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Master Gardener workers will flood the Gulf Coast
By Patti Drapala
MSU Ag Communications
MISSISSIPPI STATE -- Hurricanes Katrina and Rita packed a one-two punch that washed away the Gulf Coast landscape, but a flood of volunteerism generated by the Mississippi Master Gardener Association aims to restore what the storms destroyed.
The association has set Oct. 24, 25 and 26 as special workdays for Master Gardeners throughout Mississippi and other states to “swarm” the Coast for Operation Rejuvenation, an ongoing project to refurbish public landscapes in Hancock, Harrison and Jackson counties.
Brainstorming after a flood of post-Katrina phone calls led the association to begin planning the project in 2005. The Mississippi State University Extension Service and the Mississippi Nursery and Landscape Association are also partners in the project.
“We love to dig and work in the dirt because that effort produces something you can see,” said association president Coralie Richardson of Meridian. “The swarm will give people a chance to revive the landscape and lift everyone's spirits.”
Members of the association have created a fund to purchase plants and other supplies at Mississippi-owned nurseries and garden centers, which will provide a source of native plants and also help those businesses rebound, Richardson said.
Contributions currently total about $19,000, and organizers anticipate that amount increasing as the swarm dates approach. The association is a non-profit, tax-exempt organization and a publicly supported charity. Contributions to the fund are tax-deductible.
“There are 50 miles of Mississippi coastline and many different types of projects that need attention,” said association vice president Homer Richardson of Brookhaven. “We feel confident there will be enough work for all who choose to participate.”
Master Gardener groups on the Gulf Coast already have rebuilt the area around the Child Center in Hancock County, the gardens at Gulfport High School and the John Henry Beck Park in Harrison County, the conference center in Gautier and the landscape around the O'Keefe/Ore House in Ocean Springs.
“The Mississippi Master Gardener Association has taken its first giant step in coordinating a project that reaches across our state and has national implications for disaster relief efforts,” said Lelia Kelly, MSU consumer horticulture specialist. Kelly serves as Extension's state coordinator for the Mississippi Master Gardener Program.
Master Gardener groups in other states have taken a keen interest since Mississippi's association publicized the project on its Web site. Several Master Gardener groups from Virginia volunteered for the swarm after their state association invited Kelly, along with Richardson and his wife Lynn, to speak at the annual meeting.
Kelly said many Master Gardeners from Tennessee also have expressed an interest in working during the swarm. Participants will travel at their own expense and bring their own tools. To defray expenses for other groups, the Illinois Master Gardener Association is collecting donations despite not being able to attend.
“Many communities were not ready for a large-scale effort with landscaping when the project was first organized in 2005,” Kelly said. “Fall is the best time to plant, and the timing was right this fall to get people energized.”
Master Gardener groups, citizens and civic clubs interested in participating in the October swarm or future workdays can contact the Extension county directors in one of the three coastal counties. Those directors are:
- Gwen Smith, Hancock County, (228) 467-5456, firstname.lastname@example.org;
- Nancy Freeman, Harrison County, (228) 865-4227, email@example.com;
- Bettye Wadsworth, Jackson County, (662) 769-3047, firstname.lastname@example.org.
To learn how to help with Operation Rejuvenation or make a contribution to the fund, go to the Mississippi Master Gardener Association Web site at http://www.msmastergardener.org. Information on the Master Gardener Program also can be found on Extension's Web site at MSUcares.com.
Kelly said groups wanting to publicize Operation Rejuvenation can contact her at (662) 566-2201 or by e-mail at email@example.com to obtain promotional brochures.
“People have been so generous with their donations for this project,” she said. “We encourage everyone interested to join us on the Coast in October.”