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Aug 30

Linn County’s Green Iowa AmeriCorps Members Lead Sustainability-Focused Community Events

Posted on August 30, 2023 at 3:11 PM by Britt Nielsen

Group photo at the garden

This summer, the Linn County Sustainability Department and Green Iowa Americorps Members partnered with different groups in the community to create events focused on community resiliency, growth, and opportunity. There were three main events Linn County developed and hosted including the creation of a student-led community garden, a rain barrel distribution event, and an energy savings kit distribution event. All three events were led by Linn County’s Green Iowa Americorps Members, Elizabeth Weems, Autumn Vargas, and Maddie Ripp, and connected multiple communities throughout Linn County.

Community Garden at the Resiliency Hub

The Academy for Scholastic and Personal Success teaches culturally relevant curriculum to Black, Brown, and Biracial students throughout the Cedar Rapids community during a six-week period each summer. Linn County Sustainability has fostered a relationship with the Academy and created a gardening location at the Resiliency Hub for students involved in its summer program. The Academy’s garden class was instructed by District 2 Cedar Rapids School Board Representative Nancy Humbles, Linn County Sustainability Director Tamara Marcus, and Green Iowa Americorps Member Autumn Vargas. 

Throughout the six-week program, students experienced all aspects of gardening — most for the first time. Students learned about what it takes to grow a thriving garden in an urban setting by planting, watering, and watching vegetables like green tomatoes, shishito peppers, greens, and cabbage grow to the point of harvest. They were able to ask questions about garden care and get answers from instructors who were knowledgeable and willing to help the students accomplish more with the work that they were doing. 

The setting was not chosen by accident - the Resiliency Hub was originally only a plot of turf grass. It has slowly been converted into a thriving area where there have been plots for Feed Iowa First, where immigrant growers are able to sow crops that they would otherwise not have access to, and Linn County Sustainability added a new plot last year where students can experience growing their own nutritious produce. This space and the Resiliency Hub allow for the embodiment of sustainability and showcase a real example of shared community space in Linn County.

Rain Barrel Giveaway

Rain barrels are used to catch water from a roof and hold it for use on lawns, gardens, and other landscaping activities. Collecting this water reduces runoff from a property and is a great way to conserve water, which can then be used for free on landscaping. However, the cost of a rain barrel is often a barrier for some residents looking to obtain one. The Linn County Sustainability Department is actively working to help offset the cost for those looking to install a rain barrel to help reduce their utility costs.

In the past year, the Linn County Sustainability Department, with support from the Green Iowa Americorps Members, distributed over 55 rain barrels across all three Linn County Supervisor districts. The giveaways were made possible with donations from Coca-Cola and International Paper, which covered the rain barrels and spigots.

This July, Autumn Vargas a Green Iowa Americorps member organized an event that assisted around 15 families in attaining the last of the donated barrels. The event was a success with new community members able to gain the important and valuable technology. Rain barrels will continue to be a priority for Linn County Sustainability, and they hope to host more events in the future.

Energy Savings Kit Distribution

On Aug. 8, in collaboration with the Hames Homes Food Pantry and United We March Forward, Green Iowa AmeriCorps members distributed energy-efficiency products to residents. The distributed items included window insulation shrink kits, high-efficiency sink faucet aerators, indoor rope caulk, and LED light bulbs. These items are temporary solutions to help residents achieve cost-savings on energy bills. 

For example, window frames are one of the most common sources of air leaks, and rope caulk helps eliminate draftiness. By reducing draftiness, the home will have a more consistent indoor temperature resulting in less of a workload on the heating and cooling systems. The benefits of rope caulk are especially felt during the winter months. 

By taking these steps, residents can reduce the total energy consumption in their home or apartment while playing a role in decreasing emissions levels. As conveyed by the 2019 Greenhouse Gas Inventory produced by the Sustainability Department, residential energy usage contributed 10%, or 769,000 total metric tons of carbon dioxide, to the overall emissions in Linn County. It is important to note that there has been a decrease in residential energy usage since the 2010 baseline Greenhouse Gas Inventory. The energy-efficiency kit distribution event signifies a way to continue the downward trend. 

Elizabeth Weems led the organization of the event. In addition to receiving the kits, residents were also given the opportunity to sign up for an in-home energy assessment. An assessment helps identify areas of the home that may be inefficient and provides options for improvement. The Linn County Sustainability Department plans to host more events like this with the same and new community partners in the future. 

Stay informed about upcoming events hosted by the Linn County Sustainability Department by signing up on our website.