IATP Food and Community Fellow Jenga Mwendo was named one of Gambit Magazine's 40 under 40. Every year Gambit solicits nominations from the public, then honors 40 people under the age of 40 for their accomplishments and the contributions they have made to New Orleans. Here's an excerpt from the article:
Jenga Mwendo was in New York City working in the computer animation industry in August 2005. After Hurricane Katrina and the levee failures, she knew she had to return to New Orleans to help rebuild her neighborhood, the Lower 9th Ward. Looking for a way to make a significant contribution, she realized the important role agriculture played in her community.
"What I found was that so many people traditionally and still do have backyard gardens," she says.
In 2007, Mwendo identified the Ernst Garden, a pre-Katrina community garden and, with the help of neighbors and friends, replanted it. Seeing how the garden brought the community together, she founded the Backyard Gardener's Network (BGN), a nonprofit aimed at building and preserving community through gardening. Since its founding in 2009, BGN has acquired the property next to the garden and converted it into a gardening resource center with a tool lending library, free seeds and educational resources. A second garden has been planted on a blighted lot.
"It's an exercise in how to turn a dumping space into something beautiful," Mwendo says. "It's a safe and positive environment for neighbors who want to get together."
Programming for children also is part of Mwendo's mission. There are weekly storytelling, arts and crafts projects and gardening for kids at the Guerrilla Garden, and she says she hopes to partner with neighborhood churches and organizations to provide activities daily.
"This is all about neighborhood revitalization and how gardens can be positive examples of what is possible for the Lower 9th Ward," she says.