GULFPORT -- The city is pitching in on a big idea for a community garden, in hopes it grows into a self-sustaining project with a farmers market.
The city has sectioned off 2 acres on 34th Street where the nonprofit group Economics, Education, Environment and Climate Health Organization will begin planting the garden Monday with fruit trees, vegetables and melons.
If the garden gets big enough, Economic Development Director David Parker said, the city has plans to build a small pavilion across the street for a farmers market.
"They could sell some of the vegetables and fruits," he said, "and the proceeds of those sales would go back into maintaining the garden so it's self-sustaining. No one's going to profit from this.
"That property hasn't served any purposes since the storm (Katrina). I can't think of a better purpose than a community garden that can teach kids about growing and what goes into gardening. We hope it will be a source of community pride for all of Gulfport."
Volunteers can work for their produce, and businesses are being asked to become sponsors through donations of money or materials. EEECHO has started a wish list for the garden, but the city has gotten the group off to a good start, said Ruth Story, EEECHO's executive director and past president of the NAACP.
The garden is going on land where the federal government bought out residents because of repetitive flooding. Master Gardener James L. Franklin, who is volunteering his time to design and start the garden, said the city also plans to provide fencing.
Story said she got the idea for a community garden when she saw a beautiful one several years back in Richmond, Calif.
"I thought about that, and thought, 'What can we do?'" she said. "And then I realized Gulfport had all this beautiful land that wasn't being used."
There's a possibility the garden could grow by at least 3 acres.
"The people I talked to are so excited," Franklin said, "they wanted to get started today. The people want it."
Folks from a nearby apartment complex are eager to have a piece of land where they can garden, as are others. Story said her group is spreading the word about the garden through churches, schools and other community organizations.
"It's not going to be just a garden," Franklin said, "it's going to be training and education."
Franklin is planning to plant heirloom tomatoes, fruit, butter beans, peas, snap beans, potatoes, cantaloupes, watermelons, figs, pairs, persimmons, loquats and more.
The group planted a ceremonial fig tree for a ground-breaking Friday morning.
"It's not a giveaway," Franklin said, "Guess what? It's going to be about your participation."