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Marne, Iowa

Marneis a southwestern Iowa community with a population of just 149 or so, about 60 miles from Omaha and 80 miles from Des Moines. It was never a big town (pop. 617 in 1875), but the head count really began declining around the turn of last century, through the teens and 20s. “The decline of the family farm affects rural areas like this, says Mayor Randy Baxter. “Back in the ‘60s and ‘70s, there more smaller farms, and small towns supported the folks in the country, but now those homes aren’t there anymore.”

In hopes of boosting that number, the Marne Housing and Development Corp has made four free lots available:3 for private and 1 for commercial use. The first family to take advantage of the free land moved onto their new property the fall of 2008, also availing funds from the USDA’s Rural Development Agency for building their home, and they qualified for $10,000 down payment assistance from the Southwest Iowa Planning Council.

To take advantage of the free land in Marne, applicants need only to submit a proposed floor plan for the house they want to build. It’s not restrictive, but Baxter notes that it must be within reason-- no trailer homes, no horses or livestock. Among the unreasonable proposals for the land: “They want to bring a camper in hogs, or store junk there.”