With greater emphasis on eating fresh/eating local, and with Blue Zones designations for many area cities, we are also now hearing more about community gardens. The label community garden, however, can mean a wide range of things. Let’s discuss some of these and how they may best serve your individual interests.
Whether you are a student or fan of gardening, demonstration gardens are likely your interest. These may be found across the metro area, and include Lowe Park (perennials, herbs), Noelridge Park (annuals, perennials, tropicals), NewBo Market (edibles), and Brucemore (perennials, annuals, trees, shrubs). Personally, I find these locations not just pleasing environments but more instructive sources for plants and plant combinations than catalogues or garden centers. Seeing things grow in context rather than isolation is a huge advantage to any gardener. These gardens are all accessible during daylight hours; Noelridge Park Greenhouse is open weekdays 7 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. (call 319-286-5762 for tour information).
If you are interested in being part of a community growing effort, with or without production shares, there are many options. A few of these include the 12 urban farms run by Feed Iowa First, located throughout the metro area. These larger scale gardens are run on donated land and their produce is distributed through various agencies battling food insecurity (Meals on Wheels, among others). If you are interested in helping Feed Iowa First, call Sonia Kendrick at (319) 329-5818 or visit www.feediowa1st.org. Another agency working on nutritional issues on a 2-acre farm in downtown Cedar Rapids is Matthew 25. To learn more about or volunteer with Matthew 25, visit www.hub25.org. Many Cedar Rapids area neighborhood organizations, churches and schools have also established community gardens for the purpose of community building and providing fresh produce to residents who may not have the space or ability to produce their own. Soil Mates, an organic garden education service of New Pioneer Co-op, is a partner on many of these projects, providing funding and instruction (www.newpi.coop/AboutUs/NewPiSoilmates). For information on other community gardening opportunities, contact Elizabeth Ward at Linn County Extension at firstname.lastname@example.org or (319) 377-9839.
If you would like to grow your own produce but don’t have appropriate space, you can rent a garden plot at Ellis, Tuma or Squaw Creek Park from Cedar Rapids Parks and Recreation by calling (319) 286-5731.
Finally, if you would like to help grow and tend the gardens at Noelridge or other Cedar Rapids parks, please consider joining Friends of Noelridge (www.friendsofnoelridge.com). This group assists the professional gardeners in propagating and nurturing plants found in all public spaces around Cedar Rapids. Many members also help lead educational events at the park and greenhouse. Whatever your interest, there is likely a community gardening activity waiting for your involvement.
Lori Klopfenstein is a Linn County Master Gardener.