Groundswell Cafe brings a pay-it-forward ethic and fresh, organic food to Cedar Rapids

Groundswell Cafe

201 3rd Ave, SW, Cedar Rapids — Monday through Friday, 9 a.m. to 2 p.m.

Soup and sandwich at the Groundswell Cafe. — courtesy of Matthew 25

Groundswell Cafe will bring something new to Iowa when it opens in Cedar Rapids on Monday, Oct. 8. The latest project by Matthew 25 will be the state’s first pay-it-forward cafe.

“The way it works is if people want to round-up their bill or add a 20 percent tip — or maybe even pay for a whole extra meal — all of that money will go to the pay-it-forward fund,” said Jana Bodensteiner, director of Development and Communications for Matthew 25. “So someone who can’t afford a meal can get a ticket and present it to the cashier and receive their meal for free.”

The Cedar Rapids nonprofit, which takes its name from a biblical passage in which Christ stressed the importance of helping those in need (“Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me.”), was started in 2006 to “help strengthen and elevate neighborhoods on the west side of Cedar Rapids,” according to its website. Matthew 25’s neighborhood improvement efforts focus on three things: food, housing and education.

In 2012, Matthew 25 established Cultivate Hope Urban Farm on two acres in northwest Cedar Rapids near downtown. Several houses that had been damaged in the 2008 flood and could not be rebuilt had been located on the acres. Matthew 25 bought the property, with the idea of getting fresh, healthy food — produced with no herbicide or pesticide — to people who normally would not have access to it. It was the first farm in Iowa founded within a city’s limits.

Originally, the farm’s produce was offered through a CSA program, and sold at a stand in the NewBo City Market. In May, Matthew 25 expanded its effort to make fresh food available by starting a farmers market, Cultivate Hope Market.

The Groundswell Cafe was an obvious next step in the nonprofit’s mission.

Groundswell Cafe. — photo courtesy of Matthew 25

“It’s a way to get fresh, healthy local food in the hands of people who wouldn’t normally have access to it,” Bodensteiner said. “We want everyone to be able to have healthy food regardless of their ability to afford it.”

The menu will focus heavily on soup, salad and sandwiches, mostly vegetable-based. There will be also be vegan options, but meat-eaters will find dishes with ham, turkey and chicken, alongside the Cajun Vegan Tofu.

Much of the cafe’s produce will come from the urban farm. Other items will be sourced as far as possible to local, organic producers, Bodensteiner explained.

Some of the cafe’s lettuce, however, will come from an even closer source.

“We’re starting up a hydroponic garden here in the building that will provide half the lettuce we’re going to be using,” Bodensteiner said.

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Groundswell Cafe will be offering more than meals, though. There will be a separate co-worker space available in the building.

“We hope it can help businesses just starting out, but also provide a communal working space so people who normally work at home can collaborate,” Bodensteiner said.

Individuals and organizations working to improve the community will be eligible for a 20 percent discount on the fee for the co-working space.

Groundswell will also offer a 2,300 square foot area that can be rented as an event space. That area can be expanded to 3,500 square feet, and use of the cafe’s kitchen will be offered.

The Groundswell Cafe at 201 3rd Avenue, SW, will be open from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m., Monday through Friday.

Groundswell Cafe. — photo courtesy of Matthew 25.