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VOL. 125 | NO. 149 | Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Garden Grit Teaches Memphians To ‘Grow-Cook-Share’

AISLING MAKI | Special to The Daily News

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Two Midtown women are on a mission to encourage Memphians to eat local, even if that means assessing city-dwellers’ backyards to advise them on how to grow their own vegetables.

“It’s not rocket science. It’s taking care of your body. It’s growing food, it’s cooking food, it’s eating food. It’s essential,” said Wendi Gammill, who along with friend Jayne Ellen White founded Garden Grit, a local organization with a simple philosophy of “grow-cook-share.”

Garden Grit’s goal is to show Memphians how they can replace commercialized, corporate farm-based diets with sustainable local diets composed of foods grown at home, elsewhere in the community or on small, regional farms.

“Food is so important to us. We’re killing ourselves with the things we’re eating,” said Gammill. “We’re trying to reach people with very little income. We want to attract people who feel like this isn’t attainable for them.”

“I love food. I wish people took it more seriously as part of their lifestyle in this culture.”

– Jayne Ellen White, Garden Grit co-founder

Garden Grit is a labor of love for both women, each of whom enjoys gardening and cooking while working full-time. They also are focused on educating urban communities on local diet lifestyles in a do-it-yourself fashion.

Gammill owns Crazy Beautiful, a women’s retail clothing boutique on Walker Avenue, while White works as a tour guide at Sun Studio.

Friends suggested the pair teach DIY food classes that covered the entire process, from seedlings to supper table.

“I love food. I wish people took it more seriously as part of their lifestyle in this culture,” said White. “It’s lost its importance.”

The pair hopes to soon acquire nonprofit status and funding that will enable Garden Grit to offer affordable workshops, classes and consultations.

“What I hope Garden Grit can accomplish through being a nonprofit is connecting low-income families with their communities through gardening and food co-op systems,” said Gammill. “With that mission in mind, we are willing to help a family in need build up a larger garden with the help of donations, volunteers and the family themselves.”

Through affordable classes, aspiring gardeners will learn how to grow organic fruits and vegetables in containers and raised beds.

They’ll also learn about backyard biodiversity, natural pest control and crop rotation, an economical way to keep soil healthy year after year.

Cooking classes using seasonal local, organic ingredients will be offered for both meat-eaters and vegetarians.

And Garden Grit will teach yogurt- and cheese-making, as well as classes in canning and pickling, enabling backyard farmers to enjoy their bounty through the winter in the form of soups, sauces, pickled veggies and canned fruits and game meat.

Gammill and White said they plan to bring in outside experts as guest speakers.

First Congregational Church on Cooper Street, they said, has been receptive to allowing use of their kitchen space, and the women hope various restaurants in town will also donate kitchen space for food education.

Switch Creative already has donated Garden Grit’s soon-to-be-launched website.

In the meantime, Facebook has given the organization a place in cyberspace to build interest in its work and share recipes, gardening tips and information on topics such as socially responsible shopping and humane slaughter.

“When you buy cheap meat from factory farms, you’re paying for it in taxes, you’re paying for it with your health because you’re ingesting sick animals. It’s also about the treatment of farmers and farm workers,” said Gammill, who recommends buying meat from small producers such as Southern Missouri’s Newman Farms, known for its certified humane pork.

Gammill also recently started the Memphis Bound Locavore Culinary Club, a 12-member group that meets once a month to enjoy food and drink prepared using as many local ingredients as possible.

Member Shade Sullins, a Farmer’s Insurance agent, said his grandparents on both sides grew their own food.

“The beef, the chicken, the eggs all taste different now, but you can buy from local farmers and the products taste like they used to, like they’re supposed to,” he said. “More people need to understand the basics of agriculture. There’s a disconnect. There are social and economic benefits. You don’t need a lot of money to do it. It takes caring about what you’re eating. I actually spend less money shopping through local growers.”

Locavore club member Jessica Elvert said she and her husband work full-time jobs and lead busy lives, and although it takes time and planning, their locally based diet is important to them.

“I’m glad Garden Grit is trying to make this type of eating more accessible and reaching people who maybe aren’t normally the demographic drawn to local food,” said Elvert.

Gammill said Memphians can start by growing a few fruits or vegetables in containers on their porches or balconies and sharing with neighbors who’ve done the same.

“The world isn’t going to change overnight, but we can get everyone to make little changes,” Gammill said. “We want to make this movement more approachable. It can be bigger.”

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