Walk along the gently curving path in Clymer Park and, along with the public art, you’ll see two dozen carefully tended fruit and nut trees.
They’re there courtesy of a devoted group of Gulfport Food Forest volunteers who are planting trees throughout the city in hopes of providing fruit to anyone who wants it free for the picking.
The growing saplings in Clymer Park include star fruit, pomegranate, egg fruit, papaya, miracle fruit, peach, avocado, Brazil cherry, sugar apple and Barbados cherry, among others. A few trees have access to reclaimed city water, but most have to be watered by hand by volunteers carrying heavy buckets from a rain barrel on a private property nearby.
Crea Egan, who has been working on the food forest project for about five years, said of her initial goal of 100, almost 70 fruit trees have been planted around Gulfport. Groups of plants that do well together have also been planted in Clymer Park, like an arrangement of edible plants that includes sugar cane, pigeon peas, cosmos and milkweed (for the butterflies).
Explaining the group’s goals in a news release, Egan said: “By planting these trees, along with understory and ground covers, volunteer food foresters in absolute cooperation with the City Parks and Recreation Department, the Mayor and City Manager have created a legacy of welfare for future generations by providing food while abiding the core ethics of Permaculture.”
There have been a few casualties along the way, including beautyberries recently damaged at Clymer Park, a mulberry accidentally mowed down at Scout Hall and an eight-foot tall mango tree knocked down at Veterans Park.
Overall, however, Egan, a St. Petersburg native and graduate of the University of Florida’s landscape architecture program, is pleased with the progress.
“Look at this!” she exclaimed Tuesday, November 17, gesturing widely as she surveyed Clymer Park. “Isn’t it beautiful? … The art and the understory make for a really pleasant walking experience.”
And she’s delighted that residents along the Clymer Park corridor have started caring for the trees and taking pride in their progress.
She recalled a recent instance when she was weeding and a recently arrived snowbird who didn’t know her was worried that she might be hurting the trees.
“One woman came out like the police,” Egan said. “She asked, ‘Who are you? What are you doing?’”
The group held its first fundraising jamboree Friday, November 13 at the Gulfport Casino to raise money for the food forest. It also welcomes contributions from the public. Priorities include professional signage for the fruit trees and plants, and a golf cart or two wagons to carry large amounts of water.
“This could be something really magical and a wonderful destination down the road,” Eagan said of the Clymer Park food forest corridor.
For more information contact Crea Egan at 727-560-0608 or firstname.lastname@example.org, or visit the group on Facebook.