In 2021, the City of Cedar Rapids Iowa developed a Community Climate Action Plan that envisions a resilient and accessible city where all residents can access high-quality green space, healthy food, clean air and water, and good, green jobs. Expanding healthy food access was the top community priority to support climate action locally.

The Opportunity

In response, the City embarked on a community-driven planning process to create a vibrant network of community gardens in city parks, adding eight new community gardens to three existing park-based gardens. These new gardens would provide gardening access to hundreds of residents in each city quadrant.

Partnering with New Venture Advisors

The City began working with New Venture Advisors in late 2022 to evaluate City-owned parks for the installation of community gardens, support community outreach, and develop a management plan. New Venture Advisors partnered with Wheat Design Group, a landscape architecture firm, to design concept site plans and a toolkit of garden amenities for the community.

Led by a steering committee of local food and agriculture organizations and gardeners, the project began by asking community gardeners about their experience with City services at the three existing gardens and amenities that could be added. This informed a city-wide survey that garnered feedback from 438 residents on their interest in community gardening, current barriers to gardening, and desired community garden features.

Using criteria encompassing social equity, accessibility, and site viability, eight parks were prioritized as community garden sites. A concept plan was developed for each garden including core amenities such as garden plots, water spigots, and entranceways, and preferred amenities such as tool sheds, compost areas, and gathering spaces. The concept plans were designed to meet the ADA accessibility goals of the City and modified based on feedback from community members and City staff. A construction and maintenance budget was developed for each site.

Based on feedback from stakeholders and best practices in other cities, New Venture Advisors recommended strategic priorities for the management of the gardens including garden maintenance practices, gardener education, programming partnerships, and ongoing community engagement. The Community Gardens in City Parks Plan was finalized in March 2023.

Moving Forward

The first new community garden at Sinclair Park was completed in the spring of 2023, making it the fourth community garden in a City-owned park. The park includes 37 new garden plots available to residents.

The plan was shared with the City Council for formal adoption and the Development Committee for support consideration. The City is working to identify resources to fund the construction of the remaining seven parks in the plan and the staff needed to manage them.

 Whatcom County Food System Plan

In 2021, the Whatcom County Food System Committee conducted a community food assessment that pointed to key opportunities to build a more robust and resilient regional food system. New Venture Advisors partnered with Whatcom County staff and the Food System Committee to draft a Whatcom County Food System Plan that builds upon these findings. This Plan focuses on five key goals for building a more equitable, sustainable, and resilient food system, and was informed by an inclusive community engagement process. The Food System Plan will provide the county with a policy roadmap that will strengthen the local food system for years to come. (2023)

 Whatcom Local Food Campus

The Whatcom Community Foundation invests in activities and organizations that improve the ability of people to help themselves, increase connections among people, and take cooperative approaches to community issues. WCF is exploring the development of a local food campus on a waterfront property that would become a multi-tenant site, anchored by a collaborative production kitchen benefitting food access, school system, and community organizations. The goal is strengthening Whatcom County’s local food system by promoting health equity, forging tangible strategic connections between food production organizations, and helping farmers connect with institutional markets. The facility will also feature an incubation kitchen, demonstration kitchen, event and classroom space, collaborative office and conference facilities, and housing.  New Venture Advisors developed the business case for this ambitious project and continues to support its development through engagement and operational development. (2023)