Co-op garden flourishes


Pumpkins, beets, edible flowers, kelp, and cauliflower are just a few of the many different vegetables being grown at Iowa City’s Earth Source Gardens.

The New Pioneer Food Co-op, along with Harvest Farm & Preserve, started the gardens in 2009. It is part of a five-year educational program to look at the different type of foods, with the first year focusing solely on vegetables.

Every year is dedicated to a new food group to educate both children and adults, with this year focusing on milk and cheese.

“The community garden began with one acre and then expanded to two and is currently completely full,” said Theresa Carbrey, the education and member services coordinator at New Pioneer.

More than 100 Co-op members are able to grow to what they choose on the plot of land at the northeast corner of North Scott Boulevard and Rochester Avenue, on the city’s East Side, provided they garden sustainably and abide by the garden agreement established by New Pioneer and Harvest Farm & Preserve.

Officials aim to educate users on how the food moves from the soil to the kitchen table.

Some past garden activities included learning how ice cream is made, as well as sampling a variety of dairy products and non-dairy milks.

Earth Source Gardens is not the Co-op’s only garden.

The Co-op’s store buyers’ office, which was formerly known as the “Bookery,” has a garden. The garden is also used as education tool to help people get in touch with food. All remaining produce from the edible garden is donated to the Johnson County Crisis Center’s Food Bank.

While the Bookery formerly housed the co-op’s administrative offices, the staff has now moved to a new office space inside the Tower Place in downtown Iowa City.

Because the Co-op is opening a new location in Cedar Rapids, a new space was necessary to house the growing number of staff members.

“A grocery store would hire somebody to teach children how to garden,” said Scott Koepke, the president of the board of directors of the Iowa Valley Food Co-op. “It’s very in line with our mission statement, about local organic food and promoting that.”

In 1998, the Co-op hired a gardener to teach area children about organic food, he said.

Koepke, who formerly taught gardening activities while in the Peace Corps, is now conducting New Pioneer’s “Soilmates” program at some schools in the Iowa Valley.

Soilmates is an interactive, organic-garden and compost-education service that provides grants of $500 to some schools for gardens to be built.

In a typical school year, Koepke said, he will travel to roughly 25 schools and speak to approximately 8,000 students about gardening and the importance of food and soil.

With the several types of community programs in the local area, residents such as Dorothy Whiston have reacted positively and continue to visit New Pioneer.

“I’ve eaten their food for years and years,” Whiston, a longtime New Pioneer patron said. “I like that it is a local business and that it’s involved in the community and pays fair wages.”

With the planting of barley and hops, the Co-op is mulling the option brewing beer as its next project, Carbrey said.

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