Community Planning


Jake Stodola of Cedar Rapids, a third-year landscape architecture student, and Maclaine Sorden of Creston (’11 community and regional planning / environmental studies), a graduate student working toward a master’s in sustainable agriculture and landscape architecture, present their design to transform the Des Moines Social Club courtyard into an edible landscape.

The ISU Community Design Lab’s Agricultural Urbanism Toolkit provides a framework to help communities improve their local food systems
By Carole Gieseke

In the heart of downtown Des Moines, teams of Iowa State students are presenting their unique visions toward a singular goal: growing food in the city.

The designs, presented at the Des Moines Social Club at 9th and Mulberry last fall, take advantage of urban spaces like courtyards, rooftops, and alleyways. These “public edible landscapes” are just one small part of a growing movement to create holistic food systems that assist in community redevelopment, revitalization, and sustainability.

“It’s important to work with communities,” says Courtney Long (’10 landscape architecture, MS ’12 sustainable agriculture), design fellow in the ISU Department of Landscape Architecture. Long facilitates the Agricultural Urbanism Toolkit, a project of the College of Design’s Community Design Lab.

Funded by a grant from Iowa State’s Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture and launched in 2014, the Agricultural Urbanism Toolkit, by design, has a lot of moving parts. Three pilot communities in Iowa – Des Moines, Cedar Rapids, and Cresco – were selected to go through a process of developing agricultural urbanism tactics with the goal of promoting local food system revitalization.

Each community is unique, with a different overarching focus and a distinct set of tactics that will be implemented in 2015. Following an initial look at policy changes, for example, the Des Moines workgroup will create neighborhood networks including food hubs, edible landscapes, and a food box pilot program, with a long-term goal of creating an urban farm.

Cresco, a rural community that has the potential to serve as a year-round regional food hub, is partnering with local food co-ops, rural producers, and community programs to establish community orchards, a school garden/faith garden partnership, and an educational farm.

Community planners in Cedar Rapids envision a comprehensive city food system plan, and they aim to direct projects at the human scale that residents can learn from and use at home and around the city. Catalyst projects include an urban orchard, partnership for a shared kitchen, and demonstration sites of agricultural urbanism practices.

In addition to these communities, three new Iowa towns will be selected for the project this year. The Leopold Center recently extended the Toolkit funding for two additional years.

“A local food system needs to include both rural and urban agricultural activities,” Long said. “The Toolkit helps these activities work together to meet the needs of a broader community.”

She said that local leaders in and outside the state of Iowa are encouraged to view the Toolkit model online at to garner ideas for their own communities.

Agricultural Urbanism Toolkit tactics
• Edible residential gardening
• Faith gardens
• School gardens
• Public edible landscaping
• Community-supported agriculture
• Urban farming
• Community gardens
• Farmers markets
• Local markets / public markets
• Food trucks
• Restaurants
• Rural & sustainable farming
• Processing facilities
• Food hubs
• Food box programs
• Shared-use kitchens
• Food-enterprise centers
• Education centers
• Marketing & awareness campaigns
• Food policy councils

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