116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
CEDAR RAPIDS — In the coming years, Cedar Rapids is looking to expand options for residents to grow their own food at public parks around the city.
The city is renovating Sinclair Park to add community garden plots while working to draft a master plan that will guide the creation of additional community gardens in the future.
This would add to the gardens currently maintained by Cedar Rapids Parks and Recreation staff at Ellis Park as well as Tuma Park and near Gardner Golf Course in Marion.
City staff are seeking public input before determining the layout of Sinclair Park, located on 16th Avenue SE near St. Wenceslaus Church.
One option includes a gazebo in the middle of 32 garden plots, and the other would create 46 plots with no gazebo. There would be the ability to expand the garden area with another 68 plots.
Proposed features include a compost area, edible perennials and fruit trees, “packable” beds and herbs, a tool shed and a nature path that is accessible to those with disabilities. The renovation would keep the existing play area.
Sinclair Park is in a growing part of the New Bohemia District, across the street from where the NewBo Lofts housing development is underway. Coralville-based developer Watts Group is slated to add two 55-unit buildings at 455 16th Ave. SE by 2024. It also is near the Jane Boyd Community House, 943 14th Ave. SE.
The park is underused and it’s in an area of town identified as a food desert, Parks and Recreation Director Hashim Taylor said, meaning there’s insufficient access to affordable, nutritious food options.
Improving the underused park and adding garden plots will help maximize the park’s benefit to the community, he said.
“You can do some gardening while your kids are being entertained at the park,” Taylor said. “That’s what we want.”
Work on Sinclair Park is expected to start this fall and wrap up by spring 2023.
Before creating additional community gardens, city staff are working with consultants on a master plan that will guide where more gardens — likely another seven to 10 gardens — may be placed.
The City Council in July approved a contract for $99,900 with New Venture Advisors LLC for the community gardens master plan.
Wheat Design Group based in Tucson, Ariz., is doing site plans and management plans for each park, said Laura Mielcarek, a landscape architect with Wheat Design. That’ll outline maintenance needs such as how garden plot users can access water for their plants.
In this master plan phase, consultants also will help create a rubric to help city staff prioritize the creation of the new gardens along with community feedback.
The master plan process is expected to start in October, with additional public engagement opportunities pertaining to the parks selected for gardens in the future. The plan is anticipated to be complete by March 2023.
Haley Sevening, a planner with Community Development, said a number of factors make a park a good candidate for hosting community garden space:
- Topography: Is water accessible? Is the land flat enough to accommodate garden plots?
- Equity: Which neighborhoods are most vulnerable? Where are food deserts that need more healthy food options?
- Housing density
- Access to transit
There will eventually be a survey seeking feedback on the specific amenities in parks where consultants determine gardens are feasible.
Community gardens are a component of the city’s Community Climate Action Plan adopted last year. Sevening noted the plan calls for community members to have access to healthy and affordable food within a 15-minute walk of vulnerable neighborhoods.
“You are not contributing to the transportation or the climate impacts that come from mass growers that serve the grocery stores,” Sevening said of how community gardens promote sustainability.
Ultimately, community gardens get food into the hands of people that need it most, Sevening said.
“This is just the first step of many to help meet that goal,” she said.
Learn more about leasing community garden plots under the “Pavilions and Other Rentals” tab of the Parks and Recreation page on the city’s website, cedar-rapids.org.
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