Growing Food and Transforming Communities: Farming on Vacant Lots

Feb 3, 2016

Shanti Sellz is Johnson county's newest hire. Her focus: is going to be on planning and helping bolster the local foods supply chain around the Iowa City area. 

"I would like to focus on the access piece. There is a very large demand in this community, but there are not a lot of people who are involved," Sellz says. "We really want to create opportunities for growers to get connected with institutions – hospitals, the university, the farm to school movement." 

Sellz is the first county-level local foods and planning specialist to be hired in the state of Iowa. Iowa State University Extension has been helping to organize urban gardens like the Community Sharing Garden in Waverly, but Sellz's job is the first position of it's kind in local government. 

During this Talk of Iowa conversation, host Charity Nebbe talk with Sellz about her new post and some of the things she is hoping to do, including an effort called Grow Johnson County, whish aims to turn the old country poor farm into an urban garden. 

"The county owns 160 acres in Johnson County within Iowa City city limits, and it's an incredible resource," Sellz explains. "Each county in Iowa has land like this, and most of it has been sold off. But here in Johnson county, we still have it. Grow Johnson County is the first in a pilot program to lease that land to local non-profits to grow food. Right now, it's all in row cropping." 

Ron Lenth, who oversees the Waverly Community Sharing Garden and Tim McCollow, who is project manager for Home Gr/own Milwaukee, are also a part of this hour of Talk of Iowa. Both have been working to turn vacant lots into spaces for community gardens and free orchards.