City commissioners will talk about a whole different type of “growing business” at their meeting on Tuesday evening.
Commissioners will be asked to consider starting a unique program that would allow small-scale farmers to use either portions of city parks or vacant ground owned by the city to grow fruits, vegetables and other crops.
“These are vacant or often underutilized spaces that we are already paying to maintain,” said Eileen Horn, the sustainability coordinator for the city and the county. “This would be a way to maintain them and get a community benefit.”
Horn has worked with the city’s Parks and Recreation staff, the Douglas County Food Policy Council and others to identify 14 sites totaling about 70 acres that could be used for the program. Eleven of the sites are on city-owned property, while three are on county-owned sites. Douglas County commissioners are expected to discuss the proposal at their Wednesday meeting.
The proposed sites are:
• 0.79 of an acre in Burcham Park, Second and Indiana streets.
• 0.41 of an acre in John Taylor Park, 200 N. Seventh St.
• 1.17 acres at the future park site at Peterson and Iowa near the Hallmark Cards plant.
• 0.34 of an acre adjacent to the Burroughs Creek Trail east of Garfield and Delaware streets.
• 0.33 of an acre at the vacant lot at 12th and Brook streets.
• 0.1 of an acre on vacant lots at 1304 and 1315 Pa. St.
• 0.9 of an acre on a vacant lot at North Eighth and Oak streets.
• Four separate tracts — 6.81, 6.78, 6.76 and 26.13 acres — at Riverfront Park in North Lawrence.
• 1.63 acres at 2518 Ridge Court, adjacent to the Douglas County United Way building.
• 4.4 acres on county property adjacent to the Douglas County Jail.
• 14.71 acres on property just north of Lone Star Lake dam.
Horn said her group can envision one of two types of agricultural uses on the sites — community gardens that mainly are about providing neighborhood residents with fresh produce, or “market farms” that would be geared toward growing produce to sell at local farmers markets, in grocery stores or to restaurants.
Horn said there are several young farmers — particularly area residents who have graduated from Johnson County Community College’s sustainable farming program — that want to start specialty farming operations in Douglas County but have met challenges when it comes to finding property.
“There are a lot of young people just can’t afford to buy the ground,” Horn said.
Under her proposal, the city and county would “license” the property to the growers for a three-year period, although the city and the county would have broad authority to end the license. Horn said more discussion would be needed to determine what growers should pay the city and the county for use of the property.
She said the city and county perhaps could consider some unique forms of payment, such as agreements from the farmers to donate a certain amount of their produce to local food banks or to sell a certain amount of their produce at reduced rates to area school districts.
“I’m excited to see what type of proposals we get,” Horn said. “It will be interesting to see in a year or so how many more vendors we have at the Farmers Market or what schools are serving local foods because they have a partnership with a grower.”
If the project wins approval from the city and the county, Horn envisions creating a process during which interested growers would present proposals to use a specific site.
Horn said those proposal will have to detail how the agricultural operations will be compatible with adjacent residential areas or park uses.
City commissioners meet at 6:35 p.m. Tuesday at City Hall.
Tagged: local food