In the Soulsville area of South Memphis, tucked into a residential area, is the only certified organic farm in Memphis—Green Leaf Learning Farm.
Green Leaf hosted its first Earth Day farm tour and tasting on April 22. It featured live music, giveaways, food talks and samplings, and a walking tour of the grounds.
The nonprofit farm spans two-acres and includes: growing fields; a greenhouse; a hoop house; an orchard; and a coop and roaming room for their eight chickens.
Green Leaf is a space for youth and their families to learn about the food they eat, supplement their grocery shopping, and learn about the business of farming.
"This makes me feel really good, especially to see the outcome that we have," said South Memphis resident Domonique Phillips at the Earth Day event. "...to actually see young families out, seeing everything that's progressed with the [farm] and Knowledge Quest as a whole. That's very loving and inspiring to know we have something great going here in South Memphis."
Anyone can buy produce directly from the farm and from Green Leaf's booth at the South Memphis Farmers Market on Thursdays or Cooper Young Farmers Market on Saturdays.
"We have fresh organic vegetables year round," said volunteer Vivian Walker. "If you just come, I promise you once you eat it, you can tell the difference. It's wonderful.
Find a list of their 2021 produce and cut flower options at the bottom of this article.
The Jazz Brothers played class jazz, blues, and rock tunes at the inaugural Green Leaf Earth Day celebration. The band includes a pianist/saxophonist and vocalist who are not pictured. (Cole Bradley)
Green Leaf Learning Farm includes growing fields, an orchard, a greenhouse, a hoop house, and a coop and room to roam for their flock of eight chickens. (Cole Bradley)
is a youth-centered nonprofit with three learning centers that serve South Memphis-area families. KQ offers after-school and summer programming, as well as counseling services and family programming to encourage stronger relationships. In the pandemic, they've provided space for virtual school.
KQ is Green Leaf's parent organization and Green Leaf, in turn, aims to support KQ families. KQ's main campus is located at 590 Jennette Place adjacent to the farm.
KQ families can get most common items like peppers, okra, tomatoes, and carrots from the farm for free and can buy specialty items at a discount.
Farm Manager Theo Davies said the Earth Day event was specifically intended to help Green Leaf reconnect with KQ parents and kids.
Knowledge Quest kids check out the chicken coop on their tour of the Green Leaf Learning Farm on April 22, 2021. (Cole Bradley)
Lead Grower Cydni Moonflower led the garden tour, stopping along the way to point out different types of plants in the hoop house and fields. She answered questions about the farm's chicken flock and showed the kids how to check the nesting boxes for eggs. Davies led the discussion at the orchard and held a chicken for the kids to pet. (Cole Bradley)
Davies said families whose children are enrolled in KQ programs once had much stronger relationships with the farm, including working their own plots on the land.
Davies began managing the farm in 2016. Prior to that, Green Leaf began selling produce at farmers markets to become more self-sustaining and less reliant on grants and donations. Davies said the family beds were eventually repurposed for market crops.
It made good fiscal sense, he said, but created a disconnect between Green Leaf and KQ families.
Green Leaf gives away produce to community members and KQ families, but Davies said that unless they are picking their kids up at the Jennette Street location, parents are likely missing a connection to the farm itself.
"As we continued to increase production, we were able to provide more, but I personally felt like we weren't doing enough," said Davies. "I wanted to be able to do something on the farm that was specifically for the parents."
Farm Manager Theo Davies holds a chicken for Knowledge Quest students to pet during their tour of the Green Leaf Learning Farm on April 22, 2021. (Cole Bradley)
Hot dogs were provided by Patrice Walker with The Four Way Grill. The Four Way is a soul food legend in Memphis and is located just blocks from Green Leaf Learning Farm in the Soulsville area of South Memphis. (Cole Bradley)
On Earth Day, the kids dined on hot dogs while the grownups sampled: collard green casserole by Talbert Fleming,
co-owner of Jim and Samella's House restaurant in South Memphis; roasted carrots from Green Leaf Lead Grower Cydni Moonflower; and cornbread, purple hull peas, and fried corn from volunteer Vivian Walker.
Each chef talked through their dish with the socially-distanced crowd of KQ parents and other South Memphis community members before serving them. The discussions included ingredients and preparation notes.
Davies said the goal was to give parents an opportunity to learn about and sample a new dish that included ingredients found on the farm.
