Neighborhood cleanup Q&A with Mary Baker, city planner and master gardener with The Works

High Ground: What organizations come together to plan these cleanup events?

Mary Baker: The Works had been surveying the conditions at Washington Bottoms for several months and making plans to transform it into an urban farm. In our meetings with neighbors, we heard about the blighted conditions leading to vacant buildings and an unsafe environment. Many liked the vision of an urban farm and some suggested a walking trail.

Community volunteers and organizations are working to transform blighted Washington Bottoms Park into an urban farm. (submitted)Saturday’s event began with volunteers from Bellevue Baptist Church who contacted Memphis City Beautiful looking for a community service project.

Corporate volunteers from Smith+Nephew and AT&T have helped us at several events at other locations and we believe that they will continue their support of our program.

Memphis Tilth is a part of our team and have identified the best locations for growing vegetables and fruit trees. sent a group of volunteers and helped us advertise the cleanup, attracting more volunteers from the neighborhood.

Our program is active in the Medical District, Klondike, Washington Bottoms, South Memphis, and Frayser. The Works CDC staff works on the projects with team leads and support from other staff. 

HG: What was the goal for Saturday’s cleanup event?

MB: This was our second event at Washington Bottoms. The first event was on Jan. 17, the Martin Luther King Day of Service. We had beautiful weather and a large crowd of volunteers.
Volunteers with The Works CDC work together to clear a sidewalk along Jefferson Ave. (Sarah Rushakoff)On Saturday, despite temperatures in the low- to mid-30s, we had a total of 35 volunteers turn out to help us. The goal was for citizens to work together to reverse the blight preventing the surrounding neighborhood from getting back on its feet.

Volunteers at our events have uncovered sidewalks and curbs. They have put in trees and shrubs from The Works’ native tree farm, which is located at Urban Earth nursery. This included buttonbush, beautyberry, and red mulberry—all native plants that will attract pollinators and provide food for birds.

As the weather improves this spring, I believe we will have many neighbors and other supporters who will want to come out and help. We have made a great start.

HG: What kind of support have you gotten from the City of Memphis?

MB: As we work, we are discovering public facilities that are broken or missing. Poor conditions made the property look like it was completely abandoned. Regular maintenance was impossible. We are working with the city and Memphis Light, Gas, and Water to bring the problems to their attention and arrange for repairs.

We have been very encouraged by the support from the city’s Public Works Division, who recently cleared the long-overgrown alley to accommodate a pathway to the first farm plot. And MLGW, who has been responsive in helping us establish water and clear up old infrastructure.

HG: What is your vision for Washington Bottoms Park?

MB: We envision Washington Bottoms as an urban farm in a beautiful, park-like setting. We envision nearby neighbors walking and running along Jefferson Ave. with their friends and their dogs. We envision an improved perception of the neighborhood that will support renovation of the surrounding buildings and bring residents back to the neighborhood.

Our next cleanup event will be on March 16 with volunteers from City Leadership. There is a good chance the weather will be nice and we should have a nice turnout.

We will continue to collaborate with Memphis City Beautiful and all of the other organizations to set up events to transform Washington Bottoms into a beautiful, safe, and productive urban farm.
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Read more articles by Sarah Rushakoff.

Sarah Rushakoff was raised in Memphis and is a graduate of White Station High School and the University of Memphis. She is a longtime member of Our Own Voice Theatre Troupe and works professionally as a graphic designer, writer, and photographer.