Day 1: Sustainable Gardens for Sustainable Communities

Meredith DeLeeuw has created her own #VolunteerOdyssey in order to get to know Memphis better and give back to her new community. She’ll be volunteering with 8 nonprofits and sharing her experience through her blog. 

On Day 1 she volunteered with Memphis Tilth. Check out her story below!


I started out my week of volunteering, outside on a perfect, sunny summer day. I was so excited to get my hands dirty and do some gardening for Memphis Tilth. Memphis Tilth is a relatively new non-profit organization that combined multiple local initiatives whose missions all included creating a sustainable and environmentally sound local food system. I volunteered for Grow Memphis, one of the initiatives now housed within Memphis Tilth. Their mission is to help communities build gardens and give residents access to locally grown food. So far, Grow Memphis has helped start over 55 community gardens around the Memphis area. I met up with Jennifer, the lead gardener for the St. Paul’s Garden, and she gave me a quick tour of Memphis Tilth’s headquarters and the garden. The garden only started last August from a vacant lot, that once stood houses and a butcher shop, but now it is a thriving community of its own.  It houses almost every type of produce you could ever dream of. Okra, blackberries, squash, strawberries, zucchini, pumpkins, watermelons, beets, garlic, sweet potatoes, stevia, all kinds of herbs, and more!

The first thing I noticed was how everyone in the neighborhood stopped and greeted us with a good morning or a wave. Within minutes you could see the impact the gardens have already had on the community. After my tour, we got to business weeding some of the raised beds and in ground bed. Next, we planted garlic, sunflowers, wildflowers, radishes, and beets. The gardens are starting to wind down from the summer crop and so they are planting more squash, radishes, garlic, and more fall type produce. All of this produce goes to the local communities to give everyone access to fresh, local, and sustainable food. They even have worm beds where the small, red worms work on composting food scraps from the kitchens at Memphis Tilth. Just a small handful of this by product is all the fertilizer the plants need in the gardens. So cool!

Along with producing food for the community and for other Memphis Tilth initiatives, the garden staff teach classes to people who want to learn how to garden. These classes are a wonderful way to learn about sustainable gardening from beginner to pro. They are even teaching people how to make a new kind of sweet tea, one with stevia leaves instead of sugar. I had never tasted an actual stevia leaf, but oh man, do yourself a favor and grow some. It is so delicious and great in tea!

The garden also collects seeds from all the produce they plant. They then package these seeds and use them to plant their next round of crops or give them to other communities to start gardens with. Grow Memphis even started a “seed library” at the Memphis Public Library where you can go check out seeds to grow at home. After you harvest all your food, you then collect your seeds and give them back to library for someone else to use. What an ingenious idea! Memphis Tilth is currently looking for a seed intern to help them collect seeds around community gardens and catalog those seeds in the library. This would be a great internship for someone looking to learn more about sustainable farming and sustainable policy. If interested, you can apply on Volunteer Odyssey’s website or send a resume to with the email subject labeled “Seed Saving Internship”.

Overall, I had the most amazing day with Jennifer and Memphis Tilth! I cannot thank them enough for allowing me the chance to work with my hands and plant some food that will hopefully grow and help feed my new community. They always need volunteers in the garden as well as in their kitchens preparing bags of fresh produce for families in need, hospitals, and other local Memphians. I know I will be back soon!

As always, support your local farmers and community gardens!

If you’d like to volunteer at Memphis Tilth like Meredith, visit



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