By: Ezra Wheeler
While community gardens may sound like a quaint concept, the fact is that they are becoming an
increasingly popular solution to the lack of affordable and nutritional food options in communities
across America. Studies have shown that the benefits of community gardens extend beyond the
immediate and obvious nutritional gains for a neighborhood, but can also contribute to building greater social ties, reducing crime, and improving mental health, among others. In Memphis, community gardens are springing up seemingly everywhere, but few are as ambitious in scope or size as Uptown’s Black Seeds Urban Farms.
When Bobby and Derravia Rich returned home to Memphis in 2015 after spending years in Nashville, the couple knew that they wanted to come up with a way to have a positive impact on their community, but were unsure of the best way to do so. “We were really excited to return home, but knew that we didn’t want to just get stuck in a cubicle for the next 30 years. We wanted to do something for the people of our city, although it wasn’t clear what that was,” says Bobby. As so often happens, the answer came from an unexpected source.
After moving into Derravia’s ailing grandmother’s house in order to help, the couple rediscovered a
garden in the backyard which had fallen into disrepair in the years following the death of Derravia’s
grandfather. After working grueling hours as a Memphis firefighter, Bobby found that tending the
garden was not only a cathartic process for him, but also helped to bring back cherished memories from his wife’s childhood spent in the home. “As the garden started to return to its former glory, Derravia would come outside and see places where she had played as a child that weren’t visible before. That’s really the beginning of this journey,” says Bobby.
After Derravia’s grandmother passed away in 2019, the couple found that the garden became a place of solace not only for them, but for their family, friends, and neighbors as well. “After the funeral, everyone came back to the house and just naturally gravitated towards the garden. I think that’s when I realized the power of these types of spaces…it makes you vulnerable and reminds you of the natural aspects of life and how it’s all interconnected,” says Bobby. “My uncles are retired firefighters and had grown up farming and working in the garden, so they already had a lot in common with Bobby. When he started working on the garden, they were quick to help out as well and were able to teach him a lot. It was awesome to see how this brought the family together,” add Derravia. As the garden continued to grow, neighbors began visiting the home to pick up herbs and vegetables, much like they had during Derravia’s childhood. This experience not only gave her an important link to her grandparents, but also convinced Derravia that they had the foundation for a successful business on their hands. “I have a background in general management and program development, and I recognized how good Bobby had become at growing. I realized that we had the opportunity to expand our reach and create a legitimate business out of this hobby,” she says. As a firefighter, Bobby had also noticed the abundance of food deserts around the city and knew that the couple could help in tackling the lack of fresh food options for Memphians. The two soon set about looking for an empty lot on which they could establish a community garden.
After months of searching, the Rich family finally settled on a plot of land in the Uptown neighborhood that seemed perfect for their needs. “After a long and grueling process, we finally had the home for Black Seeds Urban Farm,” says Derravia. Although the ongoing pandemic impeded the official opening of the business, the couple both say that the past year has been a salient example of the value of community-based food sources. “I think a lot of people realized that these types of events will keep happening if we don’t change the way we interact with nature and our food sources,” says Bobby.
Derravia says the pandemic also proved the importance of shared outdoor spaces. “I noticed during the height of the pandemic that Bobby and his co-workers were spending a lot of time in the garden and I think it was therapeutic for all of them. You could see the change in their demeanors and how it helped to alleviate the stress of their jobs,” she says. With the goal of an official opening this summer, the Black Seeds Urban Farms aims to be something much more dynamic than your typical community garden. “In addition to the garden, we will also have an educational component, an area for making tea using our herbs, a space for picnics, and areas for other events such as live music, yoga, art shows and the like,” says Bobby. “At the end of the day, we just want to create a space where people can access healthy food, visit a beautiful space, and take a holistic approach to their health,” says Derravia.
Black Seeds Urban Farms is located at 580 N. 4th Street. To learn more about their work and to follow their progress, follow them on Instagram at @blackseedsurbanfarms