The Backyard Gardeners Network was founded in 2009 by Jenga Mwendo, a Lower Ninth Ward native who returned to New Orleans in 2007 to help rebuild the community. Through talking with neighbors, she realized that the Lower Ninth Ward had a recent and rich cultural history of backyard gardening, something she was not aware of growing up. Many elders recalled a time when nearly everyone had backyard gardens and fruit trees grew throughout the neighborhood. Renowned poet and author Kalamu ya Salaam said about growing up in the Lower 9th Ward, “We picked blackberries and everything that was growing. You didn’t think nothing of it. It’s just what you did.” These food growing traditions not only provided food, but were a part of creating a healthier, closer-knit and more self-reliant community.
Through organizing neighbors to revitalize the Laurentine Ernst Community Garden (2007), Jenga saw the potential and the opportunity for community gardens to build community, while revitalizing the neighborhood and increasing access to quality food. Everyone wants a cleaner, safer, more beautiful neighborhood and everyone needs to eat. Community gardening was something that everyone could come together around and benefit from as a community.
The Backyard Gardeners Network has revitalized the Ernst Garden, converted a blighted lot into the Guerrilla Garden, and currently manages the maintenance and programming at both. Several residents have cultivated plots in the gardens, many more children and families have participated in garden programs and special events. We have worked together, and shared stories, food and laughter. We have planted and given away over 200 trees in the neighborhood and given away hundreds of seeds.