Memphis “SmartMules” win award from the National Garden Association.

Winners of the National Garden Association award, The Smart Mules themselves! Organizer Adam Guerrero with Jovantae Thomas, Shaquille Thomas, Jarvis Howard, Cortez Washington and Rodrick Daniels.

On a beautiful Saturday afternoon in Memphis, hundreds of people crowded Cleveland Street for the first time in anybody’s memory. They we’re there for MemFIX, an event designed to re-imagine the future of the long-neglected corridor. There were temporary bike lanes and pop-up shops, food vendors and musical acts, old folks and teenagers. Even Mayor A.C. Wharton was there. The Mayor spoke about the vibrancy the event created, if only for a day: it allows people to visualize what redevelopment and reinvestment can really mean. It creates real value for the neighborhood while the long, often invisible work of true reinvestment moves forward.

The Mayor was also there to present an award. During the month of October, the National Garden Association used Neighborland to identify local projects that fulfilled their vision of community development through gardening, green space, and the environment. They offered $1,000 to the project that demonstrated the greatest local impact and the deepest measure of civic engagement. By offering real support, the NGA created a place on Neighborland where ideas of all stages—up-start efforts, existing projects, and plans on paper–we’re collected, and the people involved could connect. Of the many tremendous ideas, it was clear which inspiring project would have the biggest impact with the $1,000 grant.

Memphis Mayor A.C. Wharton presents the Smart Mules with their award from the National Garden Association at MemFIX: Cleveland Street!

The “Smart Mules” are a group of talented young men led by former teacher and GrowMemphis board member Adam Guerrero. Jarvis, Jovantae, Shaq, Cortez and Rodrick “harvest” the grasses and organic material from overgrown, abandon lots that dot the Shasta neighborhood of Memphis. They use the harvest as compost and mulch, and together have a vision for creating a mini-farm on the corner of Shasta and Trezevant. With a $1,000 from the NGA, this pioneering group of young men will be able to buy new equipment, increase the productivity of their work, and move closer to their long-term vision.

Other great ideas ranged from giving school-kids Seed Bombs, Living Walls, and activating green space with hula hoops. Ultimately though, two other ideas stood out as having deep community support, strong leadership, and tangible impact on the Memphis community. A newly established community garden at Christian Brothers University run by Sean needs funding to keep going. Second, Wes and Mary from RootsMemphis have a vision for a transformative project, an urban agriculture school that would not only endow people with valuable skills, but would help connect land, labor and financing. We’re incredibly pleased to announce that the National Garden Association was so impressed by these two projects that they have agreed to work with their leaders going forward, finding alternative ways to support their efforts, and the green movement in Memphis in general.

Memphis Mayor A.C. Wharton wants Vitality in his neighborhood!

Congratulations again to the Smart Mules! Special thanks to Mayor A.C. Wharton for helping the NGA and Neighborland make this award a special experience for Adam and his team. We also want to call out the incredible work of the Mayor’s Innovation Delivery Team, the visionary and incredibly hard-working folks at Crosstown Arts, and the absolutely indispensable Neighborland volunteers, including our point man Sam Powers. We’re excited to be involved with this community of passionate, creative and motivated people.