Giving Back: Big Green Memphis

Giving Back: Big Green Memphis

The mission of Big Green Memphis is to build a healthy future for the community’s children through Learning Gardens at schools across the city. Learning Gardens teach students where food comes from and why it’s important, not only for their body and wellbeing but also for a healthier lifestyle.


Big Green Memphis brings gardens to schools that apply for them in Shelby County Schools, Jubilee Schools and the Achievement School District. There are three criteria for a school to receive a garden: submit an application, have the physical space for a garden and have a garden team. Once a school applies and is accepted, Big Green Memphis provides the seeds, soil and everything else necessary for a successful garden. That even includes the manpower to actually create the garden. The schools provide the students and staff who work to make the garden a success.


Big Green is a national nonprofit organization based in Boulder, Colorado, with locations in various cities across the U.S. Its ultimate goal is to build Learning Gardens in every school across the country, an effort that would bring real food to millions of students. An evaluation found that students who have participated in Learning Garden activities were significantly more likely to choose vegetables and fruits when asked what foods should fill their plates. In addition to an increasing preference for fruits and vegetables, students also gain access to more real food in schools.


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Big Green Memphis’ original goal when it expanded to the Bluff City in January 2015 was to eventually grow to 100 school gardens. As the organization enters the midway point of the 2018-2019 school year, it plans to launch gardens that will get it to 128 by the time classes conclude in May. “When we started, we weren’t sure we’d reach our goal of 100 learning gardens, but we have applications flying in all the time and it’s amazing,” said Lisa Heros Ellis, Regional Director.


When a school decides to apply, the organization is there to answer any questions. It visits the school to analyze the space. The gardens are then built using molded recycled plastic to create raised beds that are all Americans with Disabilities Act accessible. The gardens all sit close to the school building, whether just outside the front door or the back. Schools aren’t told what to do with the harvested produce. “We encourage different ideas but we don’t tell them what to do because every school is different,” Lisa said. The produce might be used for classroom tastings or sent home with the students. “We prefer it’s eaten in the neighborhood where it’s grown.”


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Fundraising efforts are important to make the gardens a reality. Funds are needed for the initial costs to build the garden, as well as the continuous costs associated with providing seeds and soil for these outdoor classrooms. That’s one important way the Memphis community can help Big Green’s goal to add Learning Gardens to more schools in the area. Individual, organization and corporate donations are all welcome, no matter the size. Donors also can support specific schools. For more information about donating, go to

Memphis Partners

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