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Group Ready to Begin "Urban Farm" Work in Cedar Rapids Flood Zone

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CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa - The question of what to do with some of the empty space in flood-damaged parts of Cedar Rapids will see one possible solution taking shape soon. In mid-March, work will begin to turn two acres of empty lots where demolished homes once stood into a series of urban gardens.

Matthew 25, a non-profit group, plans an urban garden complex as the first step is what's called the Ellis Urban Village. It's located along F Avenue and 4th Street NW in the Time Check neighborhood. Those interested in the idea of urban gardens, and those who want a share of the fresh vegetables, can attend an open house set for this coming Saturday.

The series of urban gardens will take up two acres total, but not all in one spot. The garden plots will fit in and around the homes that will stay in the area and pretty much follow the footprint of those demolished homes. As part of a class project, Iowa State University urban design and landscaping students are putting plans on paper as to what the project could eventually look like. The drawings that will go on display at the Saturday open house show walking trails, small playgrounds and perhaps eventually more homes developed along the edges of the urban garden area.

Dale McBurney is a neighbor who lives next door to the urban garden plots and even grew some vegetables on the ground after a neighbor's home was demolished. He's a fan of the proposal and said the nutrients left behind by flood waters should make it a good area for garden produce.

"One of my wife's rose plants was dying, she thought it had had it, but after the flood the thing came back and was growing like crazy," McBurney said.

Organizers hopes that proves true for all the urban garden land because the project will work on a "subscription" basis. People can buy a summer's worth of fresh vegetables for an upfront $400 payment. People living in the flood zones of the Time Check and Taylor School neighborhoods can buy a share for half that price–$200.

Matt Mayer, Cultivate Hope manager for Matthew 25, said the group envisions enough produce to take care of 25 subscribers for most of the summer.

"We'll definitely give people their money's worth. It averages $20 a week unless you're a neighbor then it's $10. Our goal is to give you about 50% more (in produce value) than that," Mayer said.

Mayer said Matthew 25 obtained a three year lease on the urban garden plots from the city. Under the rules the city imposed, those working in the garden can only use tillers and small equipment—not any kind of farm tractor. A group of ten AmeriCorps Vista service workers will start digging the initial layout on March 10th. Jared Bennett, who comes from West Virginia, is one of those workers and lives in a rented home next to the urban garden site.

"We have to turn it into more than a garden, it'll be green space for the community," Bennett said adding "people can go and socialize, it'll be much more than just a garden."

The Matthew 25 open house to show off design concepts for the gardens will take place from 11:00 a.m. until noon on Saturday, February 25th. The location will be the Matthew 25 offices at 225 K Ave. NW in Cedar Rapids.

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