This article was originally published in The Memphis Flyer in 2015.
The growth of a garden takes more than seeds, water, and dirt. It has to be cultivated, cared for, and protected. Some plants may need to be trimmed, while others need some extra room to flourish. The comparison of a garden to a school isn’t one that’s far off. If you look at students like flowers in a bed, you could say the ones at Treadwell Middle School could end up in a bouquet.
The school’s use of urban gardening as a learning tool and outreach program opened the door for Ann Bartuska, the deputy undersecretary for the Department of Agriculture’s research, education, and economics programs. She is also part of a task force to promote and advance urban gardening, one of the reasons for her visit to Memphis urban farms like the Green Thumbs 4H Garden Club’s handiwork at Treadwell.
Daniel DeShon, a special education teacher, started the gardening club over two years ago. His efforts to get more nutrition in the school continue past the club itself. He applied for a grant to install a salad bar in the cafeteria — one that would be filled with the bounties of the community garden right outside in the courtyard.
Both the 4H and garden clubs are intertwined when it comes to the garden at Treadwell. DeShon, who is also the adviser to the 4H Club, was a horticulturist for 30 years. Brandasia Gooch, the president of the club, loves working in the garden. (Her favorites are the strawberries and grapes.)
“I love to garden,” she said. “My auntie loves to garden, too. I love to practice in her yard. I just love it.”
The 4H and gardening clubs promote parental involvement. Felisha Williams, Gooch’s mother, was a member of a 4H Club when she was younger.
“I want her to go farther than I did, and I want her children to go farther than she did,” Williams said.
Nonprofits like the Kitchen Community have stepped in to help Treadwell with the community garden. The nonprofit placed raised garden beds and benches for students to sit in order to create a complete outdoor educational environment, complete with plants. The garden has received grants from Lowe’s and Memphis City Beautiful to improve the garden, and it continues to grow.
“It was very obvious that kids needed something else besides just sitting in the classroom,” DeShon said. “At the first project we had, six kids showed up. When we have a project now, we have as many as 80 kids show up. It became quickly obvious when we started working outside on Saturdays, kids would start pouring out of houses from the neighborhood into where we were working. They really wanted something to do. They were looking for something to do besides sit inside and play video games.”
After Treadwell High School closed, those within the community were hard-pressed to find somewhere to go. The place that had been a community hub was lost; now, instead of watching basketball and football games together on Friday nights, residents of the neighborhood are building up the community garden at Treadwell for everyone to enjoy.
“This is the power of community gardens,” Bartuska said. “It becomes a gathering place.”