A garden it shall be

One of the first green space areas created following the flood hazard mitigation buyout of homes damaged in the June 2014 flood, is one step closer to having a new designation — community garden site. The Rock Rapids green space committee, formed by city-appointed chairperson Richard Reitsma to come up with suggestions for utilizing the green spaces, presented its first proposal to the city council Monday, June 26.

The group asked the council to approve its recommendation that “the plot of land south of Sixth Street and east of South Tama Street be the site for the future community garden of Rock Rapids.” The request also asked that preliminary planning for starting that garden could start immediately.

The proposed community garden would include 25 20×10-foot plots and eight 4×8-foot raised beds. Gardeners would rent each plot for a fee of $20 and $10 for a raised bed. As a group, they would maintain any shared spaces. Gardeners would be expected to have their plots planted by June 1 to avoid forfeiture of the space and to have the plots cleared by Nov. 1. A volunteer oversight committee would enforce compliance with a list of rules that were presented in the proposal.

The idea of a community garden at the proposed site was supported by most all of those in attendance at the public hearing. “I think it’s a perfect place for something like that,” said Jackie Telford. “There’s a minimum of trees so there isn’t a lot of shade and that’s good for a garden. It would meet with my approval.” Kim Murphy, who also indicated she would be interested in having a plot, supported the proposal. “I think that’s a really great spot and I think it would be really nice for the homes around there,” she said.

For the committee, having the support of the neighborhood was an important piece of the planning process. Committee member Michelle Sprock was involved in gathering feedback from the community via the group’s Facebook page. “This site is supported by those who live in this specific neighborhood which I think should have the most weight as far as the decision goes because it is their neighborhood,” she said.

Those who live in the neighborhood seemed to support the proposal. Danielle Hrdlicka, who lives within feet from the proposed garden site, thanked the green space committee members for listening to people in the neighborhood during the planning process. “Jeff (Hrdlicka) and Steve (Campbell) and I have directly talked to all the neighbors and pretty much all of the neighbors directly in this area would like to see this get tried out,” she said. “If it doesn’t work after a few years then you scrap it,start something else, try something new. But let’s try this first. I think it’s a really peaceful thing to add to our neighborhood after the turmoil that came from the flood. It’s something peaceful we can do together as a community,” said Hrdlicka.

After hearing comments from others in support of the community garden at that site, council member Cody Hoefert asked if there was anyone in attendance opposed to the proposal. Seeing no hands raised signifying opposition, he made a motion to accept the green space committee’s proposal for the community garden.

Once the motion received support, city administrator Jordan Kordahl explained that any proposal approved by the council would still need to be approved by FEMA. “Different projects require different timelines at FEMA, but a community garden is relatively non-controversial so it shouldn’t take too long,” said Kordahl.

The city council then approved the green space committee’s proposal by unanimous vote. Once FEMA approval is received, the committee will start on the project by having the soil tested, preparing a budget, working on fundraising and grant proposals, and coordinating with the city to get water access to the garden. A spring kick-off in late winter 2018 will be scheduled with a work day planned for early spring 2018.

For committee members who have worked on the project since December 2016, clearing the first step to making the community gardens a reality was met with excitement. “We have been working for months making sure we presented a thorough proposal that addressed all the wants and concerns from the people of Rock Rapids,” said Sprock. “I was so pleased to have so many of the people living in that neighborhood and surrounding neighborhoods come and show their support. It is ultimately their neighborhood and if they agree with what we are doing, then we are doing things the right way.”

For Sprock and Reitsma, the community garden is more than just a solution for the green space areas. “A community garden can be positive in so many ways,” said Sprock. “Having this space where many people can garden together allows for the opportunity to learn from each other, share time doing a hobby with like-minded people, and build relationships,” said Reitsma.

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