CEDAR RAPIDS – I’ve never seen kids so excited about vegetables as I did earlier this month on a visit to our community garden in southeast Cedar Rapids.
Several neighborhood children picked tomatoes, peppers and cucumbers, with one of the boys vowing to make a salad for his dad’s birthday that day. They rode their bikes and walked to the garden, located on a vacant lot in the New Bohemia district.
The garden was the brainchild of Beth DeBoom, president of Save CR Heritage, who not only is working to help save historic buildings in the neighborhood and the rest of the city, but thought it would be beneficial to bring some life to the flood-affected block.
Beth recruited me and buddy Steve Gravelle to plan and plant the garden, based on what a Czech immigrant might grow. Besides the vegetables the neighborhood children harvested that day, kohlrabi, radishes, onions and lettuce grew in the Czech heritage garden earlier in the year, along with marigolds, geraniums and sunflowers.
A good number of tomatoes and peppers were donated to Loaves & Fishes Food Pantry in Cedar Rapids.
Given that this was a true community garden, we have many people to thank for a variety of contributions.
Judy Kash, landscape architect Ruth Fox and Linn County Master Gardener, Lisa Slattery, were involved in the planning process, with Matt Mayer of the Matthew 25 urban farm and Scott Koepke of New Pioneer Food Co-op’s Soilmates providing technical advice.
The land itself was “loaned” to us from Mike Papich, owner of the nearby funeral home, without whom the project would never have come to fruition.
Lena Gilbert, the BUDS Gardening Network, Cultivate Iowa and Ely Seed Lending Library donated seeds, with fellow community gardener, Karl Cassell, donating extra pepper plants from his garden in Wellington Heights, grown by Sonia Kendrick of Feed Iowa First. The city of Cedar Rapids also donated flower seedlings from the Noelridge Greenhouse.
A group of Cub Scouts from Pack 23 helped build the garden and Allie Bernhard of BUDS and Rose Pollock of Green Iowa AmeriCorps helped us plant.
With the initially wet spring and then heat and drought, this was an unusual gardening season and, as with any garden, some of our plans didn’t develop as we had hoped. For example, what is a Czech garden without cabbage?
As it turns out, it’s still one in which children, and adults, can find plenty to eat and to celebrate.