Peoples Garden

May 14, 2019

One in nine Iowans are food insecure according to statistics provided by Feeding America. That’s is equivalent to over 360,000 people across the state. Noticing that 15% of the residents of Waterloo were struggling with food insecurity, Peoples Community Health Clinic founded the Peoples Garden in hopes of providing healthy food options.

In collaboration with AmeriCorps and the University of Northern Iowa Center for Energy and Environmental Education, the Peoples Clinic is creating a culture of health outside of the examination room. Patients will be able to take fresh vegetables and fruits from the Peoples Garden free of charge without any questions asked. Because Peoples Clinic serves anyone who walks through their doors regardless of insurance status, the almost 20,000 members of their community who are food insecure will now have access to fresh and health food.

Brian Rumsey, an AmeriCorps VISTA service member based at the Center for Energy and Environmental Education (CEEE) at UNI, helped to implement the garden. “We want to provide healthy options especially for people who have nutrition-related illnesses or conditions,” said Rumsey. “Our hopes for the garden also include creating beauty in the neighborhood and bringing the neighborhood together around good food.”

The Peoples Garden developed from their Veggie Voucher Program. In 2018, Peoples Clinic handed out over $6,000 worth of vouchers to patients to use at local Farmers Markets. Christine Kemp, CEO of Peoples Clinic, soon realized that patients were limited to a few sources for fresh fruits and veggies even with the Veggie Vouchers.

“We realize that there are so many factors in keeping people healthy. The traditional cycle of diagnosis and treatment can only get a person so far,” said Kemp. “Fresh food can act as medicine. It plays a huge role in complementing the recommendations we make to our patients. We not only care about our patients when they are at the clinic, we care about what’s happening at home and want to make sure they’re able to be as healthy as possible.”

As patients and residents pass the Waterloo Clinic on Franklin Street, they can see piles of dirt which will transform into a colorful garden by June. Wholistic healthcare needs what Kamyar Enshayan, Director of UNI Center for Energy & Environmental Education, calls prescription veggies.

"Prescription veggies, or veggie vouchers, encourage people to consider a lot more fruits and vegetable consumption.  This is a great collaboration among several health clinics, the City of Waterloo, and a UNI program to improve access to more fresh, local produce," said Enshayan.

More people now have access to fresh produce this summer that may not have had access otherwise. Peoples Garden, with the help of UNI and AmeriCorps, is not only providing food but also cultivating new relationships between the clinic and the community.

“The Peoples Garden will allow Peoples Clinic to build new types of connections with the community,” said Ramsey. “I'm also excited about the garden as a way to strengthen relationships with the surrounding neighborhoods. We have a lot of people who are interested in volunteering and we hope that eventually, they will play a big part in the garden's upkeep.”

Since their start in a church’s basement, Peoples Clinic has had a tremendous impact on their locations in Black Hawk and Butler county. Peoples Clinic’s mission is to provide “access to affordable, compassionate, high-quality healthcare for all while helping to improve the health of the community as a whole” – a goal they are helping to achieve with innovative programs such as the Peoples Garden. For more information about the Peoples Garden visit