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        Agriculture Partners Unveil First Wetland Pollinator Garden in Mississippi

Story by: Aaron Porter, Public Affairs Assistant

Photos by: Laura Anderson, State Public Affairs Officer

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                                                                                                                                                                   Biloxi, Mississippi, sets on the Gulf of Mexico. It's well known for its sandy white beaches and casinos. It is also home to the native Cueva' Indians 1492 or Biloxis', and Keesler Air Force Base. But deep in Biloxi's heart, agricultural partners have been working diligently to establish a first of its own in Mississippi—a wetland pollinator garden. This vision became a reality as USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (USDA-NRCS), Mississippi Urban Forest Council (MUFC), and the Harrison County Soil & Water Conservation District (SWCD), joined forces to bring the wetland pollinator garden to Hiller Park Friday, July 10th.

Being funded under the Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP), this 1,400 square-foot garden is the first of its kind that will be creating a sustainable pollinator site in urban and rural communities across Mississippi. The placement of the garden within the park will have a positive impact on the land.

By restoring this site to more natural conditions by planting wet-loving trees, shrubs, and herbaceous plants, the benefits include:

- thA large green field with trees in the backgroundDescription automatically generatede reduction of landscape maintenance (mowing) that was complicated by the wet conditions, 

- support for a wide range of pollinators, as sources of nectar from flowers, as host plants for caterpillars, and as nesting sites for pollinators, and 

- enhanced treatment of runoff from the splash pad and adjacent upland areas, thereby improving water quality to the nearby water body (i.e., Biloxi Back Bay).

As Donna Yowell, the executive director for MUFC, explained it, “This unique garden will also process and clean stormwater runoff from the children’s water pad in the park, something that has never been done in the state!"

 “The important value of the project is cleaning stormwater in cities, said Yowell. “This demonstration can be used on private and public property, so not only is this going to provide pollinators and native plants, but this also focuses on water quality, which is a very important issue here on the coast.”

Clarence Finley, Assistant State Conservationist for Programs, believes this is the shining star project within NRCS and is excited to see its growth and how it will impact Biloxi for years to come.

A close up of a signDescription automatically generated“We see a lack of pollinators in America which are essential to farming and reproduction uses of our natural environment. So, this project will support the core environment of them in this community,” said Finley. “People will also get a chance to enjoy this beautiful park while enjoying and also learning about the different wildlife that will be attracted to this pollinator habitat.”

 As Yowell stated, “What is vital to a site like this is having local partnerships that can help with maintenance and having boots on the ground to implement the project.”

Additional partnerships include:

- The city of Biloxi

- Master Gardeners

- Mississippi Renaissance Garden Foundation

In total, 16 of these pollinator sites will be established throughout the state of Mississippi.

Yowell is thankful for the partnership with NRCS and knows what it means to have such a great agency on a project like this.

“Working with NRCS has been very beneficial for our community projects,” said Yowell. “The group provides a lot of resources to different communities, non- profits, and farmers across the state, so we are very appreciative of the partnership we have formed.”