Johnson Soil and Water Conservation District, Iowa

Lettuce growing with irrigation drip tape on JC Poor Farm

The purpose of the Johnson Soil and Water Conservation District (SWCD) project was to improve land quality at the Johnson County Poor Farm, where fresh produce was being grown by the nonprofit Grow: Johnson County for donation to area food pantries and the Iowa Valley Global Food Project, a community garden program that creates opportunities for immigrant community members and underserved populations. Improvements were expected to benefit both nonprofit organizations leasing land at the farm in fulfilling their missions to increase food for the greater Johnson County community.

Despite the high volume of food grown, there were barriers to growing at this location. Poor drainage was one of the largest obstacles to production success. This project implemented recommended conservation practices and drainage infrastructure, assisted with conducting soils health tests, conducted four on-farm soil health workshops targeting underserved populations, and developed a successful educational and outreach campaign through social media.

Soil samples from bean field

Through the project, cover crops were seeded; waterways were shaped, seeded and matted; and tiling installed. In preparation for installation of conservation practices, meetings were held with Grow: Johnson County and contractors. Soil health monitoring analysis was conducted every 15 days through the life of the project starting in September 2017, outside of winter freeze weeks.

Facebook updates were done on the district page throughout the project. Photo documentation was taken of conservation practices being installed. A soil health field day was held in November by Continuum Ag. That event, co-sponsored by Practical Farmers of Iowa and Grow: Johnson County was the first of five educational events.

Four others were organized by Iowa Valley RC&D and IVGFP and were held at various Johnson County locations including St. Andrew Presbyterian Church, Wetherby Park and the Johnson County Poor Farm. Topics included Nutrient Management at Home and on the Farm; Garden Design; Cover Crops in Annual Vegetable Production; and Iowa’s Soil Creation and Farming with Nature’s Ecology.


The district board members, staff and county board of supervisors are committed to the Poor Farm being a model urban agriculture farm for the community. They support the goals of preserving and improving soil health and water quality, long-term food production benefitting underserved populations, historic preservation, public education and critical stakeholder engagement. County supervisors have signed longer-term leases with both Grow: Johnson County and Iowa Valley Global Food Project in order to ensure more sustainable farming operations and encouragement in soil health building.

The county board of supervisors is engaged in the master planning process for the entire Poor Farm site (160 acres) which, when complete, will guide the continued implementation of land improvements that focus on conservation best practices. Johnson County Planning, Development and Sustainability Department staff will continue to provide expertise and technical assistance to the Poor Farm in the future. District board members and staff will continue to conduct targeted outreach to underserved populations and partner with smaller producers to promote technical and financial assistance programs as demand grows for locally-produced food.

Grow: Johnson County staff demonstrate using a broad fork to participants in the November 2017 PFI educational event

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