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Not Your Ordinary Secret Garden, Not My Usual Photos

Updated: Sep 25, 2021

Today, I did something a little different. I didn't photograph a dog. I didn't photograph a cat. I photographed...a garden. A garden that, until a few weeks ago, I didn't even know existed. I didn't know what incredible work people were doing to get fresh produce out to the food insecure community. I went to see, I went to photograph, and I went to learn.

Origin Story

Nestled in the urban landscape of Waterloo, the Northeast Iowa Food Bank Garden started in 2013 when 3-4" of topsoil was spread over a gravel employee parking lot. They needed just enough to get grass to grow. Indeed, I was invited to stick a pitchfork in the ground and it didn't go far! Since that time, the garden has grown through the dedication of a team who believe in the importance of fresh food for all. It is tended by the staff at the food bank and by volunteers, including volunteer Master Gardeners!

During my visit, I saw gardeners, volunteers, and staff working diligently and thoughtfully to ensure the plants were healthy and happy. Many have their own gardens at home to tend, but come to this garden to use their skills, knowledge, and sweat equity to make sure those in the community who need food, have it. I also learned that gardeners use their own personal homes to start some of the plants in the winter so they are ready to plant in the spring. The dedication these individuals have to this garden is incredible!


The garden makes every attempt to be self-sustainable, including having a compost area. While they do get truckloads of compost, this area will help ensure a ready supply of nutrient-rich compost for the garden beds. Volunteers make sure the compost is turned regularly.

Herbs are allowed to go to seed and grow the next year. Garlic from the year before is hung to dry and will be planted to grow next year's crop. No need to buy anything, but it does take time and attention from the gardeners to ensure it works!

The 2021 Harvest | 5100 Pounds And Counting

The gardeners harvest whenever the vegetables are ready. Barb, a Master Gardener, talked to me about how a community garden like this is so much different than a personal garden. Because you cannot just walk out and pick things when they are ripe, some things must be picked a bit earlier because otherwise they get overly ripe. Gardeners must take into consideration times between harvest and even the weather in between. Without putting thought into it, they could potentially lose a significant amount of the harvest.

Despite the fact I missed a good portion of the fall harvest, there was still a good variety of vegetables being grown. The garden was full of radishes, carrots, tomatoes, okra, tomatillos, winter onions, hot peppers, eggplants, squash, and a variety of herbs. I had no idea sage was so pretty! I am positive I missed some of the delicious things still there. (Including a sweet pepper that looked suspiciously like a hot pepper. Sorry, Barb, you even told me the proper name for it and I forgot! So much information!) The broccoli had been harvested, but one plant I saw had a tiny little head growing on it again.

In 2021, the gardeners have harvested over 5100 pounds of food for the community! Additionally, the food that is harvested in the morning, is often sent out by the afternoon to various places in the community. Can you imagine receiving vegetables so fresh they were just picked that morning!?


While the garden is part of the Northeast Iowa Food Bank, donations can be directed to be used in the garden, if you so choose. For 2022, the gardeners hope to install more raised bed areas to expand their ability to grow even more. Each box costs about $100 in lumber. I heard conversations about hoping for grants to get the cost covered. If you are interested in helping with the cost of these raised beds, I would encourage you to donate to the garden and earmark your donation for the building of the raised beds!

If you have questions or want to volunteer, please click here to get in touch with someone from the Community Garden.

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