Updated: Eastern Iowans unite to promote food security, sustainability and diversity

Photo by Zak Neumann

The Iowa Valley Global Food Project breaks ground on May 20, 2017, on 3.7 acres at the Johnson County Poor Farm (just west of 4515 Melrose Ave). Supporters and community members are invited to a celebration from 2-5 p.m. that day. The community garden and educational resource aims to increase access to a variety of organic produce, reduce pressure on local food banks and help new and native-born Iowans get to know one another.

Ayman Sharif, University of Iowa student of geography and sustainability and the project’s president, said when he moved to Iowa from United Arab Emirates, “I had that need for getting connected to the society, getting connected to people.” He recognized this dynamic as a community-wide challenge. As he got to know other Iowa Citians in the Wetherby Park community garden, Sharif was inspired to use food as a tool to forge human connections.

Sharif said the project will promote diversity and de-emphasize distinctions based on nation of origin. He said in the current political climate, debunking xenophobic narratives through personal interaction is especially important.

“We can have a model where people can say, ‘… We have people here, for example from Sudan, we have people from other areas, Muslim people for example. And those people aren’t the way you were just telling us.’”

About 20 families will share an acre of individual plots and rows this year. The rest of the land will be planted with cover crops like melons and sesame to improve the soil for future seasons. A new irrigation system, tools and assistance from the management team will help growers get started, and education will focus on basic gardening skills this year.

Kirkwood Community College, University of Iowa’s Office of Sustainability, Johnson County Office of Planning and Sustainable Development and the Center for Worker Justice have been supportive of the project, Sharif said — in particular Mazahir Salih of the Center for Worker Justice (CWJ).

“She’s a person … [w]ho’s getting people in, and trying to get people from the margins to the center,” Sharif said.

Salih said she hopes “to make the program include everybody, all the residents of Johnson County.” She said CWJ members come from multiple countries with different culinary traditions, and have expressed a desire for more garden space in the area.

The project will also expand availability of culturally appropriate produce — certain types of okra, millet, sesame and sorghum, for example, are hard to find but popular in Sudanese cuisine, Sharif said. The produce for the project was selected based on a survey of interested growers.

Interested in growing with the Iowa Valley Global Food Project? Contact them through Facebook or their website to get on the list. Participants will be picked at random.

This article was originally published in Little Village issue 218.

Editors’ note: This article has been modified from its print version to include updated information about the groundbreaking ceremony.

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