URBAN FARMER: Turning Empty Lot Into Garden

This is an archived article and the information in the article may be outdated. Please look at the time stamp on the story to see when it was last updated.

Where most of us saw an empty lot, one man saw an opportunity.

“They said ‘You can just use this land because we don’t use it right now,’” said Ibrahim Ali.

The Beaverdale lot had been purchased by the Calvin Community Retirement Center for future expansion, but for now…

“We thought this was a good use of a vacant lot," said Calvin's Jamie Cox, "better than keeping it as a vacant lot.”

It’s become a fine vegetable garden, no doubt.

“You see this is a hot pepper!" Ali shouts. "Super hot!”

But to Ali, it’s more than that.

“If you have any problems with your bones or something like that, this will help.”

It’s another step in his American dream.  Create a product, then sell it …

“Some green peppers!”

Profits go first to repay loans he’s received from area churches, what’s left becomes income for his family of ten.

It’s been eight years since Ali fled war-torn Sudan for Egypt, where he spoke with a man at the American consulate.

“I said ‘I have eight kids.’ He said ‘Oh, that is a bunch of kids!" Ali smiled. "He said ‘If you need my advice, go to Iowa.’”

Since arriving, Ali hasn’t left the state. Venturing only to Fort Dodge, Pella and Marshalltown to visit relatives and friends.  He bought a car in Albia.

“I like Iowa too much!" he laughed.

The feeling seems mutual.

The work is hard, but his doctor says ‘keep it up!’

“All the summer time, my weight goes down, and my blood pressure goes down, and everything is working good on my body.”

Ali hopes to find more lots to use in the future.  He’ll have a reference from the Calvin Community…

“It’s nice to walk by and see all the healthy plants and produce,” Cox says.

And to see what was once an overlooked space become so much more…

“Here is okra!”

It’s opportunity.  It’s healthy.  It’s America.