The Historic Johnson County Poor Farm is a 160-acre site on the western edge of Iowa City, first opened in 1855 to care for the indigent, the developmentally disabled, and the mentally ill. This historical resource serves as a window to 19th-century definitions and policy dealing with perceived social problems, as well as to Iowa’s method of using its plentiful agricultural resources in efforts to care for the poor and mentally ill. The Johnson County Poor Farm is one of the few remaining relatively intact examples of the county farm model established in each Iowa county in the 19th century.
The County is in the process of reinvigorating this space by rehabilitating the buildings and rethinking how the land is utilized (it has been rented for traditional farming). Last summer, Grow Johnson County farmed a section of the land and now there are plans for gardening projects with the local Somali immigrant population. A dance student performed her MFA concert at the Poor Farm last spring.
Seeing this space as a canvas for many rich collaborations, including some between the University of Iowa and Johnson County, the Obermann Graduate Institute is visiting the space for a second time this January to envision possible projects. The Office of Outreach and Engagement will be offering grants of $1,000 to students who want to propose a collaborative project that involves the Poor Farm space.
This month's conversation includes students who have a vision for the Poor Farm, Johnson County Local Food and Planning Specialist Shanti Sellz, and Alexadra Drehman, Executive Director of the Johnson County Historical Society.
STAY FOLLOWING THE CONVERSATION FOR A SCREENING OF THE FILM, TAKING IT TO THE STREETS: TEN YEARS OF THE OBERMANN GRADUATE INSTITUTE, a 17-minute film by Anna Swanson (MFA, Cinematic Arts).
Co-sponsored by the Iowa City Public Library
Watch the ICPL's video of this conversation: