In honor of Black History Month, SACE is publishing a blog series highlighting the efforts of African American leaders that have played key roles in clean energy in the Southeast. This is the fourth and final post in the series, and is a guest blog from Yolanda Manning, Program Manager, Green Leaf Learning Farm. To read other posts in this series, click here.
A recognized and dedicated leader and pastor in South Memphis, Rev. Marlon Foster was born, raised and currently lives, works and worships in the area. Shortly after his graduation from Lemoyne-Owen College (LOC), Foster and several other residents began tutoring reading comprehension to children in the neighborhood. These were the beginnings of what is now known as Knowledge Quest (KQ), a youth and community development organization, whose mission is “to vigorously equip youth to maximize their potential through intellectual and character development”.
In the heart of South Memphis, Foster, is the founder and executive director of KQ, an organization that serves residents primarily residing in the 38126 and 38106 zip codes. These sites are located within a 2-mile corridor along Walker Avenue, also known as the “Knowledge Quest Kids Zone.” KQ, is most known for its promotion of academic excellence for grades Pre-K through 12 grade. KQ operates through four strategic programs that engages the youth and provides services to the community throughout the year. The nearly 20 year organization is made up of four programs, the Extended Learning Academies (ELA), Family Stability Initiative (FSI), the Universal Parenting Place (UPP), and lastly the Green Leaf Learning Farm (GLLF), which also features the Jay Uiberall Culinary Academy.
The GLLF is bringing new energy season after season to an area that was once overwhelmed with abandoned lots, petty crimes and a thick cloud of hopelessness. Due to the lack of sufficient access to healthy, fresh and local foods, and the prevalence of needed change, Foster and community residents cultivated a small lot, which has now expanded immensely to support the nutritional and educational needs of its local neighbors, youth and community residents. The certified USDA organic micro urban farm currently centers on 2/3 of an acre that is directly across from the organization’s main campus. The farm focuses its efforts on three main areas: student education, community/economic development, and food access/security. GLLF leads gardening and health related exposure classes and a weekly gardening club, which teaches lessons surrounding agriculture, health and nutrition and soon, solar energy. The farm hosts monthly community meetings and seasonal festivals and events throughout the year. The space is made up of an outdoor pavilion, hoop house, 34 raised beds, which includes 10 brightly colored cinder block beds and a few surrounding lots that are gearing up for expansion. The farm yields seasonal fruits, vegetables, herbs and flowers year around, and are distributed and sold directly from the main site and at local farmers markets throughout the city.
While Reverend Foster has been acknowledged as a nationally known White House Champion of Change leader on preventing youth violence, he currently is fast gaining notoriety in being a champion for energy efficiency and community solar within the South Memphis community. KQ, and GLLF has also been exhibiting partners and featured as certified programs of the bi-annual Mid South Regional Greenprint Summit and sustainability planning process. The organization has been highlighted for promoting healthy and safe communities as one of the leading objectives of the strategic plan.
After learning that the City of Memphis ranks number one in the nation in being the most energy burden neighborhood, GLLF sees a new quest, which is to focus and teach students of the importance of renewable and energy efficiency in the weekly lessons which will take place at the expansion lots that are scheduled to be finished by this year. The Residences at Green Leaf, an existing ten-unit apartment building, is fully gutted with designs for energy conservation. Students from local universities and colleges will have the opportunity to live off campus and be actively involved in the community and apart of the change regarding educating the youth, overcoming food insecurity and overall empowering the South Memphis neighborhood.
The building will highlight the significance of clean energy and will serve as a tool for students, residents and visitors to learn the basics of energy efficiency such as using CFL’s and LED lights instead of incandescent bulbs, the relevance of sealing windows and doors to prevent leaks and how insulated duct systems are responsible for efficiently distributing conditioned air throughout the building. The students at Green Leaf will not only see how the energy from the sun grows vegetables, herbs and fruits in the recently planted orchard but they will also understand how the energy from the sun powers the 8kW solar array that will produce approximately 11kWh of electricity first hand, for the residences, expansion lots and surrounding community residents.
Once completed, the project will accommodate “Agri-tourists”, who will have the option of touring the farm during the day or during short stays to participate in the hands-on learning projects related to urban agriculture, water conservation and life skills. The new solar panels will offset the energy costs associated with these operations. The GLLF is also in position to apply for the Department of Energy’s, Solar in Your Community Challenge grant by building a team and bringing solar energy into the city’s most underserved residents.