Mar 20, 2023 - News

Shelter launches fish farm, "agrihood" in downtown Des Moines

A drawing of Des Moines

A downtown agrihood is being added to a mostly flood-prone area just off of Martin Luther King Jr. Parkway. Rendering courtesy of Confluence via CISS

Central Iowa Shelter & Services (CISS) in downtown Des Moines is launching an indoor aquaponics system to grow tilapia.

Why it matters: The crops will help offset food expenses, with some being sold to supplement shelter programs.

  • Plus, people residing at the shelter will assist with the operations, helping them learn new job skills.

Catch up fast: A group of churches formed what is today known as CISS about 30 years ago to assist people experiencing homelessness.

  • Its current facilities have 207 beds, most that are adjacent to more than four acres of flood-prone property.

What's happening: CISS' greenhouse is more than a decade old, but it recently expanded to add an aquaponics program, which filters fish waste that’s used for plant fertilizer in a pesticide-free cycle.

  • The system is now in place and fish will be added in coming months. The cycle is expected to produce hundreds of market-sized tilapia each month.
Inside Central Iowa Shelter & Services' greenhouse, where an aquaponics system will be used to raise tilapia starting later this year. Photo: Jason Clayworth/Axios

Meanwhile, the property surrounding CISS is being developed into an "agrihood" — an urban area with farm production. Fruit and nut trees will be planted, while raised garden beds will be able to float, avoiding destruction when flooding occurs.

  • The vision is a park-like area that's open to the public, allowing anyone to harvest some of the estimated 75,000 pounds of food a year it will produce when fully developed.

Driving the news: February marked the first month that lettuce was harvested from the new greenhouse space, Aaron Thormodsen, CISS' urban farm manager, tells Axios.

  • More than 1,000 pounds was distributed to partners or sold to area businesses, he says.
  • Other vegetables, including tomatillos and peppers, are still in trial stages.

Of note: The total investment for the aquaponics and agrihood developments is expected to be around $6 million, paid through grants and private donations.

  • Final development depends on fundraising and is likely years out, Thormodsen says.
A photo of an area where a Des Moines agrihood is planned.
Josh Spain, head of agricultural development for CISS, at an area northeast of 16th Street and Martin Luther King Jr. Parkway that will be used for raised gardens. Photo: Jason Clayworth/Axios

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