116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
In 10th year, Feed Iowa First marks progress in mission to grow food, farmers in Linn County
Local nonprofit releases first-ever annual report to share growth, highlight barriers to food and land access
CEDAR RAPIDS — As the COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated food insecurity and Linn County families grapple with recovery from the 2020 derecho, local nonprofit Feed Iowa First marked a year of growth in its mission to grow food and farmers.
Feed Iowa First, which celebrated its 10th anniversary in 2021, capped off the year with its first-ever annual report. Despite the challenges COVID-19 continues to deal not-for-profit groups, the organization expanded programming to boost equitable access to land for farming and grew partnerships to help meet the community’s need for nutritious food.
Executive Director Carter Oswood said the goal with creating this report was to generate more awareness around food insecurity and around the barriers to land access. It also was intended to showcase the growth of the organization’s programs, as well as offer transparency about the breakdown of donations, corporate sponsorships and grants.
In 2021, Feed Iowa First launched its Equitable Land Access program, connecting 16 farmers with fields in urban and rural areas. Four acres were farmed to generate thousands of pounds of produce in the effort’s first year alone.
With the high interest in the program, it already has formed two branches: one for economic development, and another for community agriculture. Feed Iowa First piloted the effort at Dows Farm, located along Dows Road east of Cedar Rapids, in partnership with Linn County.
Additionally, the organization ramped up its distribution program — installing more community refrigerators to allow 24/7 food access, building the mobile Fresh Choice Food Pantry and making progress on its Grow Don’t Mow effort to turn underused urban land into gardens.
“It's not just about how many pounds are distributed, but the quality of that produce that is distributed is extremely high and extremely nutritious,” Oswood said.
When Oswood stepped into his role in 2020, he said the organization already was skilled in growing food. The next priority was to equitably expand land access.
Oswood said accomplishing that meant understanding the systemic injustices on which land is built and identifying the existing barriers to effectively dismantle them.
“ (It’s) not just, 'Hey, here's land,' but really listening to the needs of the community in terms of culturally appropriate seeds, equipment, irrigation solutions — myriad ways of land access, and increasing the number of individuals from marginalized communities who want access to land to farm,” Oswood said.
While navigating pandemic impacts to the group’s operations, 2021 posed other challenges for Feed Iowa First, Oswood said. As an agricultural nonprofit, he said the organization feels the effects of climate change firsthand, including periods of drought where the group still had to ensure access to water.
All said, Feed Iowa First distributed 53,310 pounds of food, encompassing a variety of over 75 fruits and vegetables, and volunteers donated 6,724 hours. Through Grow Don’t Mow, the group counts 28 urban farms with faith-based groups, nonprofits, corporations and businesses among its partners.
For 2022, Oswood said Feed Iowa First is optimistic about opportunities such as a new partnership with Linn County Conservation. This will involve a conversion of about 10 acres of conventional cropland into land to be used for sustainable agriculture.
Moving forward, 2022 is about “maintaining that capacity built and to push more fresh food out into the community, and not just to generate fresh produce and aggregate fresh produce, but putting an emphasis on how individuals are accessing produce and the barriers that are surrounding access,” Oswood said.
He added it is “important for many in the community to understand that this pandemic has affected so many of us in so many different ways.” Oswood urged the community to be open-minded about why people may find themselves in a food-insecure situation, whether they face unemployment or other variables.
To view the annual report, visit: www.feediowa1st.com/annual-report/
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