Mission Memphis Day 17: GrowMemphis

The Experience

For me, this has been the week of South Memphis. My adventure with GrowMemphis took me to the corner of Douglass and Hamilton, which is firmly in Orange Mound. I have never intentionally been to Orange Mound except to pass through and I most certainly have never gotten out of my car. Prior to the event, I talked with their Volunteer Coordinator, Zoe Chertov and always appreciated how quickly she got back to me. She said we’d be working in a group at the site and not to worry!

Bradley Heil, Chris Peterson, Elaine Fath, Hayley Milliman, Zoe Chertov, Laura Brown, Paul Yacoubian at GrowMemphis

I’ve got to admit, I was a nervous on my drive there – I passed a lot of dilapidated buildings and felt like everyone was starring at me on my way through. But sometimes the fear of the unknown is only what scares you. That nervousness eased when I got to the garden and saw several volunteers at work in the garden with the GrowMemphis team.

We spruced up the compost bins and used the fresh soil to fill the new raised flowed beds constructed along the fence.

Constructing raised beds at GrowMemphis

While we were working I talked with Director Chis Peterson about the role of GrowMemphis and why their work is important. He talked about the problem of food deserts – those areas where grocery stores are sparse and produce is hard to come by. He also told me that there are now more people in the world who are obese and malnourished than malnourished and emaciated. One of their goals is to provide access to healthy food like tomatoes, strawberries, herbs so that those in the community have pick fresh fruits and vegetables in the garden. They’re also trying to encourage community cooperation and revitalization. The idea is that by taking over a blighted lot and turning it into a garden that they will encourage others in the neighborhood to care more carefully and take more pride in their own property. In theory, this approach creates a type of domino effect.

As if on cue, three kids from the neighborhood showed up to help. The older brother, Mike was 9 and loved poking holes in the cardboard lining the flower beds. His young sister took pride in showing off her strength and actually helped us move cinder blocks and build the bed walls. Their youngest sister (about 2) was more likely the smiley mascot and was mostly just content to spin around in circles and entertain us as we worked. I looked around the neighborhood and noticed that there seemed to be a lot of stray dogs. I’ve always heard that there are problems with stray animals, but honestly, you rarely see them in the “nice” parts of town. I glanced further down the street and noticed that there were some teenagers talking loudly and shoving one another. I found myself wondering about the three children working in the garden with us and would they would be doing if we weren’t there. What is a typical day in that neighborhood for them?

As the morning warmed up, the foot traffic along the end of the garden increased too. Some people ignored us and some watched closely while we working. There was one other person who came to the garden and spoke with the GrowMemphis team for a few minutes. It was clear that the neighborhood was taking an interest in the project.

If you like gardening, the outdoors or community building, this is a great opportunity for you. The GrowMemphis team is friendly and enthusiastic and they draw talented and enthusiastic volunteers. While there, I met Hayley Milliman and Elaine Fath – both in Memphis thanks to Teach for America. I asked how they were liking Memphis and both described a sense of growing momentum. Hayley even told me that Memphis moved to the top of her list of places to return after her time with Teach for America.

After a couple hours, I ducked out just before the bid delivery of manure was to arrive (have to save something for next time!). I’m looking forward to checking in on the garden and the neighborhood to see how the presence of a fresh fruits and vegetables impacts the community over time.

How to Help

Volunteer! Contact Chris Peterson chris@growmemphis.org to learn more about the short term and long-going volunteer opportunities with GrowMemphis.

Donate! GrowMemphis is a 501(c)3 and has multiple suggested donors levels.

Talk Food Policy. If you want to have an impact on Food Policy in Memphis contact Chris Peterson chris@growmemphis.org

GrowMemphis logoIf you’re thinking about volunteering with this organization or in general, but aren’t quite ready to jump in, email me at sarah.petschonek@gmail.com. Thinking about helping is the first step!


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