Gardens Fighting Deserts

The dilemma of improving nutrition in the United States is not answered by simply educating people on what to eat. Many people may already know what they should be eating.  We have all heard the recommendations for fresh fruits and vegetables.  The current Choose My Plate initiative from the USDA suggests half of your plate be made up of fruits and vegetables (  Unfortunately, not everyone has access to these nutritious foods, including essential fruits and vegetables.  Much of the United States is covered with what is known as food deserts.

The USDA defines food deserts as:

“. . .urban neighborhoods and rural towns without ready access to fresh, healthy, and affordable food. Instead of supermarkets and grocery stores, these communities may have no food access or are served only by fast food restaurants and convenience stores that offer few healthy, affordable food options.”

Pay particularly close attention to Memphis, TN on this map of US food deserts:

News One, among other sources, also ranked Memphis as being the fourth worst food desert in America (

Luckily there are several resources developing right here in Memphis to help increase people’s access to fresh fruits and vegetables, including economically marginalized populations.  Memphis has a plethora of urban and community garden initiatives:

One of the urban gardens projects I would like to highlight is a non-profit organization called GrowMemphis.  Their goal is to eventually provide every Memphian with fresh healthy foods by encouraging small scale/urban farming, and empowering residents who are impacted negatively by the current state of the local food system.  GrowMemphis built and oversees more than 30 gardens throughout the city in collaboration with community members.  They strongly believe food systems should be:

  • Local
  • Healthy
  • Economically Viable
  • Sustainable
  • Just


They have also created an interactive map to show the food landscape of Memphis including farms, gardens, nutrition education sources, farmer’s markets, and locations to access information on local regional, and national food policies.  It is also a great way to make connections with other people driven towards the same food goals.  The map is set up as community-sourced, so anyone can make contributions:

How to connect to GrowMemphis:

We also have a community garden much closer to home!  University of Memphis has sponsored an on campus gardening program through TIGUrS, Tiger Blue Goes Green initiative, in collaboration with Project Green Fork (  The gardens on campus use reclaimed biodegradable materials to grow entirely organic foods.   Goals for the gardens are:

  • To provide an example of an alternative food system
  • Beneficial partnerships with local businesses
  • Educating children and visitors on the environment and food systems
  • Low-impact exercise,
  • Source of nutritious food
  • Sense of community for students

Primary food gardens are located and next to the Fieldhouse, R.P. Tracks, and the School of Urban Affairs and Public Policy (SUAPP).


Find out more about the campus gardens at:


Several farmers markets have also become available in the Memphis area as a source of accessible and nutritious food:

Some farmers markets are starting to recognize the SNAP program, Double Green$.  For every dollar spent at participating farmers markets (Cooper-Young Community Farmers Market, South Memphis Farmers Market, and Urban Farms Market), the dollar is matched up to a total of $10 spent.  This can provide low income families with up to $20 worth of fresh fruits and veggies.

There are many ways in which you can get involved to help support sustainable modifications to our local food systems.  Gardening programs have positions including project internships, food growing and preparation educators, and gardening volunteers.  The campus garden is always looking for volunteers! There are also donation systems such as Kroger Grocery Store’s Community Rewards Program, in which they match part of their shopper’s purchases to be donated to support GrowMemphis.  Finally, you can spread awareness of the issue of food deserts and these great programs trying to bring an end to them.

Author: Kendra Vaughn