food Bank of Southern Iowa board member.
Mary Lou Mason said area seniors are "deprived" since there are few places for them to get fresh produce.
The food bank's executive director, Neal Abbott, suggested that some of the food products that result from community gardens could be distributed to low-income persons, whether through the food bank, church kitchens or area pantries.