Spring is a time of great promise, especially for gardeners. Memphis is finally green again, as we anticipate the bloom of fresh flowers and delicious veggies, ripe for the picking. Backyard gardens abound in this part of the country, but what do you do if your green thumb is without the space or soil needed to tend a garden of your own? Luckily, Memphians have leaned into the concept of community gardens, a heart-warming (and belly-filling) trend that brings local gardeners together. From the large to the small, here are three local spots community members are gathering to breathe new life into Memphis!
Shelby County Community Gardens
6265 Gardener Rd., Memphis, TN 38120
Located near Shelby Farms, Shelby County Community Gardens makes the most of a charming green space; participants enjoy truly lovely scenery as they work the soil. Shelby County Mayor Lee Harris reestablished the initiative in 2020 to provide a free space for residents to nurture healthy lifestyles and grow their own food. Around four hundred 100-by-25-foot plots offer plenty of room to grow a wide array of vegetables and flowers. Seeds, water, and lots of encouragement are included!
Overseeing the community initiative is Manager and Director Rachel Gray, a 17-year veteran of the mayor’s office. Rachel came on board in 2018 to promote and achieve the vision of an expanded and thriving community garden. When she started, the community garden had about 40 or 50 participants, with the rest of the vast area neglected and overgrown.
“We had low participation, but it was consistent,” Rachel tells us. “Some of the gardeners had been there for over 20 years, but so many people didn’t know the gardens existed. One of our first priorities was getting the word out.”
Mission accomplished: this year, registration closed with a full house! Rachel and five board members (also Community Garden participants) work hard to give newcomers guidance and encouragement – and they are ably assisted by returning gardeners.
“It’s a close-knit community,” she says. “You’ll often find groups hanging out together, sharing snacks, treats, and advice. Going forward, we hope to have planned gatherings for our gardeners and their families and friends.”
Plots are assigned to around 200 annual gardeners committed to maintaining their beds year-round. They have the first choice to return to their section each year. Returning seasonal gardeners are also given priority; the return rate is usually around 100 people, leaving 100 plots for newbies who sign up via the website.
The 2022 planting season kick-off will occur in late April, with Mayor Harris on hand to do the honors. We are excited to see the lush foliage later this summer!
University District Community Garden
3646 Carrington Rd., Memphis, TN 38111
Once a vacant lot in danger of foreclosure, today’s University District Community Garden is a model of sustainability. The sixteen 20-by-6-foot beds include three community plots, and the fresh and canned produce is sold to help cover expenses. The plots are open to all dues-paying members of the nine neighborhoods that make up the University District.
The rehabilitation of the storm-damaged lot into a vibrant and viable oasis of green took place under the championship of Tk Buchanan, University of Memphis Police Department Crime Prevention Specialist and Daily Operations Manager. Tk saw the potential of offering a permanent place to grow healthy food and a healthy community. Participants work together and stay connected, sharing ideas, advice, and recipes.
The community garden has become quite the gathering spot. “Every other Friday night from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. is happy hour,” Tk says. “It’s very family-friendly. You’ll find us talking, visiting, and sharing snacks that are in season. Right now, it’s treats that use spices grown in the garden.”
To find out more, check out the University District Garden Facebook page – it’s private but open to all who ask. The page is the hub of all activities, plus you may find a good recipe or two, helpful tips, and answers to your gardening questions.
JUICE Community Garden, Orange Mound
2363 Park Ave, Memphis, TN 38114
JUICE Orange Mound is a hip and progressive non-profit with a vision of reclaiming the self-sufficiency and prestige of Orange Mound, one of Memphis’ oldest neighborhoods. The first community in Tennessee to be built by and for the African American community, Orange Mound has a rich past and a hopeful future. JUICE aims to be a catalyst for the community by funding and supporting various projects, including a Community Garden to provide nutritious, homegrown food in a welcoming environment.
Like the University District Community Garden, the JUICE garden was once empty and blighted. Today, it is a beautiful spot that neighbors, both young and old, enjoy.
“We love the intergenerational component,” says JUICE Executive Director Britney Thornton. “Gardening brings people of all ages together like nothing else.”
The JUICE garden is a little different in that residents can plant and grow wherever they like, in both in-ground and raised beds. And the bounty is shared — community members are welcome to come by and pick what they need. Seedlings are donated through partnerships with other community groups and schools. The fruitful harvest and the delight of participants attest to the success of this JUICE project.
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