Tuesday, March 13, 2018

City wants to sell gardens, fishing pond

Fresh fruits and vegetables will no longer be grown or given away on city property formerly knowns as the Victory Gardens. Fishing, at what’s become a public pond, will likely be eliminated next.

City leaders notified Jailer Robbie Kirk this past winter of Marion’s plan to put the property up for sale. Kirk said fencing and other improvements that facilitated the Victory Gardens are in the process of being removed and sold. Most of the improvements accumulated by a non-profit group that managed the Victory Gardens will be sold at public auction, Kirk said.

The gardens were a source of pride for the jail, Kirk explains, where inmates found a sense of worth as part of the team team planted, nurtured and distributed free fruits and vegetables each summer. The gardens also helped supplement the jail’s food pantry.

The gardens were in production for seven growing seasons on a portion of 42.25 acres of property purchased in 2004 by the City of Marion for $102,500. Fruit trees and blackberries were planted three years ago and some of those were expected to bear fruit this season.

Kirk is disappointed that the city will be selling the property, which puts and end to the garden concept.

“There are very few things we have that benefit this community so greatly,” Kirk said, “and these gardens was one of them.”

City Administrator Adam Ledford said a decision was made to sell the property in order to generate immediate funds for buying new equipment and making capital improvements to streets and other city infrastructure. A longterm benefit, he added, could be growth in the tax base. He said the large, mostly open, tract could be sold as is or subdivided. He said it’s one of the few places in the city conducive to new home development.

“This was a matter of evaluating whether this asset was working for the city or not,” Ledford said.

Perhaps, he said, the large, undeveloped parcel of land will better serve the city on the tax rolls instead of in a program that generated no tax dollars for the city.

The land was originally provided to a Native American group which had big plans for the property. Those fell through and a group made up largely of local churches formed a non-profit organization that started growing produce and giving it away free to the community. Crittenden County Detention Center joined the effort, providing inmate labor.

“It was a beautiful thing for the inmates,” the jailer said. “At first, they didn’t want to go out there, but then they grew to love it. When those elderly people would come by and get free vegetables I’ve seen these grown men – inmates – crying. It meant so much to them.”