Government

Linn County negotiating management of Dows Farm

Agri-community will have 251 housing units, trails, table-food farm

This is the land where the Dows Farm Agri-Community is to be built, north of Mount Vernon Road and east of Cedar Rapids.
This is the land where the Dows Farm Agri-Community is to be built, north of Mount Vernon Road and east of Cedar Rapids. Linn County is negotiating with the Sustainable Iowa Land Trust to manage the 45-acre farm that will be part of the 251-unit housing development. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)
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CEDAR RAPIDS — Linn County is in negotiations with the Sustainable Iowa Land Trust to operate the farm at the Dows Farm Agri-Community north of Mount Vernon Road.

The county sought proposals in February to develop and operate the 45-acre farm.

The farm is part of the 179-acre Dows Farm development, which is to have 251 housing units, walking trails and land conservation elements.

The project’s selection team received two proposals and chose the Sustainable Iowa Land Trust as offering long-term stability to the farm’s management.

“I think this group is trying to take small areas and unique farm situations and make them sustainable long-term from generation to generation,” said Supervisor Brent Oleson, a member of the selection team.

“I think we’re on to something that could be unique for the community,” he said. “When you’re doing it for the first time in a state where farming is usually corn or soybeans,

“I think some have a tendency to look at is as hobby farming,” he said. “That’s certainly not what the future is of this.”

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Linn County and the Sustainable Iowa Land Trust, based in West Branch, are still in negotiations and cannot comment on financial details, though Oleson said he doesn’t see any tax money going toward the project.

As for the housing part of the project, the county hopes to seek proposals for that development by the end of June, according to Les Beck, the county’s planning and development director.

The county, he said, is working on a governing plan that spells out design guidelines for developers.

The Sustainable Iowa Land Trust was launched in 2015 with the goal of permanently protecting Iowa land to grow nature-friendly table food, according to its website. The site notes that Iowa imports nearly 90 percent of its food.

Assuming the county and the land trust reach an agreement, the trust will take applications from farmers to farm the land.

“We’re really hoping to have some food farming activity by 2021,” said Suzan Erem, the trust’s executive director.

“We invite people who would be interested in the farming side to get hold of us,” she said. “We’re seeking partners in the Linn County area.”

Applicants will need to show experience in farming and have a three-year business plan with cash flow projections. They’ll be asked to answer essay questions and go through an interview Erem said.

The farmers would be “independent entrepreneurs,” she said.

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Farmers who farm Sustainable Iowa Land Trust property usually pay 40 percent of the going rental rates for farmland, Erem said, because they are required to farm in the most sustainable way possible and reduce the number of synthetic chemicals used in farming.

Erem hopes to put out a request for farmers this fall so planting can begin in spring 2021.

This is the first agri-community the Sustainable Iowa Land Trust is seeking to partner with.

“Can you imagine affordable, local food a few miles from where most people live and they know the farmer and they don’t have to worry” about going to the grocery store during the coronavirus,” Erem said.

“We think the leadership of Linn County has shown incredible vision,” she added. “The pandemic shows more than ever the need to have some land closer to metro areas that just grows food for the food security of us all. They were years ahead of the curve figuring out this would be an excellent public resource.”

Comments: (319) 368-8664; grace.king@thegazette.com

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