MSU outreach project grows community bonds, memorializes local youth

Contact: Allison Matthews

Sign that says Wyatt Garden
A sign designed, constructed and installed as part of a collaborative outreach project memorializing a local child with a community garden at the J.L. King Center. (Photo submitted)

STARKVILLE, Miss.—An artistic sign made recently as part of a collaborative outreach project by a Mississippi State landscape architecture team stands outside the J.L. King Center in Starkville, denoting a new community garden and remembering a special child who used to attend afterschool care at the center.

“Wyatt Garden” memorializes a young child from Starkville, Wyatt Rodgers, who was tragically killed in an automobile accident in 2020 when he was 8 years old. But the community garden also will benefit many children attending the center currently and in the future.

It started as part of an MSU junior-level landscape architecture design course taught by Professor Bob Brzuszek and Associate Professor Chuo Li. Their students developed a master plan for Westside Park, including the creation of a community garden at the King Center, a fruit forest and marketplace where children can sell produce and learn entrepreneurship.

Brian Pugh, public service mentor and lecturer within MSU’s Shackouls Honors College who also is executive director for the Stennis Center for Public Service, contributed financial support. Pugh’s students in an honors Public Service and Civic Engagement course also collaborated with the landscape architecture students to construct several planting beds at the community garden.

Students working to install planting beds
Students working to install planting beds for a community garden at Starkville’s J.L. King Center. (Photo submitted)

Li said following the projects, she was “deeply moved and inspired to create a more permanent sign for the community garden.” She asked her daughter Angelina to help draft a drawing that would appeal to children, and then submitted the artwork to the center’s board of directors for approval.

Steven Bailey, a master’s student in landscape architecture who also is the manager of MSU’s Idea Shop in downtown Starkville, helped Li with the practical process of creating a sign that would be both inspiring and durable. Assistant Professor Caroline Hatfield from the art department provided technical guidance.

“We firmly believe the community garden will have a profound impact on all the children at the King Center and in the community,” Li said. “It will teach them the fundamentals of growing, nurturing and harvesting fresh produce, as well as educate them about the importance of healthy eating, especially in light of the rising rates of childhood obesity in Mississippi. Wyatt continues to serve as an inspiration to all of us, and we strive to create an environment where the young generation can flourish and grow.”

Li said that despite limited funding, the landscape architecture department is committed to supporting the gradual development of the garden.

“Our next objective is to assist with fundraising efforts and the construction of a tool shed for the garden,” she said.

Learn more about MSU’s Department of Landscape Architecture at .

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