Protecting the Environment in Memphis

Shelby Farms Park, Photo by Gillian Wenhold

Shelby Farms Park, Photo by Gillian Wenhold


By: Ben Griffith, Summer Creator

The environment is one of our most valuable collective assets, and it is crucial that we care for it to the best of our ability. Here are some of the top organizations in the Memphis area you can get involved with to help work towards a cleaner and safer environment.

Food and Gardens

Many Memphians are stuck in food deserts; urban areas where it’s difficult to buy good-quality or affordable fresh food, and consequently are forced to eat unhealthy food options. This is where the importance of community food gardens comes into play. They produce multiple positive effects in their surrounding area: providing a space where residents can harvest their own healthy food, a place where those citizens can learn how to grow a garden at their own home, an area where people can discover the advantages of cultivating a garden, and a plot of land that supports the urban ecosystem. Fortunately, there are a myriad of Memphis-based organizations that work in this field.

Memphis Tilth is a nonprofit organization working towards establishing a food system that is economically sustainable, socially equitable, and environmentally sound in the community of Memphis. Memphis Tilth does this by offering community kitchen classes, teaching Memphians with hands-on work in their urban gardens, and providing healthy food options through their food hub. 

Carpenter Art Garden, Photo by Choose901

Carpenter Art Garden, Photo by Choose901

Photo by Memphis Tilth

Photo by Memphis Tilth

Project Green Fork works to create a more sustainable Mid-South by lessening the amount of food waste locally-owned restaurants produce. They certify restaurants for being environmentally responsible throughout Memphis.

The Carpenter Art Garden functions in the center of Memphis, working with the children and parents of Binghampton to turn a decrepit lot in the community into a beautiful garden. Every Tuesday about 70 children work with volunteers in the art garden, expanding their knowledge and creative potential. The Carpenter organization’s community gardens also cater gardening skill training, education on healthy eating, and a lot where families can grow healthy foods for home. 

Memphis Botanic Garden aims to augment Memphians’ lives by linking citizens with nature. They have 28 different gardens, with gardening & healthy food education classes in addition to numerous volunteer opportunities. 

Conservation Projects

While you may think there might not be too much green space in a city as populated as Memphis, that is far from the case. Shelby County occupies a huge geographical area (Tennessee’s largest county in terms of geographical size), and in addition to the Mississippi River forming its western boundary, contains one of the 20 largest urban parks in the country in Shelby Farms Park at 4,500 acres. 

Additionally, Memphis holds some of the best water reserves in the country from its plethora of sand aquifers, approximately 100 trillion gallons of water according to Memphis Light, Gas, and Water. Memphis is an environmental jewel and truly is a unique mix of city and natural resources. Several organizations possess the drive to protect and enrich the health of Shelby County’s ecosystem

Wolf River Conservancy (WRC) is committed to preserving the river’s cleanliness and keeping its watershed as a viable natural resource. WRC supports this by providing education on the benefits of maintaining the watershed & river, allowing volunteering opportunities to the community in conservation efforts, and organizing group activities at the Wolf River trails like paddling, biking, or running. 

Clean Memphis is a non profit organization that hopes to get every Memphian active in making Memphis better, with the end goal of making Memphis “the cleanest city in the country,” according to their website. They have three main initiatives to make this dream a reality: the Support Community Partnership which helps communities organize cleanup projects, High-Profile Cleanup Projects which employs court-ordered community service workers and inmates in cleaning services, and an education program given to schools in Memphis. Clean Memphis also gladly accepts citizens helping out in various volunteering activities. 

Protect Our Aquifer is a nonprofit citizen group supporting the protection, conservation and management of the Memphis Sand Aquifer. They were formed following the establishment of a series of new wells close to the Sand Aquifer, and the consequential fear that the Sand Aquifer could become contaminated. Protect Our Aquifer also strives to increase community knowledge of the Memphis Sand Aquifer and how it positively impacts the Mid-South region. The group also publicly supervises the TVA’s Remedial Investigation Work Plan to insure the new wells are secure, and to enhance the Shelby County Groundwater Ordinance.

The Overton Park Conservancy (OPC) is a nonprofit organization dedicated to taking care of Overton Park in the heart of Midtown Memphis. OPC conducts daily upkeep duties on the park and occasionally participates in capital projects to help the park. 

Photo by

Photo by

Ducks Unlimited (DU) is a nonprofit organization devoted to the preservation and conservation of wetlands, as well as similar upland habitats, for waterfowl & other wildlife. DU is an international organization based in Memphis, and has built more than 20,000 conservation projects across North America, including projects in all 50 US states and every Canadian province. According to their website, DU conserves by restoring grasslands & watersheds, replanting forests, acquiring land, working with landowners and partners, conservation easements, management agreements, and Geographic Information Systems. It is very easy to get involved with this organization, as DU has well-established volunteering networks, even providing high school and college chapters for youth to get involved in conservation efforts at a young age. 

The Chickasaw Group is the West Tennessee/Memphis branch of the Sierra Club, the United States’ largest environment support organization. They promote policies and politicians that defend and back the environment, provide outdoor recreational activities for all, and grant opportunities to those who desire to assist their community in growing their environment. 

Alternate forms of Transportation

A current hot button topic in the world today is how to solve what is becoming an evident problem; humankind’s carbon footprint on the global climate. Most scientists point towards statistics that show exponential increases in carbon dioxide rates that far surpass standard deviations developed in the Earth’s history connected with the use of machinery producing carbon dioxide following worldwide industrialization, specifically post 1970 to today. One of the alleged biggest culprits behind this carbon footprint is the widespread use of gasoline-fueled cars for transport. 

Photo by memphiscyclist

Photo by memphiscyclist

In Memphis, the size of the city combined with its poor public transport options makes it nearly impossible to not have a viable form of personal transportation to get around and reach places of employment. This complicates how individuals are supposed to be able to employ environmentally-friendly transport methods in a car-dominated urban area. The city has recognized this dilemma, and in the past decade has turned to biking as a environmentally-responsible form of alternate transportation, going from being named one of the three worst cities for biking in America by Bicycling magazine in 2008 to being recognized as the country’s most improved city for cycling in 2012 by the same publication, after a massive overhaul of biking lanes and trails led by former mayor A.C. Wharton. 

With this transformation, a couple of non-profits supporting alternate forms of transportation have followed suit in the Mid-South.

Revolution Bike Co-Op is an organization that seeks to provide Memphians with working bicycles, specifically those in the poorer working class demographic. This bike-giving helps raise the eco-friendliness in transportation of working citizens in Memphis while also extending employment opportunities to Memphians who previously did not have any forms of transportation to get to work. Revolution Bike Co-Op offers classes teaching people how to both ride and repair their respective bikes, hosts biking summer camps for children, and organizes community rides to boost Memphis’ biking community. They also put on the Cycle Lodge in partnership with First Congregational Church, an arrangement that opens a place in Memphis where cross-country or long distance bikers can stay coming through Memphis. 

Cooperative Memphis is a service-based nonprofit organization with Mid-South Peace and Justice promoting community stewardship over resources such as food, childcare, shelter, and transportation in a sustainable way. They do several community involvement programs across Shelby County. 

It is great to see that there are plenty of organizations in Memphis with an environmentally-conscious approach. It falls on the back of every Memphian to be aware of how they can help out the world and the city through environmentally-responsible actions. Furthermore, citizens can improve their own health by learning about the benefits of going & growing green in their personal lives.