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Food and Learning in Community Gardens

Community Gardens
Members of the Jackson chapter of Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority turned to Extension agent Kyle Lewis for advice and assistance to help get their community garden project back on track. Lewis (left) and Mississippi State Representative De’Keither Stamps (second from left) joined the group's volunteers -- Lena Jones (third from left), Bobbie Brantley, Rosie Payton and Catherine Walker in the effort to provide people fresh produce and teach them basic gardening skills.

Looking for a way to serve your community?

Think community garden. With funds from a grant through the U.S. Department of Agriculture, ten volunteers in north Jackson planted an in-ground community garden at Fresh Start Church in spring 2020. “We wanted a sustainable project, and we wanted to be good stewards of the funds we had,” said project leader Rosie Payton. Their idea: Grow fresh produce for members of the community who could not get to the grocery store on a regular basis. Get community members involved and teach them how to grow produce.

Mississippi State University Extension Service provided much needed guidance. “Once we got started, we realized we had no idea what we were doing,” Payton said. “We also ran into problems with the weather and equipment availability, and interest and involvement began to go down.” Kyle Lewis, a Mississippi State University Extension Service agent in Hinds County, provided the assistance in the midst of the pandemic shutdown. He conducted classes through Zoom, shared several Extension gardening publications with the volunteer group, and communicated with them over the phone and through email. The volunteers also attended a series of distance-education classes on gardening offered by Keith Whitehead, an Extension agent in Franklin County. Lewis’ most important suggestion: plant the garden in raised beds. Lewis also helped the group install an irrigation system.

The group moved their garden to property in south Jackson owned by De’Keither Stamps, a former Jackson city councilman and current Mississippi legislator. Stamps has used the property for about four years to facilitate gardening education in the community. The group installed about 20 raised beds inside an existing high tunnel on the property. They grew several types of greens, Chinese cabbage, bok choy and a few other fall vegetables.

“Part of their issue with the in-ground garden was keeping it weeded and watered,” Lewis said. “Raised beds reduce weeding, and the irrigation system waters with a timer.”

“What Kyle has taught us helped us so much,” Payton said. “Using raised beds is much easier than in-ground gardening, and that makes it easier to get community members to participate. We’re also thankful to Mr. Stamps for allowing us to put our garden on his property. The high tunnel allows us to work out here even if it is raining.”

Stamps said he is looking forward to what the group will contribute to the community.

“I’m excited about this project, and I’m happy to provide a place for the volunteer to carry out a large part of the project,” Stamps said.

As part of the educational aspect of the project, the group helped some community members who installed raised beds at their homes learn how to grow some of their own food. The group plans to continue teaching others what they’ve learned.

“What we are most excited about is the opportunity to educate other community members of all ages,” Payton said.

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