Wiley Garden sprouts more than veggies
by Rory Doyle
Mar 15, 2013 | 2788 views | 0 0 comments | 14 14 recommendations | email to a friend | print
A community garden honoring the late Roy Wiley, a professor emeritus at Delta State University, will soon be springing with life.

A number of dedicated leaders have quickly transformed the plot of land on Fifth Avenue where Wiley's house once rested into a large garden space that will be utilized by both the college and local community.

The Wiley family graciously donated the property to the Delta State University Foundation and planting at the DSU Wiley Community Garden is set to take place within a couple weeks.

The spacious plot will feature 16 raised soil beds that measure four feet wide by 15 feet long. In total, there will be about 1,000 square feet in growing space.

A tentative ribbon cutting date is scheduled for April 8 at 11 a.m.

Robert Turner, DSU's director of Facilities Management, is one of the leaders behind the concept.

"I think about the Delta and then I think about gardening — especially since this region is known for farming, agriculture and vegetables," said Turner. "We're very thankful the DSU Foundation was generous enough to let us to put the garden on the property."

Turner, who's background is in architecture, said he needed the support of experienced gardeners to help piece the project together in only about two month's time.

Ryan Betz, who has helped start over 50 local gardens, became another leading facilitator for the new plot.

"It's great to see a bunch of people coming together to make this happen. I'm kind of surprised it hasn't happened before," said Betz, volunteer manager of the Cleveland Farmer's Market, gardens project coordinator for Delta Health Alliance and also Farm to School coordinator for Delta Fresh Foods.

"I'm excited that DSU will help supply local fresh foods," added Betz. "It's important that we establish a larger fresh food scene here and reeducate everyone about the possibilities."

A majority of what is grown will be sold at the farmer's market to increase product availability and help pay for garden maintenance, tools and construction costs.

Betz also helped orchestrate $1,400 in support from the Delta Health Alliance to offset initial building costs and seed purchasing.

The farmer's market also supported the cause with equipment and tool donations and a storage shed to remain on site.

And of course, a good garden takes dedicated hands to care for it. That's where Lacey Fitts comes in, a DSU instructor in science education.

"Everyone has done such a great job pulling the available resources together," said Fitts. "This is something the Delta needs — especially since we struggle here with issues like obesity.

"There will be so much for the community to learn about. It will be a teaching garden."

Fitts is developing lesson plans for her students to help with planting, planning and garden upkeep. The space will literally become an outside classroom.

Local elementary and secondary students will also use the space for science lessons that align with curriculum standards.

Fitts has been using the greenhouse on campus to prep seedlings that will be transplanted to the garden as soon as it's ready.

Those involved with the growing will reap the benefits of all sorts of food — lettuce, spinach, carrots, radishes, mustard greens, kale, broccoli, cilantro and even edible flowers.

"And how could you have a garden on Delta State's campus without okra," added Betz.

Turner said one of the best parts about making the garden a reality has been the communal support pouring in.

He cited the following entities for their donations: The Delta State University Foundation; Cleveland Ace Hardware; Mitchell Signs; D. Carroll Construction, LLC; Delta Health Alliance; DSU Facilities Management — grounds; Mississippi Materials Corporation; and the city of Cleveland.

"We encourage everyone to participate in this group project," said Turner. "Come out and take part in the effort to beautify the property and give back to the community."

Follow construction progress and updates on the garden's Facebook page at "DSU Wiley Community Garden."