Fighting blight with food: Farmers collective gets kickstarted in North Memphis

The North Memphis Farmers Collective was just a seed of an idea for many years before an assembly of supporters gave it the resources to bloom.  Now the group is expanding their work, taking on more blighted properties and equipping North Memphis residents to grow healthy, local food themselves. 
Local urban farmer Adam Guerrero wanted to start something like the North Memphis Farmers Collective (NMFC) back in 2007. At the time, he was cutting his teeth in a community garden operated by Mary Norman. It was in Ms. Norman’s garden where Guerrero learned essential skills like how to build soil, construct raised-beds, and nurture crops. It was also there that he met Nathaniel Davis, a like-minded individual running his own growing operation called Ronin Leo Organics in the neighborhood.   

“I was trying to get something going with Nathaniel,” says Guerrero.  “It didn't work out, but it never left my mind.” 

Eventually Guerrero struck out on his own with a large-scale gardening project on his home property located just off of Jackson near Memphis National Cemetery.  There he gained a measure of local fame (or perhaps more accurately, notoriety) in 2011, when city code enforcement ordered him to cease most of his gardening efforts. The case eventually found its way before a judge, who in the end upheld many of the citations.  But the story was picked up by numerous local and national media outlets, including the Washington Post, creating a windfall of publicity for Guerrero and the local urban farming movement.

“I was surprised by all the attention. My natural inclination is to shy away from the spotlight,” he says. “I have to admit that media and public awareness are powerful tools.”

After realizing that his home gardening efforts were no longer viable, Guerrero set about acquiring pieces of property off of North Hollywood, looking for blighted and/or abandoned lots that could easily be converted into urban farms. In 2012, he created Smart Mule, the business name for his farming efforts. Currently Smart Mule grows on eight separate lots in the North Memphis area, where Guerrero and his partner Stephanie Diane Ford produce a wide range of crops including tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers, muscadine grapes, and collard greens.

After being introduced to other North Memphis residents interested in urban farming, Guerrero decided to partner with other neighborhood farms to form a collective.

“As time went on, I realized that I would need help to take on common tasks, like large scale composting to feed soil,” says Guerrero. “I also wanted to expand into offering CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) shares and felt that with partners we could offer up the best CSA in the area as we not only deal with fresh produce, but high quality value-added items from that produce, such as homemade pickles and soap.”
Adam Guerrero and the North Memphis Farmers Collective transform blighted properties into urban gardens
Dubbing themselves the North Memphis Farmers Collective, the group began chipping in on a shared booth space in the weekly Cooper-Young Farmers’ Market and sharing resources such as seeds, composting materials, and contacts. The NMFC also launched a successful Kickstarter campaign in July that raised over $11,000 that will be used for the purchase of a tractor, a truck for hauling materials, and other heavy equipment and tools.

One of the most rewarding parts of the fundraising campaign was seeing the number of supporters and knowing that their base of support was wide-ranging across the city.

Aside from the obvious agricultural mission, the members of the NMFC also share a common interest in community engagement and involvement.  One of the group’s principle goals is to encourage its neighbors to see the value, both economic and nutritional, in urban farming.  With that ideal in mind, the farms maintain a virtual open-door policy – anyone is invited to stop by and see the literal fruits of their labor. Members also routinely give away seeds, plants, supplies, and even produce to interested people in the area.

“If someone walks by my garden and says ‘I wish I had a tomato like that,’ I just give it to them,” says Davis.  “All you have to do is ask. It’s here for the taking.”





Read more articles by J.D. Reager.

J.D. Reager is a musician and freelance writer from Memphis, TN.  His second solo album, It's Dangerous to Go Alone! Take This, was released in 2014.  He lives in Midtown with his beautiful wife and two cats.
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