Here we speak with Elise Deano, manager of Ruth’s Roots — a community garden in Bay St. Louis.
WHAT IS THE PURPOSE AND MISSION OF RUTH’S ROOTS?
Ruth’s Roots is a place of peace, education, empathy, art and compassion. Its multi-faceted mission is to: 1) provide a free place for families to visit where there are numerous activities and things to engage visitors of all ages, 2) help fight food insecurity by providing a blessings box filled with food and a seed library for visitors, 3) immerse visitors in public art, which is everywhere: —on the fence boards, on the ground, on the walls, and 4) provide a place where people can learn about animals, plants, how they grow, the life cycle of butterflies and more.
HOW AND WHY DID RUTH’S ROOTS COME ABOUT?
Ruth’s Roots began in 2016. At the time, I was the youth court judge in Hancock County and had just been awarded a juvenile drug court program. I wanted to do something different, and one day, I saw the owner of the lot next door to the courthouse mowing his grass and stopped him to ask if I could use it as a community garden. He excitedly said yes, and the rest is history. The garden grew, and every year brings new features, new plants and new art. The garden has grown far beyond my original vision because of the input of the amazing community it is in.
WHAT’S NEW AND EXCITING WITH RUTH’S ROOTS?
We are always in a state of transition, and I love that about the garden. From a gardening standpoint, this year we have added sugar cane, cotton and soybeans to the beds for visitors to see. I wanted everyone, kids especially, to be able to see some of the crops grown in our area and state and learn about how they are used.
Our butterfly house is full of monarch chrysalises that will be ready to release soon, and we have added outdoor art with more coming soon. Additionally, we have outdoor musical instruments, and my goal is to add more instruments by the end of the year.
WHAT IMPACT DOES RUTH’S ROOTS HAVE ON THE COMMUNITY?
The garden always has had a steady flow of visitors. However, the numbers exploded with COVID. Parents were home with their children, looking for something safe to do, and Ruth’s Roots fit the bill. It is outdoors and easy to socially distance. We had picnic tables and added handicapped-accessible tables to ensure everyone could have a great experience.
We try hard to have activities and events for families. We just had an Earth Day celebration featuring upcycled crafts for the kids and a petting zoo.
Seeing the joy in a young person’s face when they get to pet a llama is priceless.
WHAT IS THE GREATEST THING YOU HAVE LEARNED OR GAINED BY BEING INVOLVED IN RUTH’S ROOTS?
I have learned the truth behind Margaret Mead’s quote: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.” This community has been so supportive of this garden. One group that has made it their mission to keep the blessing box full.
The art community has responded in such a resounding way, and it is apparent when you visit. People donate time, food, plants, books — you name it. It’s pure magic.
We have our blessings box filled with food; a seed library stocked with seed packets; a plant exchange where people can leave plants and seedlings for others; four free little libraries; a fish pond; rabbits; hens (the eggs we collect are donated to Starfish Café, which has a mission of employing and training at-risk workers, which aligns with our mission of uplifting the community); herb gardens, complete with scissors in case you are in the middle of a pork roast and find you need rosemary; and all kinds of seasonal fruits and veggies. Whatever your talent or passion is, you can find a way to utilize it at Ruth’s Roots.