Sustainable Iowa Land Trust Launches “Circle Des Moines”

DES MOINES – The Des Moines metro has been chosen for the launch of the first Circle our Cities initiative, a Sustainable Iowa Land Trust campaign to circle 10 Iowa cities with 10 permanent food farms in 10 years.

Hired as a “land scout,” Kiara Fish, a recent Drake University graduate and experienced community organizer, will seek out central Iowa landowners who want to leave a legacy of family-scale farms to Iowa. She will introduce them to the SILT solution – voluntary permanent landowner agreements that make farmland affordable for future generations of sustainable table food farmers.

As farmland skyrockets to more than $18,000 per acre in some regions of Iowa and land ripe for development sells for even more, local food farmers are finding it hard to build a successful business buried in high land costs. Meanwhile, hunger and obesity are both on the rise while Iowa’s water quality continues to suffer. SILT farms solve those problems, one small farm at a time.

“My generation is worried about our future,” Fish, an Iowa native, said. “COVID proved how fragile the system is. Supply chain issues hit Iowa hard. We import 90 percent of our food and so many went hungry. Meanwhile climate change is a constant threat on our land and consequently our food supply.”

Fish said SILT farms are a solution to mitigating the climate crisis, providing equitable access to healthy nutrient-dense foods that keeps money circulating within local economies. She said she expects more Iowans will get behind SILT as they learn its impact.

SILT has protected 14 farms on more than 1,130 acres across Iowa since 2015. One of those is Grade A Gardens in Earlham, owned by Jordan and Whitney Clasen who purchased the land at a discount after Bob Winchell of Van Meter placed a SILT easement on it. The low price has freed up capital to build a home so they can move onto the land this year.

Des Moines was chosen in part due to SILT’s strong board participation from real estate agent Joe Henry, businesswoman Lora Fraracci, and public servant John Morris, according to Community Engagement Specialist Suzan Erem. Additionally, SILT is working with nearly a dozen public and private partners to develop a proposal to the county for American Rescue Plan funds.

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