JONESBORO, Ark. — Beets are a favorite food of Dr. Charles Coleman, so they were the first vegetable to be planted in a Fisher Street community garden. He owns the land, after all.
"I'm crazy about beets," Coleman said recently.
But the produce will be available — and free — to anyone who wants it. Corn, peas, tomatoes, cucumbers and numerous other vegetables and fruits soon will be added to this garden and two others under the direction of Coleman and a board of directors.
When the harvest is ready, members of the community may come and pick what they want.
"Basically, it's free food," Coleman said.
This will be the second full year for the gardens in this part of Jonesboro, but last year's initial effort was largely experimental and a major learning experience for those involved. In the meantime, supporters formed a tax-exempt nonprofit organization under the leadership of a board to ensure more cohesive development. Attorney Ralph Waddell has donated his time to offer legal services and "make sure we're going about this the right way," Coleman said.
The group's focus is operating the three gardens, but it has other missions. One is collaborating with Success Achievement Academy and CityYouth Ministries to interact with and mentor youngsters.
There are plans to erect a building on one of the lots where people can learn how to can foods "the old-fashioned way," Coleman said. He was busy measuring an in-ground storm shelter on the lot at 316 Drake St. and discussing with a volunteer how best to clear it out and prepare it for storage of canning supplies.
The garden project originally stemmed from the Jonesboro Better Neighborhoods Initiative, an effort to revitalize North Jonesboro and then other areas of the city by addressing such issues as housing, job growth, retail development, public services and safety.
Several "neighborhood networks" were established over the last two years to carry out grassroots, citizen-driven change as part of this initiative. The north side revitalization is said to be just the first of a multi-phase project throughout the city over several years.
Coleman got involved in the initiative a couple of years ago before being elected to the city council. His network, which became known as Fisher Street Community in Action, began work on the gardens not long after that, using several vacant lots that he owns.
"All of this has branched off of the north side initiative," he said. "We've just taken an extra step and become a 501(c)3."
With spring planting season under way, Coleman and organizers hope to encourage others to get involved. They're already getting some help during a "community garden extravaganza" planned for April 29 on lots 316 and 221 Drake St. Volunteers from Southwest Church of Christ have agreed to work for several hours, and Home Depot volunteered manpower and equipment.
A fraternity from Arkansas State University indicated it will help, and the Masonic Lodge is spearheading an entire lot.
"We have had some donations," Coleman said. "Our future plans are to do a grant to where we can get a small tractor."
A handful of people will do preparations April 28, but the bulk of the work will begin at 10:30 a.m. April 29. In addition to planting, volunteers will build tables so that when the gardens are finished people will have areas to sort food. The four-hour event will include lunch.
At other times there will be scheduled work days for planting. Once vegetables are ready to pick, the group will announce specific days and hours when the public can come to get what they need.
Information from: The Jonesboro Sun, http://www.jonesborosun.com