Empty Lots Come to Life In Memphis

Memphis, TN – Life in the inner city isn't easy. It conjures up images of poverty, blight, and crime. But there's much more. Candice Ludlow explores how an initiative called Grow Memphis is helping people help themselves, by growing fruits and vegetables on inner city plots.

The Mid-South Peace and Justice Center has teamed up with neighborhoods throughout Memphis to build community gardens. The idea is simple. Find a plot of land, neighbors and start a garden.

Grow Memphis coordinator Lovell Pratcher, while standing a converted vacant lot in Orange Mound, says economic opportunity and healthy living can come out of the initiative.

So far, there are five gardens in the city - North MidTown, Binghamton, Beltline, St. Augustine and Orange Mound. Each are managed by the community.

The North MidTown garden began in Mary Norman's yard and has morphed into a full city lot filled with fruits, vegetables and flowers. The Mid-South Peace and Justice Center decided to help out by bringing in more labor. They've partnered with many groups: Memphis Challenge, Memphis youth summer employment program, university youth groups and schools to facilitate the growth of the gardens.

Another garden is located in Orange Mound. It was transformed this year from a weedy, litter-strewn vacant lot filled with tires and broken bottles into a fenced-in, row garden on the corner of Hamilton and Douglas.

Pratcher, a native Memphian took the job last spring to build community and economic development around the gardens. He says his love for organic farming began when he was stationed in Italy. But he learned about giving back to the community when he was a child from his grandfather, who had a community garden.

Once Pratcher took over, he didn't have to look hard to find a few willing teens to work the gardens for the summer. Two were from Orange Mound.

Fifteen-year-old Montreal helps with all aspects of the Orange Mound community garden, including sales at the Botanic Garden farmers market on Wednesdays. He says the garden provides refuge for him and his two 11-year-old cousins.

He was hired after he started helping out in the garden as a volunteer.

You harvest what you grow. Most of all, it's fun, Montreal said. It also keeps him away from trouble.

Working in the garden has changed Montreal's eating habits, so much that he's decided to spend his pay on blueberry bushes. His favorite is the jalapeno pepper.

Still, Grow Memphis has its challenges. Keeping a community garden coordinator. A month ago, Josephine Williams took over Pratcher's post, so she's now the one supervising the youth and helping manage the gardens. Finding suitable soil is also an issue, due to lead poisoning. Another issue, says Williams are the nightcrawlers, those who take from the garden without contributing.

Drive or walk around Memphis, and you will see vacant lots. Maybe you want to start a community garden. If so, contact Josephine Williams at the Mid-South Peace and Justice Center at josephine@midsouthpeace.org or (901) 725-4990. To see photos and learn more about the gardens, visit www.midsouthpeace.org/GrowMemphis/Home.html