Rockwell garden will feed thousands

Harvest will be donated to Horizons Meals on Wheels, which provides food to seniors and people with disabilities

Rockwell Collins employees Courtney Hansen and Joe Clark show off their rows at the Rockwell tomato garden.
Rockwell Collins employees Courtney Hansen and Joe Clark show off their rows at the Rockwell tomato garden.

CEDAR RAPIDS — Sonia Kendrick’s non-profit organization, Feed Iowa First, has a goal to create 500 acres of urban farms in the county to provide fresh produce to those in need.

Rockwell Collins’ Green Workplace Community of Practice group supports environmental sustainability projects in communities where the company does business.

Between the two, Joe Clark, a senior systems engineer at Rockwell, saw a match.

With the support of Tom Gentner, Rockwell’s director of environment, safety and health, Clark secured space for a garden plot on an empty lot at Rockwell’s C Avenue complex. A team of Rockwell employees and other volunteers broke ground on the garden in April. In May, they planted 30 100-foot rows of tomatoes and onions. Kendrick supplied the seedlings grown from donated seeds.

The garden’s harvest will be donated to Horizons Meals on Wheels, which provides ready-to-eat meals to seniors and people with disabilities. The garden is expected to supply enough produce for thousands of meals.

According to Kendrick, there is a real need for this new type of corporate farm.

“There are 25,000 people in Linn County and 400,000 in Iowa who don’t know with certainty where their next meal is coming from,” she said. “Rockwell did something really cool by opening up their land and having people volunteer.”

Clark said employee volunteers are crucial to the garden’s success. “We need them to keep up with it.”

Each volunteer was assigned a specific garden row to weed and tend throughout the growing season.

“For the project to be a success there has to be ownership and someone has to take charge,” Kendrick said. “This way, no one is in charge of everything and getting overworked.”

Courtney Hansen, application engineering specialist, said she is “happy as a clam” to be a volunteer.

“This is my first gardening experience,” she said. “It’s for a good cause so I decided I could lend four hours a week to come here and try something new.”

Although she now lives in a condo without room for a garden, Hansen hopes someday to use her new gardening skills at home.

“I’m blown away by how easy it is,” she said. “I said to my husband, ‘Why don’t we have more gardens in Cedar Rapids?’”

The garden also is being used to reduce waste from Rockwell’s food service provider, ARAMARK. Volunteers built a cinder block compost bin at the garden site.

“We are dropping off 15 gallons of coffee grounds every week,” ARAMARK employee Kacee Grubb said. “It cuts down on our waste.”

The compost will be used to enrich the garden’s soil.

Kendrick said crop rotation is important for maintaining the health of the soil. She would like to plant green beans next year.

Feed Iowa First also has partnered with other organizations, including GE Capital and several area churches, to install garden plots on their green spaces.“My hope is to pick up a couple of new corporations every year,” Kendrick said.

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