"Like they say, 'You are what you eat,'" said Walker. "I believe if these children stop eating a lot of junk food and start eating more vegetables and if the parents would introduce them to vegetables, I think that would be better. A lot of children don't even know [these foods are or] what it tastes like because they've not had it at home."
Walker is the mother of Marlon Foster, KQ's executive director, and KQ's self-described biggest fan.
Cydni Moonflower, Talbert Fleming, and Vivian Walker serve their dishes to Knowledge Quest parents. (Cole Bradley)
Moonflower's glazed carrots were roasted with salt and pepper then glazed with a sauce made of parsley, cilantro, basil, green onion, olive oil, and a splash of apple cider vinegar.
Fleming's collard green casserole was his grandmother's recipe. He told the crowd that, traditionally, this was a Monday meal. Sunday's leftover collard greens would be mixed and layered with buttermilk cornbread, peppers, onions, garlic, and cheese before baking.
Left to right: Cydni Moonflower, Talbert Fleming, and Vivian Walker. (Cole Bradley)
Domonique Phillips' family has been involved with KQ for two years.
Her daughter, Ahmynni, is in first grade and attends KQ's extended learning virtual academy. She also attended parent programming, like tai chi classes, at KQ's former Universal Parenting Place.
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"I think it's just amazing to have something that's healthy for the community and not as processed. And it also teaches the kids to value something, as well as the adults. Now I'm getting inspired by the green thumb," she said.
Domonique Phillips and her daughter, Ahmynni, attended the Green Leaf Learning Farm Earth Day event on April 22, 2021. (Cole Bradley)
KQ also owns a number of properties surrounding the two-acre farm, including the learning center, a dormitory for college students who spend time working for KQ and Green Leaf, and a recently acquired corner store.
The farm itself sits across several lots with small residential streets dividing them.
Davies said he hopes the farm will be expanding soon. They're in the process of adding a new hoop house and four new 25-square-foot beds. He said they'll need another full-time employee to manage the expansion.
"It's a great thing to be a part of something you can visually see growing. You were there when the vision was there and you can see levels of manifestation. It's amazing," said longtime KQ supporter Sharonda Walker.
Larry and Sharonda Walker (left side) had six children who attended Knowledge Quest programming and have been longtime supporters of the organization. Part of the proceeds from their Paint Yourself Clean bath kit are donated to Knowledge Quest. For the Earth Day event, business partners in South Memphis sponsored a kit giveaway, which includes an activity book and musical "So Clean" award medallion. (Cole Bradley)
Knowledge Quest Executive Director Marlon Foster (center) points to various KQ properties around the Green Leaf Learning Farm, including the dormitory for college students and a recently acquired corner store. (Cole Bradley)
Davies said they didn't do as good a job recruiting parents to the event as he'd hoped. He said they attempted to convened a committee of parents in February
to share strategies for getting other parents to the event, but it never fully materialized.
He also said this event was a first, a pilot, and they knew there would be room to grow. They also knew the pandemic would add unexpected challenges.
In the win column, the overall turn out was great while remaining pandemic-safe, half of the parents who RSVPed did show up, and everyone who attended seemed to have a good time.
"I think that the event itself went very well. I think it was met with warm reception. Everybody seemed to be very engaged," he said.
Davies said they're recommitting to forming a parent's committee. Those committee members, he said, are the experts who will develop the best strategies for recruitment. The farm staff does plan to try some new communication methods next year, like save the date cards sent home with the KQ kids.
"Having a panel of parents was actually my coworker Troy Wilken's idea. I just thought it was a really great idea," said Davies. "Who knows better about the obstacles facing a parent than parents?"
Davies said they'd like to increase the number of KQ parents who participate in their next large event, which is their annual fall festival. He said the fall festival is opened to a more general audience, but Earth Day will continue to be focused on building closer relationships with KQ families.
2021 Knowledge Quest Grow List (produce is grown seasonally)
cosmos, zinnias, sunflowers, ageratum, ammobium, Bells-of-Ireland
kale, lettuce, garlic, onions, parsnips, celery, cabbage, mustard greens, kohlrabi, Swiss chard, beets, carrots, green beans, sugar snap peas, sweet and hot peppers, eggplant, tomatoes, tomatillos, cucumbers, squash, zucchini, okra, collard greens, arugula, basil, blueberries, blackberries, muscadine, figs, pears, apples, persimmons, pawpaw