Community Garden currently buried in snow waits to bloom

By Ali Sargent

The community garden may be lying dormant under several feet of snow, but support for the local foods movement is coming into full bloom.

The Grinnell Student Garden has been around for several years, but the Grinnell Community Garden started just last year when Jordan Scheibel ’09.5, Caitlin Vaughan ’10 and three other Grinnell Students won a Sarah Boyer ’08 Community Service Award.

The Grinnell Cultivating Community, as the student collective decided to call themselves, received $3,000 to spend the summer creating a Community Garden in Miller Park, located next to Nyanza lake at the southernmost tip of High Street. “We worked all summer to get the community involved and to get our produce into the hands of those who wanted it and needed it,” Vaughan said.

In addition to basic gardening duties, cultivators sold their produce at the Grinnell Farmer’s Market, partnered with the Galaxy Youth Program to host environmental education activities and provided food for the Mid-Iowa Community Action (MICA) food pantry. MICA is a nonprofit agency that provides various services to combat poverty, one of which is their food pantry where low-income families can come once a month or so to get groceries.

Having local foods available in the MICA pantry—which according to Scheibel typically stocks mostly canned and processed food—is an especially essential step in combating the socio-economic factors that limit dietary choices.

Scheibel and Vaughan agreed that providing fresh food for those who would be otherwise unable to afford it is one of their biggest goals. “I think one of the reasons that people in the country and in Poweshiek County are facing diabetes and obesity and other ailments is lack of good nutrition,” Vaughan said.

Community gardens grow more than food, and true to their name, community is one of their most beneficial crops. “I think that community gardens can create a really nice space for communities to come together over something that almost everyone loves which is fresh good food,” Vaughan said.

The garden proved to be extremely bountiful—almost overwhelmingly so. “We were like swimming in tomatoes,” Vaughan said. “I would bring tomatoes to meetings that I had and be like, ‘please—take tomatoes’”

Due to last summer’s success the Wilson fellowship will fund two community garden coordinators to continue the work of the Cultivating Community. “Essentially this summer is a way to prove the concept and show that this sort of thing works,” said Doug Caulkins, Anthropology and director of the Wilson Foundation. “I see this as just part of a matrix of efforts by various parts of parts of Grinnell to improve the quality of life locally.”

The two students will work together with each being responsible for a different aspect of the garden. The garden coordinator will plan and tend the garden and organize workdays, while the community coordinator will handle communication and involvement with local farmers and organizations.

The coordinators will earn $7.50 an hour and Andeelson will supervise them. Andelson encouraged students to apply—no experience is required.

“We’re just looking for people who are passionate about community, passionate about environmental sustainability,” said Vaughan. “I think it will be really rewarding and challenging.”