IOWA CITY – Johnson County wants to give a nonprofit organization a couple of acres of its land to produce locally grown food.
The Board of Supervisors has requested proposals from organizations to farm about two acres at the former County Poor Farm property southwest of the Melrose Avenue and Highway 218 intersection.
The county leases about 133 acres for farming now, but it has been approached a couple of times in recent months about the possibility of using part of the land for a local foods project.
A proposal from Goodwill of the Heartland has drawn particular interest from the supervisors, but they don’t want to assume that’s the only good idea, so they are asking other organizations for ideas, Board of Supervisors Chairwoman Janelle Rettig said.
Offers are due Oct. 11, and the goal is to have farming underway in the spring, Rettig said.
Goodwill of the Heartland will submit a proposal that calls for the production of local food, mostly vegetables, while providing job training for people with disabilities and other barriers to employment, said Pat Airy, president and CEO of the organization.
“It really helps people needing assistance to find good work and the community by providing local food and training opportunities to people with barriers to independence,” she said.
Rettig likes that idea.
“It all sounds really interesting,” she said. “I think the board has been excited about it.”
The county is flexible on the amount of land to be leased, the use of some of the farm buildings out there and the price, said Andy Johnson, executive assistant to the Board of Supervisors. The board is not looking to make money and could rent the land for free or for a nominal fee, he said.
The county is interested in getting the Poor Farm site listed on the National Register of Historic places.
The county has owned the property since 1855 and it originally held a residential facility for people living in poverty who would work the land in return for food and shelter on a temporary basis and also had an asylum for the mentally ill. The asylum is on the National Register of Historic Places.
In addition to the farmland, the property now is home to the county’s joint emergency communications center and Chatham Oaks, a residential facility for people with mental illness.