Derived from Old English, the word “tilth” refers to good soil, particularly with respect to sowing seeds. It’s only fitting that this definition is the inspiration behind the local nonprofit Memphis Tilth. 

Established in 2015, Memphis Tilth is focused on promoting a sustainable, equitable, and environmentally sound local food system. They’ve created many programs to help enhance the local growing economy in Memphis. Most notably, they founded Giving Grove, a program that establishes food orchards in neighborhoods throughout Memphis, and the Bring it Food Hub, a produce subscription service that promotes community-supported agriculture. 

Memphis Tilth also maintains the garden of one of Memphis’s most beloved institutions, St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. 

Emily Oppenheimer, 31, is the St. Jude Garden Program Manager at Memphis Tilth. After starting out as a volunteer with the organization in 2016, she began working part time at the St. Jude garden in 2019 and took over as the Program Manager in August 2020.  

Emily describes the St. Jude Garden as not only a way to bring fresh produce to the campus, but also a small way to bring some brightness and joy to the patients at St. Jude. 

Emily and her team are considered part of the Food Services Department and work closely with the executive chefs. “We’re lucky that the chefs at St. Jude are big believers in providing local, fresh produce,” Emily says. Each season, she submits a crop plan to the chefs and collaborates to grow a variety of produce. The chefs utilize this naturally grown food to feed the patients, families, and hospital staff with fresh, organic meals. The produce from St. Jude Garden is also sold at the St. Jude Farmers Market so that everyone on campus has access to freshly grown food. 

The produce is more than just fresh—it’s certified naturally grown, meaning that it’s cultivated without pesticides, fertilizers, herbicides, or GMOs. Emily and her team keep their crops growing without these additives through pollinator stations that provide a safe space for pollinators that help them grow fresh flowers and produce. 

When asked about future plans for the St. Jude Garden, Emily shared that she’s always looking for ways to contribute more to St. Jude. She hopes to make the space more interactive for patient families and hospital staff, and to help make the sustainable space a larger part of the St. Jude community. 

Emily is passionate about the mission of sustainability, but more than that, she’s honored to be part of the St. Jude community. “It warms my heart to get to contribute to the St. Jude world,” she remarks. 

Memphis Tilth is always looking for volunteers to lend helping hands to their many sustainable initiatives. To learn more about their mission and volunteer opportunities, visit their website

Emily’s tips and tricks for starting your own garden!

  1. Start small by planting herbs in small pots. Make sure you place them in a sunny window! 
  2. Once you’re ready to tackle larger produce, start with one that’s perfect for beginners—tomatoes. All you need is a five-gallon bucket and some quality potting soil. Make sure you drill holes in the bottom for drainage first.
  3. If you want to expand your garden beyond the bucket, invest in a raised bed planter that will help you control your garden’s input. Be sure to layer up with newspaper to keep the weeds down.
  4. Don’t use chemicals in your garden. Especially avoid Roundup.
  5. If a plant dies, rip it out and try again! Growing your first garden can be an emotional roller coaster, but you have to stick with it. 
  6. Be sure to establish a gardening routine and stay on top of it. 

By Lucy Harrison
Photo by Tindall Stephens