Hunger relief collaboration begins first planting season

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IOWA CITY, Iowa (KCRG-TV9) -- A Johnson County organization is helping to feed the hungry with fresh, locally-grown vegetables.

Nearly 14.2 percent of people living in the county have limited or uncertain access to adequate food. That's according to a recent study by the Johnson County Hunger Task Force. That's a bit higher than the statewide percentage of 12.7 percent.

On the outskirts of Iowa City, you'll find this old farmstead.

In the last year, the historic Johnson County Poor Farm was turned into a two-acre hunger-relief collaboration called "Grow: Johnson County."

"In a small space you can grow a tremendous amount of food for a lot of people," Scott Koepke said.

This week the Grow Team is spending their days planting potato seeds.
In a couple weeks they'll start some green beans, sweet corn, squash and melons.

Once it's harvested, the produce will feed people at local food pantries, homeless shelters and hot lunch programs.

"To be able to put fresh produce in the hands of people who need it," Project Director John Boller said.

Grow: Johnson County is funded, in part, by the county.

Last year the group did soil tests of what crops would grow best.
This is the first year of planting, and the group says much more can be expected in the future.

"I'd like to get some chickens out here for egg production, some bees for honey production," Koepke said.

More education experiences could also be in the future.

"We're not doing this to grow food, we're doing this to grow people," Koepke said.

Organizers say they would like to teach classes on composting, weeding, seeding and food preservation. Their belief is if a person can nurture a plant, they can also nurture themselves.

"I see people who are struggling and are able to go to community gardens like this and it improves your heath in many different ways," Koepke said.

Organizers say this program can improve dietary and mental health, and also puts an old farmstead to use.