Food Policy Council to present forum on local food, future of County Poor Farm

Community Garden
The Johnson County Food Policy Council is holding a forum that will discuss community gardens. — photo by chanzi via Flickr Creative Commons

The Johnson County Food Policy Council is holding a public forum titled “Past, Present and Future: Local Foods at the County Farm,” where community members will have the opportunity to voice their opinions on issues regarding local food and agriculture this Saturday, Feb. 7 from 10 a.m. – 3 p.m at the Johnson County Fairgrounds (4265 Oak Crest Hill Rd. S.E.).

One of the main focuses of the forum will be to generate ideas on ways to turn the Johnson County Poor Farm into a community garden space.

The Johnson County Poor Farm was established in 1855 and consists of 160 acres located on the west side of Iowa City. For over 100 years, the land was used to house the poor and mentally ill population in the area, and it has a complex history. It hasn’t been in use as a farm for many years.

Now, the Johnson County Board of Supervisors is turning to the community to help decide how to use the plot.

“The County Poor Farm can be a space for new farmers to rent, live, grow and process healthy, locally-grown fresh food,” said Mia Kenyon, chair of the Johnson County Food Policy Council. “In addition to being an incubator for new farmers, [it] could be a space for the community to learn more about gardening, identifying trees and caring for plants.”

The land still has several surviving historical buildings today, including a milking barn, a horse barn, the wing that housed those with mental illnesses and the cemetery. The public forum will compile opinions and feedback on conservation of the historical buildings and structures on the land, educational opportunities and proposed future uses for the Poor Farm.

“Local food production, sustainable agriculture, support for new farmers, housing on-site, trails [and] edible landscapes are all ideas that will be explored, among others that participants will suggest,” said Kenyon.

The event will also include remarks from keynote speaker Karen von Huene, the executive director of Community Groundworks in Madison, Wisconsin. The organization helps to cultivate organic foods within urban agricultural areas, and hopes to pass on these skills to Johnson County.

The ideas generated at the forum will be compiled into a “Visioning Document” that will be given to the Johnson County Board of Supervisors in order to assist in their decision regarding the space.

Tickets to the event are free and questions regarding the event can be directed to Mickey Miller at (319) 688-8011.

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