The independent newspaper of the University of Iowa community since 1868

The Daily Iowan

The independent newspaper of the University of Iowa community since 1868

The Daily Iowan

The independent newspaper of the University of Iowa community since 1868

The Daily Iowan

Johnson County supervisors repurposing historic poor farm land

The poor farm area in Johnson County will be repurposed for sustainable agriculture and possibly affordable housing.
Barns+sits+on+the+farm+called+Poor+Farm+and+Asylum+on+Melrose+Ave.+on+Monday%2C+March+20%2C+2017.+The+Board+of+Supervisors+is+waiting+for+approval+from+the+contractors+to+start+renovations.+%28The+Daily+Iowan%2FMargaret+Kispert%29
Barns sits on the farm called Poor Farm and Asylum on Melrose Ave. on Monday, March 20, 2017. The Board of Supervisors is waiting for approval from the contractors to start renovations. (The Daily Iowan/Margaret Kispert)

The Johnson County Board of Supervisors is deep in the planning process to repurpose the poor farm land near Melrose Aveue, including sustainable agriculture and possibly affordable housing options.

The process to repurpose this land, which included a name change to the Johnson County Historic Poor Farm, has been ongoing for a year and a half and will continue over the next five years, Supervisor Mike Carberry said.

“We’ve had a couple different plans to repurpose the land, but nothing has come of it until now,” Carberry said.

The plan has just reached the end of Phase 2, Carberry said, and now the supervisors will look at the finer details of the plan, such as how many acres of land will be needed and where money will come from to make changes.

Under the new plan, Carberry said, the supervisors hope to farm vegetables and fruits and raise some forms of protein on the land, using organic, sustainable agricultural practices.

Carberry said he’s most excited about the idea of a farmer incubator on the land, which would give new farmers an opportunity to access land to begin their farming careers.

Affordable housing may also be on the poor farm area, Carberry said. In addition to living areas for the farmers, he said, the supervisors will look into offering affordable housing to Iowa City residents on the land, which may include some apartments or condos and some places to live for the market price.

RELATED: County looks back at Poor Farm

Trails on the land will also be connected to the Iowa City trail system, Carberry said, and current buildings on the area will be restored for various events and food production.

Supervisor Kurt Friese said the plan looks like it will be workable, following previous attempts to use the poor farm land to no avail.

“We will honor its history and mission by reviving farming, helping new farmers learn the trade, and, hopefully, supplying housing for those new farmers while they learn,” Friese said. “The Johnson County Historic Poor Farm is a treasure that must be both preserved and revitalized, and I am proud of the work we are doing to make it so.”

The poor farm land encompasses 160 acres, Carberry said, 125 of which is tillable to grow crops such as corn and veggies.

In the 19th century, Carberry said, the poor were sent to the farm to live and work. It was a sort of debtors’ prison, he said, having people work the land in exchange for food, water, and shelter. The land also included an asylum for those “feebly minded,” he said, noting today we would refer to this as mental-health care.

Currently, Carberry said, the poor-farm land has been rented out. For the past two years, he said, acres of land have been given to charities to grow massive amounts of food for those who are food insecure.

Mickey Miller, grants and communications specialist for the supervisors, said they want the buildings on the land be usable for three seasons and are currently prioritizing the work that needs to be done.

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About the Contributor
Kayli Reese, Managing Editor
Email: [email protected] Kayli Reese is the Managing Editor at The Daily Iowan. This is her fourth year at the University of Iowa and working for the DI. She worked as a news reporter her freshman year and the first semester of sophomore year, covering crime and courts. She has previous experience as a digital producer and news editor, and has interned at the Dubuque Telegraph Herald and Cedar Rapids Gazette.