Fruits of the Community: A public garden blooms in Ward 1

Published 1:49 pm Tuesday, July 19, 2022

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NATCHEZ — Flowers bloom from and between the vegetables grown at Osceola Park. Okra, tomatoes, squash, mustard greens and zucchini are planted in the community garden on Choctaw Street between Cherokee and Creek streets.

The garden sits unfenced next to a playground, because barriers can be unwelcoming, Ward 1 Alderman Valencia Hall said.

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The produce is for elderly and disabled members of the community who need vegetables but might have a harder time going to the store, Hall added.

Dr. Daniel Collins, professor of plant pathology at Alcorn State University, volunteers to plant and maintain the crops and uses it as an educational opportunity for his students.

If a plant becomes diseased, he will bring it back to the campus lab where he and his students can determine and solve the issue, and then modify the community garden as needed.

Since the garden started around a year ago, the community has eaten and loved everything, Hall said.

Hall hopes to get elementary schools involved, for younger people to go on field trips to Osceola Park to learn about self-sustenance agriculture and enjoy the fresh vegetables.

“My dad loved to garden when I was a kid,” Hall said, remembering her childhood home in Bishop Street with a garden of mustard greens and tomatoes.

Jason Jones and Kalven King from the extension service also help keep the crops healthy, Hall said. Eddie Burkes and Judge Jim Blough both voluntarily till and harvest the vegetables and distribute them to the Senior Citizens Center and residents’ homes.

Burkes got involved through the farmers market, which he directs.

“It’s a learning process. You realize how difficult growing is. I have tremendous respect for full-time farmers,” Burkes said, “I enjoy it very much.”

People need the fresh food, Burkes said, and he enjoys getting to know the people in the community.

“It’s an inroad, but you never know what it might lead to,” Burkes said.