The Ottumwa Courier

June 21, 2013

Community gardens could spread through town

Courier staff writer

---- — OTTUMWA — Children, corporate volunteers, summer interns and more got in on the action of grooming the revamped community gardens north of town.

Friday marked the longest day of the year, which is why United Ways across the nation hold a "Day of Action," including the United Way of Wapello County. This year's day of volunteerism took place at Ottumwa's community gardens near the industrial park.

After the idea for the gardens took off in April, both community volunteers and corporations have jumped at the opportunity to plant their own bed of fruits and vegetables. Now, both are beginning to grow and flourish with the help of a steady stream of volunteers.

The city of Ottumwa has also identified three different plots throughout town that could be used for additional community gardens in the future, said United Way community impact associate Marie Zoromski — one near Ellis Street, one on West Main Street and one on Clay Street.

"The city hasn't sold them, but we haven't figured out how to use them yet," she said. "Our next step is to go into the neighborhoods, start knocking on doors and gauge the interest."

The day began with children from the Ottumwa YMCA Summer Safari Day Camp mixing soils and filling an elevated bed, which will stay at the Y for now so the children can continue to learn about gardening and where produce comes from.

"Our focus is on food insecurity, and the community gardening project is an excellent example of that," said Ali Wilson, United Way's volunteer coordinator. "Throughout the summer, the kids will work on growing, pick it and incorporate it into meals."

In Wapello County, 14.8 percent of the population is food insecure and 24 percent of local children are food insecure, according to the United Way. Both are higher than statewide statistics, according to Feeding America. Across Iowa, 13.4 percent of the population is food insecure and 19.5 percent of children are food insecure. Food insecurity is defined as a lack of access to or availability of food.

By the end of May, the garden already had 12 raised beds, compost and a compost tumbler, a pallet bench, three oversized tires for flowers and land for potatoes, corn, pumpkin and squash. Friday afternoon, volunteers dug into their raised beds once more as they continued to weed and plant produce.

In the last month, bees have also moved into the gardens, thanks to help from Desiree Johnson, Dave Johnson and Marshall Dias. The city of Ottumwa also donated 12 composters to the garden in an effort to recycle decomposing material into fertilizer and keep the weeds at bay.

"We mixed in a couple-year-old manure in the soil," said Ryan Rasmussen, of NRCS, who maintains one of the 12 gardens. "And we stuck lime in the bottom holes of the tomatoes. But we lost all our beans as soon as they came up because the rabbits mowed them down."

— To follow reporter Chelsea Davis on Twitter, head to @ChelseaLeeDavis.