Keeping Belzoni Gardening

A man and woman stand on either side of a planter box full of leafy green plants; the box is one of many in a small community garden. A woman tending greens in a garden. A man examining a growing green vegetable in a garden. A group of people standing near a garden and looking at plants.
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Story by Nathan Gregory • Photos by Kevin Hudson

Even before the first crop in the Belzoni Community Garden was planted in 2019, Clifton Williams and Chandra Hines had devoted countless hours toward keeping the town both beautiful and fed as part of Keep Belzoni Beautiful.

Consisting of a 16,300-square-foot garden with 36 large planter boxes, the garden has blossomed into a point of pride for the small Mississippi Delta town.

Spearheading the project were Hines, executive director of Keep Belzoni Beautiful, and Williams, Guaranty Bank Community Development chief officer. Keep Belzoni Beautiful, an affiliate of Keep Mississippi Beautiful, was formed in 2017 to address community blight and litter.

Located on a vacant lot beside the town’s fire department, the garden is one of Keep Belzoni Beautiful’s primary projects.

“We were very interested in how to bring fresh vegetables and fruit to the community and a project that would help unite people to work together,” Williams says. “We’re in a food desert, so we didn’t have a lot of fresh food available to us, and the need for a project like this was great.”

Keeping produce growing there each spring and fall requires area business owners, community leaders, and garden enthusiasts to continue contributing through the growing season. Once the produce is harvested, it goes to the town’s two food pantries for distribution to elderly and low-income households.

“A lot of people came out to help build the boxes for the garden, and about 20 people tend to the garden on a weekly basis to water and keep the garden maintained,” Williams explains. “We come together a couple times a week to get the jobs done. We also have had students from Humphreys County High School to come over to help with building, cleaning, and planting the beds.”

Williams and Hines engaged local board members, city and county departments, and area businesses to get involved with the garden and committee.

“We work very closely with our local officials, and they are always ready to help when something needs to be done,” Williams emphasizes.

Regina Boykins is a Mississippi State University Extension agent in Humphreys County and a member of the Keep Belzoni Beautiful committee. She connected the committee with Extension’s AIM for CHangE, which stands for Advancing, Inspiring, Motivating for Community Health through Extension.

AIM for CHangE, funded by a $5.5 million grant from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, is designed to combat obesity and related diseases by providing educational programming and access to outdoor recreation and healthier foods. Through this program, Keep Belzoni Beautiful obtained funding for crucial elements of the community garden, such as lumber, an irrigation system, mulch, and fencing.

Boykins says Hines and Williams are the backbone of the community garden.

“They are avid gardeners, and they have been instrumental in turning plans into action,” she says, “from Mr. Williams’s expertise in construction and gardening to Mrs. Hines’s experience in writing grants and pulling resources together. They and many others in the community have given their own time and resources to get the Belzoni Community Garden where it is today.”

Boykins suggested the location for where the garden was eventually established, and she remains involved throughout the growing season.

“Regina knew who we could talk to that would be helpful when we were getting started, and she’s out there now whenever we need her,” Williams says. “She looks at what we’re doing and helps to provide information for us through [Extension coworker] Preston Aust to figure out what types of soils we may want to use for each planting.

“When we have insect or disease problems with a few of the plants,” he continues, “she helps take samples to Preston so he can diagnose what’s going on and tell us how to proceed and keep our crops growing. It would have been very difficult to start this garden or keep it going without her.”

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