Community Gardens Aiding Community Needs

Smell, Taste, and Food Insecurity

The development of smell and taste are key to developing healthy nutrition habits in young children. Proper nutrition, in turn, is vital to early brain development. For a child's brain to develop normally, a blend of vitamins and nutrients is required. A lack of particular nutrients, like iron or iodine, can cause serious and lasting harm to cognitive and motor development.1,2 The effect of most nutrient shortages depends on the extent and duration of the shortage. In many cases, the brain's need for a particular nutrient changes throughout its development. Early shortages can reduce cell production while later shortages can affect cell size and complexity. Nutrient deficits also affect the complex chemical processes of the brain and can lead to less efficient communication between brain cells. Simply put, early nutrition is critical.

Early nutrition is a troubling issue in Memphis, which was recently singled out as the most food insecure city in the nation by the nonpartisan Food Research Action Center.3 Additionally, there are numerous "food deserts" across our city - areas where residents have little if any access to fresh and nutritious, let alone affordable, foods (Click here to view the USDA Food Desert Locator.)

Food insecurity is not the same as hunger. Food-insecure families are often able to avoid hunger by choosing cheaper, more filling types of food over more costly nutritious foods. In food insecure families, parents try to keep their young children from feeling hungry by providing diets that are filling, even though they are nutritionally inadequate for optimal growth and development.4

Food insecurity leads to nutrient deficiencies that cause learning and development problems, especially among infants and toddlers. Long-term effects include low achievement in school, emotional problems, and poor health.5,6,7 Paradoxically, children who experience food insecurity also have a higher chance to become overweight. (Locally, the Neighborhood Christian Center, along with other local partners, sponsor the "Being Fit Forever" initiative which aims at fighting childhood obesity.) Again, parents facing a shortage of food are more likely to provide their children cheaper, calorie-heavy foods. Moreover, families may develop a tendency to overeat during periods when food is plentiful.3,6

A recent report8,9 found that, compared to their peers in food-secure families, food-insecure children under age 3 are:

  • 90 percent more likely to be in poor health
  • 31 percent more likely to spend time in the hospital
  • 76 percent more likely to have problems in cognitive, language, and behavioral development

In short, the socioeconomic backgrounds of many Memphians jeopardize their ability to count on a regular, healthy diet. However, through the leadership from community leaders, public administrators, and local policymakers, a solution to the nutrition dilemma may have surfaced. Part of an answer to food insecurity may be found in local community gardens.


The nutrition revolution started in 2007 with the creation of a local community organization named GrowMemphis. GrowMemphis in an intergenerational program, connecting the knowledge and experience of older gardeners with the energy and enthusiasm of the younger generation. These community gardens proved to be a great success. One of the results of these gardens, though, was an increase in the abundance of healthy food in low-income neighborhoods. GrowMemphis responded by creating 20 additional local community gardens throughout the Memphis area in order to provide healthy food to various low-income areas.

The community gardens not only provided nutritious food to high-demand areas, but also increased the demand for fresh produce in these same neighborhoods. In response, GrowMemphis successfully lobbied to have food stamps to be accepted at double-value rates at local farmers' markets. Now families in Memphis who rely on food stamps have much greater access to fresh produce.

Geraci's "Farm-To-Fork" Campaign

The success of local community gardens does not stop with GrowMemphis. Memphis City Schools recently made nutrition a new top priority. In 2010, Memphis City Schools received the Silent Hero Grant from the "Got Breakfast?" foundation for their efforts to emphasize the importance of a nutritional breakfast. Through this grant, Memphis City Schools now provides breakfast free of charge to all students, five days a week.

This fall, Memphis City Schools hired Tony Geraci as the new Director of Nutrition Services. Geraci, a nationally known nutritionist, promised a healthier nutritional environment within the school system. One of Geraci's signature programs is known as "Farm-to-Fork." Through this program, local farms are enlisted as suppliers to the school lunch program. Already, Grahamwood, Campus and Peabody elementary schools have installed school gardens. Geraci emphasizes the importance of student involvement within the agricultural process. Including students in the process is a great way to see that the next generation understands the value of a healthy diet.

Tennessee Legislation

According to Geraci, one of the advantages of Memphis over Baltimore, Geraci's previous city, is the vast availability of fertile, fresh land. State policymakers from Memphis, Tennessee House Representative G.A. Hardaway and Tennessee State Senator Reginald Tate, recognize the availability of land and understand the impact that local community gardens in the Memphis area. Thus, these policymakers recently introduced bills to the Tennessee General Assembly that, if passed, enable municipal and county governments to convey property to nonprofits for the purpose of cultivating gardens. In other words, if these bills pass, nonprofit organizations like GrowMemphis could receive countless lots of fertile land to further create community gardens to guarantee food security throughout Memphis and beyond.


DeLong RG. Effects of nutrition on brain development in humans. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. 1993; 57: 286S-290S.

Innis SM. Dietary (n-3) fatty acids and brain development. Journal of Nutrition. 2007; 137: 855–859.

Food Research and Action Center. Food hardship: A Closer Look at Hunger in the United States.(2010, January). Available at:

Cook JT, Frank DA. Food security, poverty, and human development in the United States. Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences. 2008; 1136: 193-209.

Park K, Kersey M, Geppert J, et al. Household food insecurity is a risk factor for iron-deficiency anaemia in a multi-ethnic, low-income sample of infants and toddlers. Public Health Nutrition. 2009; 12: 2120-2128.

Rosales FJ, Reznick JS, Zeisel SH. Understanding the role of nutrition in the brain and behavioral development of toddlers and preschool children: identifying and addressing methodological barriers.Nutritional Neuroscience. 2009; 12(5): 190–202.

Wight VR, Thampi K, Briggs J. Who are America’s poor children? Examining food insecurity among children in the United States. National Center for Children in Poverty. 2010. Available at: Accessed March 1, 2011.

Rose-Jacobs R., Black MM, Casey PH, et al. Household food insecurity: associations with at-risk infant and toddler development. Pediatrics. 2008; 121: 65-72.

Hager ER, Quigg AM, Black MM, et al. Development and validity of a 2-item screen to identify families at risk for food insecurity. Pediatrics. 2010; 126: 26-32.