A hydroponics system will help address food deserts in Dubuque

Published: Dec. 14, 2022 at 3:31 PM CST
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CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa (KCRG) - The city of Dubuque plans to help address food deserts by putting in a hydroponics system. That’s where produce can be grown in water instead of soil, making it accessible year round.

Matthew 25 in Cedar Rapids has been growing food using a hydroponics system for a few years now. They use a 500 gallon reservoir to pump water and nutrient solution to the plants.

“It runs down through the root zone of each plant and recirculates back into the reservoir,” explained Matthew Arndt, Farm Manager for the Matthew 25 Cultivate Hope program.

The system allows them to grow fresh and healthy food without having to leave the building.

”Here we’re in mid-December and we have fresh lettuce that can go right upstairs to our café customers,” Arndt said.

In addition to serving Groundswell customers they’re able to provide fresh produce to their Cultivate Hope Corner Store on Ellis Boulevard.

“The neighborhood our corner store serves was a food desert before then where the people had you know maybe convenience stores and gas stations as options. So to have lettuce grown for them year round two blocks away helps people out,” said Arndt.

The city of Dubuque hopes to use a $300,000 grant from the United States Department of Agriculture to address food deserts of its own.

“We do have two Sussex tracts in Dubuque that are identified as USDA food deserts and so having a hydroponics system allows us to grow food year round that can get into the bellies of low-mod income folks,” said Maddy Haverland, Urban Development & Housing Rehabilitation Project Manager for the City of Dubuque.

While a location hasn’t been selected yet, the plan is to build a greenhouse with a hydroponics system to grow fresh food all year long.

“It increases access through the cold months when soil dependent crops aren’t viable,” Haverland explained.

And it’s something that can be done on a smaller scale to address food needs. Matthew 25 has a second system where lettuce grows on a wall.

“I’ve seen systems as little as one plant. You know you can set it up in a little bucket with just one little light,” said Arndt.

It’s a simple way to grow food that can address big needs in a community.

City leaders in Dubuque say their hydroponics system will supplement work that’s already being done by their community partners to create more access to food.