Tag Archives: north memphis

Awesome Project: Seeds of Hope — GrowMemphis and the New Garden Campaign

It was the start of 2013 in Memphis, Tennessee, when GrowMemphis, a non-profit that supports a local network of community gardens, was ready to cultivate their first batch of seedlings. Their greenhouse, equipped with electronic temperature controls, is designed to create the perfect conditions for budding vegetable plants. But no matter what they tried, their pepper seeds would not sprout. Just when they feared they might lose their baby pepper plants, a local gardener and volunteer at the organization named Nathaniel (who asked that we not use his full name) from North Memphis, suggested trying something different. He took the seedlings home to his own personal garden where he re-planted them in anything he could find—the bottoms of cut-up soda bottles and plastic bags, anything. Lo and behold, the seeds began to sprout.



This is the spirit of GrowMemphis. Born as a project of the Mid-South Center for Peace and Justice in 2007, the initiative’s mission focuses on growing a sustainable local food system through community empowerment. GrowMemphis provides aspiring leaders with the skills, resources and training necessary to run their own successful neighborhood garden projects. Through a recent partnership with ioby, GrowMemphis raised $2,583 for the New Garden Campaign, an initiative to build one new garden in the future. Each year, through both the addition of new and existing gardens, the organization brings together projects focused on a wide range of social issues, such as community health and economic empowerment. Chris Peterson, GrowMemphis’s executive director explained that, through an ever-expanding network, the organization is always benefitting from a broadening knowledge base. Since its beginning in 2007 with just three gardens, GrowMemphis celebrated a total of thirty gardens at the end of 2013, and is looking to reach a new total of forty by the end of this year.

The implications of this extraordinary achievement go beyond the success of the organization itself. In 2010, a survey conducted by the Gallup Organization named Memphis the hungriest city in America, with an astonishing 26% of the metropolitan area’s population reporting insecurity about where their next meal would come from. Emily Holmes, a board member at GrowMemphis and a professor at Christian Brothers University who teaches a course on food issues, explained that the city has a number of food deserts, defined by the USDA as areas where people don’t have access to fresh food or grocery stores with healthy, affordable options. In addition, she described health issues including diabetes and obesity, with rates of prevalence increasing in younger members of the population.


“One thing that community gardens do is provide a source in the neighborhood for fresh produce that people can grow themselves and have available to them immediately,” Holmes said. Additionally, in a city that suffers from urban blight, vacant, neglected properties and absentee landlords, “community gardens can help to beautify neighborhoods. They provide a sign of hope, of something living and growing, and they provide a community gathering place…where people can learn how to work together and advocate for themselves and their own needs.”

GrowMemphis is working diligently to create this type of environment. Just this year, an experienced garden leader teamed up with Homeless Organizing for Power and Equality (HOPE), a group of formerly or presently homeless individuals, to create a community garden. Not only does this space allow the people of HOPE to produce food for themselves, it brings them into the community by providing a place where they can interact and work with those individuals who do have homes. “We want our network to be as diverse as possible,” Chris said. Gardening “gives people something in common that they might not otherwise have.”

Whether they are planning a monthly garden meetings that bring together garden leaders from all sorts of backgrounds, or hosting fundraising parties like the one Emily Holmes hosted with her husband to raise money for the New Garden Campaign, the team at GrowMemphis is breaking down barriers to food access by building strong communities dedicated to working together for a better future in Memphis.

The GrowMemphis campaign is fully funded thanks to donations by people just like you, and you can learn more about your continued support can cultivate this great work in Memphis here

Awesome Project: Carnes Garden

On November 15th, 2013 urban planner Mary Baker took the students of Carnes Elementary School out the front door, right across J.W. Williams Avenue, to an empty, rubble-filled vacant lot. It was a warm, sunny fall day, and the students’ eyes were brimming with excitement. They could not wait to get their hands on a shovel and begin moving dirt. This lot would soon become a new classroom for them, the school’s first teaching garden.


They began between the sidewalk and a tree, one of the only pieces of vegetation existing amid the rubble and overgrown grass. The students’ hands shot up to ask about the tree, which turned out to be a “Tree of Heaven”. Made famous by “A Tree Grows in Brooklyn,” Tree of Heaven is an invasive species in North America. Ecology aside, the name of the of the tree evokes reaching up, an aspiration for greatness not unlike the project’s mission to transform the lot into a beautiful garden that inspires learning and preserves the quality of public space in North Memphis, Tennessee.

The garden will serve as a place where the 289 students of Carnes Elementary, a magnet school focused on environmental science, can explore their education beyond the confines of the classroom. Through Sci-Fi Fridays, a program at Carnes that allows students to dedicate two hours every Friday to science projects, the fifth grade class has taken the lead on the garden’s initial phases, like cleaning up the lot and beginning to create planting beds. “It could change everything about how they view learning and how they incorporate it,” Mary said. “Instead of just memorizing facts, it starts to make some sense to them.”

Mary is one of the five Carnes Partners working with Carnes’s Principal, Reneta Sanders, to transform the lot into a teaching garden. For Sanders, the most inspirational aspect of working with the Carnes community has been “everybody’s desire to achieve.” Whether its parents helping their children reach a goal of reading 25 books, volunteers assisting students with their educational pursuits, or the Carnes Partners working to make the school district a beautiful place, the strength and support of the Carnes community has enabled the project to surmount many of the larger challenges facing the neighborhood and greater Memphis.

The vacant lot outside of Carnes Elementary School is representative of more than 53,000 vacant lots in Memphis that suffer from neglect. Baker explained that during the 1960s and early 1970s, two expressways were constructed, which terminated most of the local streets that formerly connected North Tennessee with adjacent communities. I-240 forms the neighborhood’s solid east boundary and I-40 runs east and west through the neighborhood. Carnes Elementary School is located just north of I-40, in a portion of the neighborhood that is only accessible by three streets.

“The vacant lots get out of control on the boundaries of the neighborhoods, and people drive down these streets and that’s all they see,” said Baker. Partners Steve Barlow and Beth Flanagan, who have been working to improve the neighborhood around Carnes Elementary School for several years, can remember the vacant home that was removed from the property outside the school. Together, Mary, Steve, and Beth, as well as partners Ray Brown and Janet Boscarino, see the school garden as a model for what can be done for the many vacant lots around Memphis. “There are a lot of different gardens that are appropriate depending on the location,” Baker explained. But one thing they will surely have in common is “showing that there are people who care about the neighborhood.”

Even on just one lot, the possibilities are endless. The Carnes Partners and the students have been thinking creatively about how they can make use of the existing conditions to construct the garden and make it beautiful. Using rubble from the site, they created a stone border to frame the property. Ray Brown, partner and architect, also came up with an idea to transform the remaining building foundation into an outdoor class space, where students can display artwork and teachers can present lessons. Incorporating these elements connects the site to the city’s history, and demonstrates how individual actors can be powerful agents of change when fueled by a strong sense of community and a deep investment in the city’s future.

And they certainly are on their way! But they need your support. By clicking here you can join the Carnes Partners and Carnes Elementary School in their important work to beautify Memphis one garden at a time.