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Group aims to cultivate hope, create a sense of optimism in flood zone

Americorps Summer VISTA member Ian Watt (left) and Matt Mayer, director of Cultivate Hope for Matthew 25, (left) work on a garden plot in the backyard of  Laurie Randal's TIme Check neighborhood of Cedar Rapids on Tuesday, July 6, 2010. Cultivate Hope helps people in the flood stricken neighborhoods of Taylor and Time Check learn how to build and plant gardens along with how to preserve and use the produce they raise. (Cliff Jette/Sourcemedia Group)
Americorps Summer VISTA member Ian Watt (left) and Matt Mayer, director of Cultivate Hope for Matthew 25, (left) work on a garden plot in the backyard of Laurie Randal's TIme Check neighborhood of Cedar Rapids on Tuesday, July 6, 2010. Cultivate Hope helps people in the flood stricken neighborhoods of Taylor and Time Check learn how to build and plant gardens along with how to preserve and use the produce they raise. (Cliff Jette/Sourcemedia Group)

Matthew 25 Ministry Hub, which brightened flooded neighborhoods with flower pots after the 2008 flood, is moving into backyards.

As part of its Cultivate Hope program, the non-profit, faith-based group plans to install up to 50 home gardens in the flood-damaged Time Check and Taylor School neighborhoods.

“Everyone should have access to fresh produce,” said Director Matt Mayer. “Plus, it’s fun. It’s a nice hobby for people.”

Already, a dozen raised garden beds have been constructed out of wood and filled with compost mixture to grow tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers and other vegetables in the two neighborhoods.

Matthew 25 provides seeds, or homeowners can buy their own plants.

The program doesn’t stop there.

Mayer, 34, and others teach classes on composting, food preservation, and cooking and preparing the fresh produce.

They also provide access to the Matthew 25 tool library to borrow gardening equipment and offer a book and introduction to Square Foot Gardening, a technique that allows a large amount of vegetables to grow in a small amount of space.

“It’s so user-friendly,” Mayer said. “It’s so easy for people to learn.”

The home-gardening program fits with the goals of Cultivate Hope: to create a sense of optimism, health and possibility in the flood-affected neighborhoods.

Mayer noted that the flower pots, first installed last year, are one component of Cultivate Hope.

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Besides the home gardens, the program also includes an urban farm, planted where the Boys & Girls Club of Cedar Rapids vacated its property. Those gardens supply Matthew 25’s summer meals with fresh produce.

Community-supported agriculture shares are another way the group provides locally grown vegetables, which come from ZJ Farms in Solon.

Future plans call for gardens and fruit trees at area schools.

For people who would argue that flood victims have greater needs than gardening, Mayer counters that the program has its place. “The idea is to make people self-sufficient,” he said.

Also, Mayer said that participants don’t have to be flood victims; they just must live in one of the west-side Cedar Rapids neighborhoods.

Laurie Randall, 51, whose home at 1239 10th St. NW was flooded in 2008, is on her second raised bed. Each installation costs the homeowner $30. Tomatoes, Yukon Gold potatoes and peppers thrive in her first bed.

Mayer and AmeriCorps Summer VISTA member Ian Watt, 21, helped Randall plant cucumbers, basil, strawberries and flowers in the new bed.

A monarch butterfly flitted from the blossoming plants as Randall watched.

“It means a lot of hope to me on these dreary days, like that butterfly there,” she said of the gardens. “It gives me hope in people and strengthens my faith in God.”

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