The Vicksburg Community Garden, a stone’s throw from the Mississippi River, shines as an example of how groups in Vicksburg are working together to capitalize on the city’s existing resources.
It’s a trend in this city. With funding tight for any project—from revitalizing downtown Vicksburg to expanding career-building programs in schools—community partners are pooling financial resources and manpower, as well as reaching across boundaries to align goals and deliver the biggest bang for their efforts.
The community garden started when an agriculture expert from Alcorn State University reached out to Shape Up Vicksburg’s Linda Fondren with an idea: Let’s start a community garden to teach people how to grow their own food and maintain a healthier diet.
Fondren was a logical person to approach. She started a crusade in 2009 to get residents in her hometown to lose weight and to start walking as a first step toward fitness. More than 2,000 people signed a pledge to lose weight and over the course of 17 weeks, they lost a collective 15,000 pounds, roughly the weight of five vehicles.
A community garden could be a classroom on nutritious eating. But they needed the land. Fondren went to the city. “When she calls, we help,” says Marcia Weaver, Vicksburg’s Director of Special Projects. After viewing several potential plots, the group settled on a wide, open spot next to the Vicksburg Municipal Airport. The city agreed to pay for water and to mow surrounding grounds.
The raised beds and garden plots have been growing strong this year. Community members, master gardeners, civic groups and local schools have provided volunteers and supplies to help the garden thrive.
But could the garden be even more? My Brother’s Keeper Inc., a nonprofit that works to enhance the health of minority populations, provided a grant for playground equipment and a walking trail around the perimeter of the property. “Now we have parents coming out and they’re walking and getting involved in the garden,” Fondren says.
Building on the children’s interest in the garden, the United Way decided to establish literacy programs at the site. Why not bring books outside and read to children under the trees?
On a summer morning in August, they did just that. Under the shade of birch trees, dozens of children of all ages from a daycare program, Kids R Kids, sat on tree stumps listening to Fondren read to them about how a seed becomes a plant. When the story concluded, they took off among the rows of corn and eggplants and searched for ripe red tomatoes to yank off vines. When a small girl couldn’t find one, she picked an orange pumpkin instead.