Despite the threat of rain, residents of all ages gathered Saturday to help Pine Bluff Mayor Shirley Washington open the city’s inaugural community garden located at 11th Avenue and Cherry Street.

Washington said the garden is the first of many she plans to cultivate throughout the city.

“I’m ecstatic, I never imagined so many people,” Washington said of those who showed up to lend their hands and shovels to work in the garden. “I like the fact that we have people in their 70’s, down to the little ones that are 10 and under. I think this is the beginning of something wonderful for Pine Bluff.”

The garden has 40 plots, some of which have already been adopted. Washington said the city’s zoning department is currently scouting locations for the next community garden, with the present one acting as the “parent garden.”

She said the water lines are already in place to provide hydration to each of the beds. Another feature mentioned is a code-activated fence that will be placed around the garden. Each gardener will be given a unique entrance code upon purchasing a plot. The playground area will also be separately fenced to allow the public to still utilize the park, as well as provide a safe place for children to play while their parent is gardening.

“The vision is catching, and I want it to be kind of contagious because we want individuals to decide to adopt a spot,” Washington said. “All community gardens will have to be approved by the planning and zoning commission, because it’s not like I’m not putting a garden in my backyard. If I’m putting a garden next to you, and it’s a community garden, and people from all over will be coming, you need to know, so we must advertise that kind of thing to let people know. And, if anybody opposes, they get a chance to voice their decision.”

Washington said the fee for a plot is $25. She said there was some push-back at the cost, but she believes it is a good deal.

“We have put a lot of money into this, but we are thankful that everything, other than the fence, is being paid for by grants,” Washington said. “We secured grant money for everything -- the pavilion, the playground, the boxes, the bedding -- we did some fall planning (and) everything we’ve done with grant money. We will continue to apply for grants, as we see them, for other gardens.”

The community garden was once the site of Davis Hospital, Pine Bluff’s first community hospital, built in 1910. In 2009, the hospital was torn down. In August 2017, the City Council voted to allow a community vegetable garden to be placed in its spot.

Julianna Bobo, one of the many residents who came out Saturday to volunteer their time at the garden, said she remembers her grandmother being a patient at Davis Hospital, and she thinks it was a wonderful idea to create a garden in its place.

“I have a small garden at home, but I came out to help other people because I love Pine Bluff,” Bobo said. “We got to get ourselves going and get our community together and help each other out. I think this is a wonderful thing to do with this land, and what brings people together better than food?”

Entertainment for the ribboning cutting ceremony was provided by Lighthouse Charter School’s dance team

“Pine Bluff is at 40,000 (population),” Washington said, “But we can get to 80,000 as long as we keep taking care of our children, speaking positive and doing positive things.”

For details about the community garden, contact the mayor’s office at 730-2000 ext. 7.