Giving Back: Memphis Tilth

Giving Back: Memphis Tilth

The mission of Memphis Tilth is to cultivate collective action for an economically sustainable, socially equitable and environmentally sound local food system. Memphis Tilth started in 2015 and over the next couple of years saw GrowMemphis, Urban Farms Memphis and Bring It Food Hub dissolve as independent organizations to join Memphis Tilth as programs. While the organizations individually had strong missions to pursue, the idea was they could do much more working together. 

“We’re all doing this work, so why don’t we come together as one organization and make a huge impact and build on each other’s strengths and fill in the gaps,” said Carole Colter, executive director of Memphis Tilth. “We can make more headway as one organization.”

Memphis Tilth partners with other community organizations and leaders to improve food system change. It is modeled on Seattle Tilth and other similar organizations across the Pacific Northwest. Memphis Tilth has three focus areas for its programs: Grow Local, Cook Together and Farm Direct. 

Under Grow Local is GrowMemphis Community Garden Program, which helps neighborhoods create gardens that improve access to locally grown produce. The program has a network of more than 50 gardens spread across 15 ZIP codes in Memphis. It provides start-up funding and training to residents who want to create a garden. It also provides a seed library located at the Benjamin L. Hooks Central Library that preserves seeds best suited for the Memphis area. It also includes a garden that provides produce to St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital.

In January, Memphis Tilth began a relationship with Alpha Omega Veterans Services to build an urban farm and garden project located at its veterans housing facility in South Memphis. The farm and garden is a resource for both education and therapy that connects Alpha Omega’s veterans to the land. “Urban agriculture has healing abilities,” Colter said. “There also are job skills and training and an economic development aspect. This work helps veterans increase in all of those ways while also helping in their health and well-being.”

Cook Together covers an education program that includes a community kitchen that has programs focused on promoting culinary education, shared meal preparation and value-added production. The Community Kitchen Class at Memphis Tilth headquarters is in partnership with Advance Memphis, which focuses on providing opportunities in the 38126 ZIP code in South Memphis.

Memphis Tilth also oversees the Food Access and Affordability Program through the AARP Fresh Savings project. SNAP recipients who use their SNAP EBT cards at farmers markets have their purchases doubled up to $20 per transaction, providing even more opportunities to access locally grown produce.

Finally, Farm Direct includes the Bring It Food Hub, which has a mission to promote community development in Memphis and the Mid-South by increasing access to healthy, affordable local foods and strengthening farmer livelihoods. The program works with regional farmers who follow sustainable production practices that conserve natural resources and biodiversity. The program sells produce to individuals, congregations, restaurants and other organizations.

A Memphis Tilth membership will launch soon, and there are a number of volunteer opportunities, many of which are listed on the organization’s website. For more information about ways to volunteer or how to donate, visit memphistilth.org.

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